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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Eric Margolis

Aired September 1, 2003 - 19:30   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Next week is the second anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on America that killed 3,000 Americans and others in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And the man who took credit for it? Well, according to today's issue of "Newsweek," quoting former Taliban officials, Osama bin Laden is still alive, still in Afghanistan, still meeting with members of al Qaeda and still planning.
"Newsweek" says he held his biggest summit since 2001 this spring and that he is planning "an unbelievable attack."

Eric Margolis is a journalist who focuses on terrorism and wrote "War at the Top of the World." And he joins us from Toronto this evening.

Nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

ERIC MARGOLIS, AUTHOR, "WAR AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD": Good evening.

O'BRIEN: I think there are many people who think just how is it possible that Osama bin Laden is alive and well, despite being the most hunted man in the world and continues to be the main strategist, the main financier of al Qaeda?

MARGOLIS: Well, it is certainly remarkable. All I can say is that he is very well hidden, probably in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan, which is as I know, quite well wild tribal territory. And in those parts of the world, he's a great hero . And even a $25 million reward on his head has not caused people there to betray him as Saddam's sons were betrayed, for example. And I don't think he's going to -- he shows every signs of being in operational control of al Qaeda.

O'BRIEN: There is a report in "Newsweek" that says that back in April, Osama bin Laden met face to face with Taliban leaders. Do you think that that was likely? And do you think out of that then another attack is imminent?

MARGOLIS: They may have met. I don't know for sure. But I do know that there have been closer links, operational links forged between al Qaeda, which is a very small organization. It's probably only about 300 people in its core group, between Taliban, which is still very active in Afghanistan. It was not crushed. It simply went into the hills. And by the Islamic party of Gubadeen (ph) Hikmater (ph), which represents a very important nationalist faction of the Pashtuns of southern Afghanistan.

This is a formidable alliance. And we can see from the rising wave of guerrilla attacks and guerrilla fighting in southern Afghanistan against American troops where two Americans were just killed on Sunday that the war there is intensifying.

O'BRIEN: Before we talk a little bit now more about that, let's talk about the lack of success in finding Osama bin Laden. Is it because the U.S. essentially has put all its resources into finding Saddam Hussein and into moving into Iraq and withdrawn those resources out of Afghanistan?

MARGOLIS: No, I don't think so. My understanding is that the U.S. is still on a full court press to find Osama bin Laden, using every means at its disposal. It's also working in alliance with Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, and with other intelligence services. Germany and France, for example and the Indian intelligence service, RAH (ph).

But as I said, he remains very well hidden and has managed somehow to elude his pursuers. There's also a chance that we believe he's in Pakistan or somewhere right across the border in Afghanistan that he may be some other place where nobody's yet looking.

O'BRIEN: You talked a little bit about the violence in Afghanistan, which is increasing. It seems as if, with the chaos, there is more of a prime opportunity for al Qaeda to get a foothold in Iraq and in Afghanistan, rather. Do you think then that the U.S. forces there are more vulnerable? Or is it fair to say as vulnerable as the U.S. forces in Iraq are?

MARGOLIS: Certainly they are. U.S. forces are -- they're about 10,000 U.S. troops now beating the bushes in Afghanistan and fighting against Taliban. And I believe they will, unfortunately, start taking more casualties.

And what is typical in Afghan history is that it's very easy to get into Afghanistan. Every invader has done that. Took the Soviets two weeks to take over Afghanistan. And yet after a while, local opposition starts building up against the invader. Afghans are fiercely nationalistic. They don't like foreigners. They don't like being told what to do or seeing foreign troops going around their country.

So there's rising resistance to the American presence in the southern part of Afghanistan. And it's coalescing now into a unified organized resistance.

O'BRIEN: Eric Margolis, thanks for your insight this evening. Thanks for joining us.

MARGOLIS: You're welcome.

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