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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN

Aired January 7, 2002 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN with Bill Hemmer. It isn't over yet. As bombs fall along a border, concerns about the length and outcome of the war on terrorism.

New detainees at Kandahar, new preparations in Cuba, and new questions, how should the U.S. handle suspected al Qaeda terrorists?

U.S. Senators and the British Prime Minister come calling.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The only way of resolving it in the end is going to be political dialog.

ANNOUNCER: Getting the VIP treatment, while taking a hard look at the future of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The major concern they have is not so much the apprehension of bin Laden as it is to make sure that we stay here.

ANNOUNCER: Honoring a casualty of war, while learning a hard lesson.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We are trying to determine what happened so that we can prevent something like this from happening again.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Afghanistan, Bill Hemmer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Once again, hello from Kandahar, here in southern Afghanistan site of the U.S. military buildup and the U.S. base here in southern Afghanistan.

We begin tonight though with fresh reports of new renewed U.S. bombing in eastern Afghanistan. The reports started late Sunday. They continued into Monday, and CNN's Kamal Hyder right now on the Pakistan-Afghan border following that by way of videophone. Kamal, good morning to you. What have you observed in the past 12 hours or so?

KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. We'll call it good morning because we are up in the mountains. This morning again, at about 4:00, there was intense bombing in the Zhawar Kili camp again and we did see a trail in the sky of at least a few B-52 bombers, so that attention is still being given to Zhawar Kili.

We are told that Zhawar Kili was an intricate network of tunnels, and this was built during the Mujahedeen campaign against the Russians earlier on, and that the area has had Special Operations as well, the day before yesterday, five, six helicopters being involved.

And yesterday, at least one helicopter confirmed to have been involved in operations. So there are ground operations going on including possibly Special Forces and you still have the bombing run on Zhawar Kili, not as intensive as yesterday, but still continuing.

HEMMER: Kamal, we heard some of those airplanes streak over sky here about 90 minutes ago where we are in southern Afghanistan. Certainly they were in the distant sky, but we could only hear them. Clearly we could not see them.

But the Pentagon on Monday indicated not only are they trying to flush out the possibility of al Qaeda fighters, but they might also be trying to blow up quite a few weapons on the ground there. Can you ascertain or figure out the intent and the target of this bombing here?

HYDER: Well, one thing is for sure. Zhawar Kili was a very heavily - I mean heavily - there was a lot of ordinance there and there was a lot of ammunition there. These intricate tunnels had a lot of small arms, and one of the priorities is to destroy this.

We were told that certain people may have left that area and that is why the adjoining villages, which include Kundi (ph) village was also attacked because they found out, once this area came under bombing and went into the adjoining villages, after that and initially people said that there were civilian casualties.

After that, the local residents of those villages left the area. So still bombing operations going on, and still quite intense. But the bombing no so intense as yesterday. However, this morning we may have more sorties and it may be a continuing ongoing thing. Bill.

HEMMER: All right. Kamal Hyder by way of videophone, again along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Kamal, thanks to you. And again, as the sun comes up in about 90 minutes here, on Tuesday morning in Afghanistan, we shall see if the bombing and the air strikes continue there in that part of the country.

In the meantime, now the two most wanted men, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban founder. On Monday, the Pentagon admitted once again it has no idea about the whereabouts of these two men. From the Pentagon now, here's CNN's Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As the bombing of Afghanistan enters its fourth month, the Pentagon offers this video, recorded by an AC-130 gunship last week, as evidence the war is not over. A large training and supply complex in eastern Afghanistan was targeted, because it was believed Taliban and al Qaeda forces were gathering there.

STUFFLEBEEM: We don't know what they're doing, other than they are trying to regroup. I mean they're looking for the security that they can try to collect together in numbers. They've been dispersed. We have flushed them out of many areas, and they have run for their lives.

