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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Marking a Year Since bin Laden Compound Assault; Obama Visits Troops in Afghanistan

Aired May 1, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET

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


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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Exactly one year ago today to the minute, in fact, two American helicopters appeared above Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. By 3:50 Washington time, President Obama received word that Navy SEALs had bin Laden in their sights. And late that night, the president announced that 10 years after the September 11 attacks, bin Laden was dead.

My brief tonight: what have we learned from the long hunt for bin Laden and from the dramatic revelations since his death? After 9/11, the initial American response was swift, especially from then-president of the U.S., George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want justice and there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

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AMANPOUR: But over and again, bin Laden practically flaunted his survival. In fact, in this extraordinary video, captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in December of 2001, bin Laden, his colleagues and his acolytes, met to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (from captions): At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.

SHAYKH (from captions): Allah be praised.

BIN LADEN (from captions): After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Such chilling video. And in December of 2001, according to a Senate report, American troops had bin Laden, his deputy Ayman Al- Zawahiri, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, pinned down at Tora Bora. But American commanders had not sent in enough troops to finish that job, and bin Laden and his supporters escaped, and they lived to spread fear, violence and insurgency for 10 more years.

As we know from the 9/11 report, the U.S. was clearly unprepared for an attack on September 11th, 2001. Osama bin Laden exploited that vulnerability and he continued trying to plot against the United States until the bitter end.

Bin Laden is gone, but are the United States and the world safe now? Tonight, we have the inside story. I'll be joined in a moment by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who's an Afghan leader and long-time freedom fighter. But first, CNN national secretary analyst Peter Bergen is the author of "Manhunt." He's the only journalist to visit bin Laden's compound in Pakistan before it was destroyed, and one of only two journalists to have access to the stash of documents.

And a senior adviser on counterterrorism to Presidents Clinton and Bush, Richard Clark, who was often the lone voice in the White House raising alarms about Al Qaeda long before 9/11. He's now a consultant for my colleagues at ABC News, and he joins us from Washington.

Peter Bergen, Richard Clark, welcome to this broadcast. We do have a little bit of breaking news about President Obama right now. I just want to read that to you.

He has, according to our reporters, made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, and he's landing at the Bagram Air Base under the cover of darkness. He did arrive, apparently, at the Mossad (ph) base on board a darkened Air Force One before traveling to Kabul to meet with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and apparently both presidents plan to make a joint appearance and sign that special strategic forces agreement, setting the path for U.S. troops down the road in Afghanistan.

He is going to speak to the American people, to the world via CNN, of course, later this evening Eastern time.

Peter, first, your reaction to the president making that surprise trip just now?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECRETARY ANALYST AND AUTHOR: Well, Christiane, I think this is in the context of the NATO summit on May 20th in Chicago, when all the various heads of state of NATO will be coming to Chicago. There was an agreement that was signed in principle already on Sunday. This is kind of the affirmation of this. It'll be my guess is the details are still yet to come. But it's basically 10 more years of United States presence in Afghanistan in some shape or form. That's a good thing. In my view, Afghans were very concerned that we were going to turn off the lights and leave in 2014. This reassures the Afghans. It also helps the hedging strategies of Pakistan and other countries.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you, Richard Clark. As a former counterterrorism official in the White House and certainly we know about this strategic forces agreement, President Karzai explained it on our program a couple of weeks ago. What is your hope that this might do for the future, for the U.S. and Afghan relations, given that Afghanistan really could be a future base for terrorist operations?

RICHARD CLARK, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, Christiane, I think what this agreement does is send publicly the message to the Taliban and their supporters that the United States is not going to just disappear in a year or two.

It was never U.S. policy to disappear in a year or two, but it got misconstrued by a lot of people intentionally and unintentionally, I might add. And some people had the impression that all the Taliban had to do was wait out the Americans. When the Americans left, they could take over. Now this agreement says, yes, American combat forces may leave. But the special forces, the intelligence apparatus, the air forces are likely to stay on as long as they're needed.

AMANPOUR: Richard, let me take you back -- and we were just looking at video of the both presidents in Afghanistan nearly a year ago. But let me ask you, you were in the White House the morning, the day of 9/11. What was it like there, and what went through your head, given how strenuously you had tried to warn that this was priority number one?

CLARK: Well, it was a bit surreal because the White House was evacuated except for a few of us. And so you were operating in a largely empty building, which probably hadn't happened in 200 years, since the British attacked the White House.

What went through my head immediately was this was Al Qaeda, this was the big attack that we had been saying was going to come. I didn't have a lot of time for recriminations. We were in the middle of crisis management. We had to do a lot of things and do them quickly, like landing 2,000 aircraft.

AMANPOUR: Peter, let's turn to that other amazingly dramatic moment, which is the picture that we just flashed up, the president and his team watching the takedown of Osama bin Laden, exactly a year ago almost to the moment.

BERGEN: Right.

