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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

9/11 Put Spotlight on Taliban

Aired September 11, 2002 - 14:48   ET

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


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The Taliban were already notorious before September 11, to be sure, and while it was well-known that Afghanistan was harboring al Qaeda, most of the attention on the Taliban focused on things like the oppression of women and this radical form of Islam that had been imposed on people, quite brutally in some cases.
The focus of September 11 shifted all of that to Osama bin Laden, and the United States would find itself in the thick of a very complex civil war. Words like "Northern Alliance" came into the vocabulary. All of this taking place that had been in a state of war for decades.

Here is CNN's Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nine hours and 19 minutes after the first of the World Trade Center towers was struck, the fight back against the Taliban began.

(on camera): We just heard an impact, perhaps a few miles away.

(voice-over): From the balcony of our hotel, we watched as explosions and tracer fire erupted across Kabul. It was the opening salvo of an offensive by the soon to be U.S. coalition allies, the Northern Alliance.

But this daring nighttime helicopter raid was not revenge for the attacks on the U.S. Rather, the assassination, just two days before, of the Alliance's commander, Ahmed Shah Massood.

As the last bastion against Taliban dominance, Massood's death cleared the way for the Islamic hard-liners to take total control of Afghanistan. But the September 11 attacks changed everything, even as rescue workers in New York and Washington began their grisly task, the Taliban foreign minister rushed to our hotel to deny Osama bin Laden's involvement.

"It has not been proved," Mutawakil said, "that until now Arabs are involved in this incident."

Over several years, I'd grown to know Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil. He was moderate among Taliban leaders. Now, we needed his permission to stay.

(on camera): First, we came here to the foreign ministry. Mutawakil, we were told, had already fled to Kandahar to meetings with other top level Taliban officials in their southern stronghold.

Now we were told the country was unsafe, and we'd have to leave. But we cut a deal. We would go to Kandahar and find the foreign minister, but if we were attacked along the road, the Taliban would not be responsible.

(voice-over): We made it safely to Kandahar, but our appeals to Mutawakil were useless. He had already been marginalized by hard- liners. Effectively, he had no power. Privately, Mutawakil's aides blamed Osama bin Laden for radicalizing the Taliban, calling the Saudi millionaire a "pain in the backside."

Leaving Kandahar, it seemed the plight of Afghans was worsening. The backward, rural Taliban regime had failed its people, and now, having led them into war, it was crumbling at the core. It was a far cry from the days when I had witnessed them consolidate their grip on the country.

(on camera): It was September 1996 when the Taliban arrived here in Kabul. They hung the former president from a police box just down the road, and even as they took over government offices, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were recognizing the Taliban as the new legitimate authority.

Meanwhile, those of us here were learning fast just what the new regime intended.

(voice-over): The harsh, radical interpretation of Islam, banning education for girls and women from work, quickly made the Taliban global outcasts just as they sought U.N. recognition.

For Osama bin Laden, the Taliban's extreme version of Islam and the entire country's chaotic existence, couldn't have made the place a more attractive bolt hole when he was deported from Sudan in 1996.

He was welcomed as a former mujahideen fighter against the Soviets. Hard liners in the Taliban regime warmed radical views, and his al Qaeda fighters and training camps gave the Taliban what they needed most: fighters to capture the rest of the country.

(on camera): In those days, gun positions like this one were on the Taliban front lines. We were increasingly restricted, unable to get to the battles. In part, we were privately told, because the Taliban didn't want us to see the increasing numbers of Pakistani and Arab fighters.

(voice-over): In the north, Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massood gave better access. He assured me he was winning, and the Taliban's lack of military tactics were costing them dearly.

Many thousands of young Taliban were dying unnecessarily, he said. On the shabby streets of Kandahar and Kabul, Arab faces were becoming an increasingly familiar sight, their wealth and arrogance despised by Afghans, more and more resentful of the Taliban's harsh rules and complete failure to revive the economy. And, if the harsh political reality wasn't enough, the rains failed three years running, leaving more than a million Afghans entirely dependent on international aid, delivered only when the Taliban allowed it.

Another seven million faced slow starvation even with the free food. Afghans were desperate, hungry, and angry, and as the dust settled after September 11, the Taliban found they had nowhere to hide.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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