MCINTYRE: Pentagon sources say recent strikes involve B-1 bombers, called in to destroy tanks, armored vehicles and artillery pieces gathered up by U.S. Marines and Special Forces on the ground.

Other strikes were to close off caves, seen here in a pre-strike photograph, as small black openings along a cliffside. And then again, as large rubble piles in an after-strike image.

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: It is still a very dangerous country throughout, and even if it's a small pocket, it can pose a great risk as it has.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon says it is investigating whether the death of Sergeant 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman in an ambush might have been set up with the help from supposedly friendly Afghans. Officials could not confirm a report from Afghan tribal leaders that the U.S. soldier was killed by a 14-year-old boy, who is now a fugitive as well.

And with the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar as much of a mystery as ever, the Pentagon made a vow to stop saying where it thinks they are.

STUFFLEBEEM: We're going to stop chasing, if you will, the shadows of where we thought he was and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need so that we can develop a better intelligence picture?

MCINTYRE (on camera): Meanwhile, Pentagon sources say the first of more than 340 captured Taliban and al Qaeda troops, including some leaders, will be transferred to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as soon as this week, and some may be brought to U.S. soil to a jail at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, South Carolina.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: Also more now on those detainees, 300 right now on deck here in Kandahar. We're told 346 are being held in total. When you consider other parts of Afghanistan, specifically in the north and also the USS Bataan, where at least nine prisoners are right now being held.

We're also being told, according to sources here in Kandahar, military planners right now trying to put together an idea and the plan for a highly-sensitive and highly-classified mission, how to transport 300 detainees from Kandahar halfway around the world to Cuba and Guantanamo Bay.

We're told the planning is underway. As of yesterday, they were considering ship or by plane. But right now, the majority opinion seems to be by plane, one straight shot from here in Kandahar out to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And again, that may happen sooner than later, possibly again within a few days time.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world in Cuba, preparations right now underway in some former refugee camps. Military personnel right now transforming these camps to make them highly secure. They would again hold possibly hundreds if not thousands of prisoners of war, taken from Afghanistan all the way to Cuba. Again these are suspected al Qaeda fighters and also suspected Taliban soldiers, taken captive here in Afghanistan.

In addition to that, about 1,000 military personnel were dispatched on Sunday from Fort Hood, Texas to Guantanamo Bay to help facilitate that construction. It's quite likely over the next couple of weeks, 500 more at least will be added to that military list there in Cuba to continue to build things up there, 7,000 miles away from our location.

Now let's go Washington. Major General Don Shepperd, retired U.S. Air Force, can talk more about not only the details of the operation today. And General, I'd like to start with a lot of the quotes that Tommy Franks, frankly, gave to an Associated Press reporter on Monday.

And specifically, let's take a look at one quote up there. He doesn't talk about acceleration specifically, he talks about continuation of this campaign. Look at that quote, General, what do you make of it?

"I'm not interested in acceleration. I'm interested in continuation - focus, to get us to where we want to go."

RETIRED MAJOR GENERAL DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I can't see the quote from where I am, Bill. On the other hand, acceleration of the campaign, it would probably not be the right term.

It's very apparent to me that General Franks intends to continue the plan that he has put into effect, which is you carefully move forces into places like Kandahar, not inserting large numbers of forces in many locations. But then from those secure bases, you go out when you have specific intelligence, to attack targets.

It avoids having to bring large numbers of troops in and become targets, like the Soviets did during their occupation. So rather than moving from phase to phase, it's a continuation of the pressure and a continuation of looking for remaining al Qaeda and Taliban, which was the original purpose of the operation there.

The Taliban and the al Qaeda are no longer an effective fighting force. They're down to guerrilla attacks, and that makes a big difference from where we were when we started this operation, Bill.

HEMMER: General, make sense of this then. General Franks on Monday indicated Tora Bora was winding down. However, our crews on the ground, in Jalalabad and in Tora Bora, say specifically they've seen several hundred U.S. military personnel, half a dozen U.S. military helicopters possibly carrying Special Forces. It would appear anyway on the face of it, General, that things are actually winding up there and not winding down. What's to make sense of this?

SHEPPERD: Well, I - just like you, I want to be very careful about speculating on future moves, but remember that we said we searched seven of the eight cave complexes in the Tora Bora area. When I say the cave complexes, I mean the major underground military fortifications there. Reportedly, eight big ones and we've done seven, so they could be going there.

They also could be going to another location down in the Khost area to the Wahara (ph) area, the camp that they've been hitting there to search that for intelligence information. It could be that they've got other information from detainees and captured people that have gone into Pakistan on other places to search. So it's just very hard to say.

Remember also that, although there's 350 detainees, about 50 of them were captured this past weekend by the Pakistanis. So that's still ongoing. They may be looking for people in pockets that have escaped as well. Bill.

HEMMER: And General Franks also said, General Shepperd, that more ground troops have not been taken off the table. What would necessitate that? More ground troops here in country?

SHEPPERD: Well remember the big purpose of all of this is, of course, to take the al Qaeda and the Taliban off the table, but also to establish peace and security across that country.

Now we're introducing an international security assistance force that is going to assist the interim Afghan government and finally probably the permanent Afghan government. They're going to need help all across that country, and they're going to need help keeping the roads open, free if you will of warlords and this type of thing, free of bandits.

They're going to get themselves into trouble from time to time and need military assistance, and so we're going to have military assistance on that ground to cleanup anything that breaks out for an extended period of time. And I think that's the purpose, if General Franks brings in more troops, is to establish that mantle of security across the country that everyone is looking for.

HEMMER: General, I want to take you back to Sunday. Hamid Karzai was on "MEET THE PRESS" on NBC with Tim Russert, and he said that he believes right now that only 35 hardcore al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are still at large. That number seemed extremely small to me. What did you make of that comment, General? SHEPPERD: I make of that comment that we've done a pretty good job in our strikes so far of getting hold of the people that we want, absent Omar and absent bin Laden obviously. We probably killed a bunch of them as well.

Now remember also that over time, although a lot of the Taliban have gone back to their villages, over time as law and order is established across that country, it may be that the Afghans themselves will bring other people to justice that are there and deserve to be brought to justice over there.

But I think that if only 35 are still at large, that's a pretty small number and we've been very, very effective. But I can tell you that we will be after that 35 until the end of time. They'll never be able to sleep again no matter where they go, to any other country across the world. We'll be after them, Bill.

HEMMER: General, you mentioned a few moments ago the Pakistani issue. Can you stop for a moment and think what this war would look like without the cooperation we have seen from Islamabad to this point?

SHEPPERD: Well this would be a really, really tough war, and the main reason is that we would not have access to the airspace that we needed to get to Afghanistan.

If Iran would not let us across their airspace and if Pakistan would not let us across their airspace, where the Navy could come in from the Arabian Sea, then we would have had to conduct a war from the Gulf nations and come around to the north, through the stands if you will.

It would have been a much longer (inaudible) to do what we had to do. It would have required a lot more refueling, a lot more en route bases, and would have been just been much more complicated.

The Pakistani cooperation in this entire effort has been absolutely key. We owe that government a lot and, of course, we are extremely interested in making sure that the hostilities between Pakistan and India are brought to a close very rapidly, because of the danger of the two nuclear powers at each other's throat. But the Pakistanis have been key and very important to us. Bill.

HEMMER: Very key and very critical, especially when you examine that relationship right now and all the detainees that have been picked up, apprehended on the Pakistani side of the border, turned over to the U.S.

And we talked about Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban Ambassador; Iban al-Shayk al-Liby, the man accused of running the terrorist training camps, both men picked up and turned over by Islamabad. Major General Don Shepperd, live in D.C. General, thanks. We'll talk again very shortly throughout the week here.

In a moment, back live in Kandahar, what to do with all those weapons? The U.S. is simply blowing them up. Back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: The plight of this country, the country of Afghanistan, has been well documented, 23 years of war, five years of drought. In fact, we have yet to see a riverbed in this country that has water in it. And that drought has played out all too well in a northern town near Mazar-e Sharif.

The town's known as Bonavosh (ph), 10,00 in population there. We're told the people are suffering right now from severe starvation. They're making bread out of grass they pick up along the ground.

Getting relief supplies to this remote location extremely difficult, given the high elevations and the difficult terrain in that area. But that is a backdrop to the future of this country. Certainly we'll debate it for a long, long time to come.

And there's an open question still remaining at this point. Can politicians do anything about it? A group of U.S. Senators on hand today for the first time here in Afghanistan to talk about it and CNN's John Vause was there to greet them. Here's John.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Afghanistan has never seen anything like this before, two high level diplomatic visits in one night. First, nine U.S. Senators.

SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D) CONNECTICUT: We believe this is the first official Congressional delegation into liberated Afghanistan.

VAUSE: Then just hours later, Tony Blair, the first British Prime Minister to visit this country.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Hamid Karzai and I had a very good discussion here in Afghanistan, and I want to offer him our full support.

VAUSE: They held separate meetings with the new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, but the message from the United States and Britain was the same.

BLAIR: What happened last time when the West walked away from Afghanistan was that a decade later, terrible evil erupted on the streets of New York but also the whole region became a breeding ground for acts of terrorism.

LIEBERMAN: I think we learned at a very high and painful price the cost of elective involvement in Central Asia on September 11 and we're not going to let it happen again.

VAUSE: They arrived in the middle of the night and stayed for just a few hours, never leaving Bagram Air Base and from this diplomatic stopover, apologies from the Americans for abandoning Afghanistan a decade ago, and promises of help to the massive reconstruction job ahead. No details of how much aid or when it may be coming.

They also spoke of the need for a national Afghan army, to disarm the warlords and bandits who still control parts of this country.

VAUSE (on camera): It is significant, though, that the British Prime Minister and the U.S. Senators held their talks here at the heavily secured Bagram Air Base. It is still too dangerous to have such high-level meetings in the capitol, Kabul.

John Vause, CNN, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: Back here in Kandahar right now, one of the more difficult and dangerous missions involves the explosives and weapons that are buried beneath the soil here in Kandahar. Every day the U.S. military, specifically the U.S. Marines, goes about digging up these weapons, and about three times a day we hear massive explosions at the south end of the runway. They blow up tons and tons of these supplies.

We're told the Taliban here occupied this airport, but in the closing days before the U.S. military moved in, right around the end of November and the first part of December, the Taliban then buried these weapons. They were Russian made, Soviet made, Chinese made, Pakistani made, hoping that they could come back here some day, dig them back up and fight again.

Well right now, the U.S. is finding those weapons, digging them up and destroying them. Earlier today, we talked with one Marine and that's his job.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER (voice over): How many weapons are you finding out here, Captain?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: After 20, 30 years of warfare, the countryside is littered with weapons and caches. We're finding tons of munitions out there.

HEMMER: Tons?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Yes, sir.

HEMMER: Every day?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Every day.

HEMMER: You got a sample behind us. Go ahead and walk around and take us to one at the far end of the palace. This was an air-to-air missile?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: This is an air-to-air 8-A, meant to be fired obviously off the jets. It's Russian made and made to be fired off Russian jets. HEMMER: No jets around anymore though?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Not anymore.

HEMMER: Still that's around here. Over here, we have what, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: We have a selection of anti-tank weapons. Starting off, we have the AT-4. It's a medium anti-tank weapon. Slightly larger is the AT-5. These are usually vehicle- mounted. This is roughly equivalent to our Tow Missile.

HEMMER: Finding a lot of these?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Not too many of these. Not too many. Above here, we have what we are finding a lot of, rocket propelled grenades. These are high explosive rounds in the old rocket propelled grenade launcher. Above that, also we're finding a lot of variations of the surface-to- air missile. This is the SA-7.

HEMMER: You say you were finding the majority of these out here, is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: The majority of all these right here, yes sir.

HEMMER: Wow. This white circular item is one of the things we've heard the most about. That's a land mine. Describe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Right. This is the plastic Pakistani PKN-2 mine. It's meant to be laid either at the surface or slightly beneath it, designed to take the better part of your foot off, and it would be hard to detect. Here, you've got the old Russian pineapple grenade, fairly basic, and of course 12.7 millimeter or .50 caliber rounds.

HEMMER: You talked about some Chinese munitions over there.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Right. You've got a selection of .82 millimeter high explosive rounds. These are mortar rounds, fairly common in the countryside.

HEMMER: Pakistani? Russian?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Chinese, Pakistani, Russian, you said it all.

HEMMER: Yes, it's a military graveyard out here.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Yes, sir, absolutely. Over here at the far end of the palette is the biggest piece you have out here.

HEMMER: Anti-tank again?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: This is the AT-6 anti-tank missile. It's designed to be fired from a helicopter pad. It's designed to take out a tank a long ways away.

HEMMER: If you hunted for these weapons every day, how long would it take before you cleared out this airfield?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Every day, we'd be working for several years.

HEMMER: Years?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Yes, sir. It's a big country. There's a lot of it out there.

HEMMER: How do the locals feel, the Afghans feel, about this project?

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Most of the locals that I've encountered have been very happy to get rid of what's out there, happy to see it go.

HEMMER: And there's a lot of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE CAPTAIN: Yes, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: More explosions. Later today, we can anticipate at least nine scheduled at about two-hour intervals. In a moment here, the U.S. and Afghan flags flying together for now, but for how long? This new partnership is underway. We'll talk about it when we come back. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: Nathan Chapman was a 31-year-old Green Beret, a member of the A Team working here in Afghanistan. Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Chapman was the first U.S. soldier killed by enemy fire. It happened last Friday in eastern Afghanistan.

Chapman's remains are due to arrive back in the U.S. sometime on Tuesday, after returning from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Chapman again was ambushed on Friday, after carrying out a mission in eastern Afghanistan, trying to ascertain whether or not friendly fire killed a number of civilians there in a village in eastern Afghanistan.

We are told, based on reports in that area, that tribal leaders are considering the possibility of turning over a 14-year-old boy who they say may be responsible for killing Chapman. No answer expected though. Possibly on Tuesday they will move forward on that front.

In the meantime, back here in Kandahar, I want to show you a sight we see twice a day, first in the morning and later at sundown. It's the raising and then the lowering of the U.S. flag, right alongside the Afghan flag.

About a month ago, the governor of Kandahar was here for the inaugural raising of the flag. What it shows is a symbol and a sign of the U.S. relationship right now in concert with this country, a country that has had such a storied past when it comes to war.

We can also anticipate at this point, a lot of people wondering how long the U.S. military and the U.S. government may be involved here. We can look at past examples, specifically in Bosnia. In 1995, when the peace treaty was signed, the Dayton Peace Accord was signed, thousands of troops started pouring into Sarayevo. Six years later, going on seven years now, 18,000 U.S. men and women still patrol Bosnia.

There's been some requests from the Pentagon to scale back that number and do it immediately so they can dispatch American men and women in different parts of the world. We can take that example, though.

Look at Afghanistan right now and consider the involvement here. It will be at least that long, and quite possibly much longer. This is a country that need just about everything, and if the U.S. is serious, it will take years to help get it back on the path for the future.

That's our show for tonight. We'll see you again tomorrow live in Kandahar. I'm Bill Hemmer. Up next, for our viewers in the U.S., Kate Snow follows on "THE POINT." And for our viewers around the world, stay tuned for "WORLD SPORT." Good night now from Kandahar.

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