AMANPOUR: You have had access there. Extraordinarily, you found that bin Laden was actually still trying to plot against the United States to the very end.

BERGEN: Yes, I was given access to some of the declassified documents that we made public now on Thursday by West Point. You know, the documents paint a picture of an organization under considerable pressure. They were very worried about the drones.

Bin Laden was advising one of his sons to leave the Pakistani tribal regions and move to Qatar, you know, one of the most peaceful places in the Middle East. So you know, advocating holy war on one hand but for his own family a whole other sort of direction. He was contemplating changing the name of Al Qaeda. He was advising a group in Somalia not to call itself Al Qaeda. The brand had been damaged. He knew that. So a lot of --

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AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) extraordinary having that kind of image consciousness about the brand name.

BERGEN: Yes, I mean a lot of things that we knew ourselves about Al Qaeda, that it was under a huge amount of pressure. They viewed themselves as well. They understood that they were doing badly. They weren't getting (inaudible).

Bin Laden continued to want to plot to kill President Obama, David Petraeus. He said it's not worth killing Vice President Biden or Gates or -- you know, had a list of people that wasn't worth attacking. But the point is that all these were like blue sky things. There was no way they could pull it off.

AMANPOUR: Richard, stand by a moment, because I want to ask you whether we are safe and whether Al Qaeda is a dead or dying phenomenon. But first, we want to go -- this is breaking news -- straight to Afghanistan and our reporter there in Kabul, Nic Paton Walsh.

What do you know and can you tell us, Nic, about President Obama's surprise trip there?

NIC PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have just heard from the White House that he originally arrived at Bagram Air Force Base under cover of darkness on Air Force One, presumably there to speak to troops and commanders before moving on to Kabul, where he met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, where the two of them seem, at this point, to have signed or agreed an agreement about the future of U.S. troops here post the mentor (ph) drawdown in 2014.

Now this comes after a slightly more symbolic agreement called the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which outlined the civilian, if you like, and financial commitment that the U.S. would like to make in the years ahead, once NATO's withdrawn its presence.

This other document does appear to address a military concern which revolve around exactly what kind of troop presence may exist here once that NATO drawdown finally ends in 2014, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic, thank you very much. And obviously we're going to be standing by.

Well, in about 41/2 hours, we're told that the president will address the American people. That will be broadcast around the world on CNN at about 7:30 Eastern time.

Richard Clark, obviously the whole idea now is how do we protect against more of the same, more Al Qaedaism, more of the kind of destruction. Many view the drone strikes, the killing of so many lieutenants, the killing of leaders in Yemen, the Arab Spring even and the turning away of Muslims from Al Qaeda's ideology as a really good sign.

But do you think we're out of the woods?

CLARK: Well, we're not out of the woods. There's still an Al Qaeda in the world. It's not so much operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan any more. But there are things that call themselves Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, in Mali and Africa.

The real difficult one, I think, for us is Al Qaeda in Yemen, so- called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, because they, in addition to having a lot of freedom right now to operate in Yemen after the revolution there, they also appear to have this desire to attack the United States, to do what bin Laden had told them to do, to attack the far enemy -- that's the United States.

The other groups seem more focused on their own regional or national conflicts, but there are six, seven, eight of these Al Qaeda affiliates and they're still very much alive and very deadly.

AMANPOUR: But in terms of authorization, do they have that same sort of ability and space to operate, do you think?

CLARK: Well, the one in Yemen does now. And that's why the U.S. is stepping up drone attacks in Yemen, stepping up its special forces assistance to Yemen, because they were able to do things like have 100-men units in Yemen attacking military bases. They were beginning to train people. They were doing bomb manufacturing. This is where the so-called Underwear Bomber came from.

And the bombers in the printers that were going to be flown to Chicago. That bomb maker is still alive and still well and apparently still in Yemen, trying to figure out a way to make bombs that will go off on American airplanes or somewhere in the United States.

AMANPOUR: Peter, I'm fascinating by some of the micromanaging that you've written about in your book, that you found from that stash of documents that they took out of Abbottabad.

BERGEN: Right. So Richard Clark was referring to the Yemeni affiliate of Al Qaeda. He was sending them notices, first of all, saying don't make the same mistakes that the Al Qaeda did in Iraq, stop killing local tribal members. But he was getting --

AMANPOUR: Civilians?

BERGEN: Civilians. But he was getting really down in the weeds, saying, you know, make sure people take a rest stop before they get on the road so they don't have to stop at a restaurant or a gas station so that -- because they -- those are being infested by government spies.

So he turned into sort of this inveterate micromanager. He was telling the North African affiliate of Al Qaeda to grow trees so that in the future they'd be able to use them for -- as sort of cover for military operations, clearly just was sort of a strange (inaudible).

And at one point he complained that Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, who tried to blow up the Times Square bomb in May 1st of 2010, you know, was an American citizen and therefore was breaking his oath of allegiance to the United States and we shouldn't use nationalized American citizens. It's a very strange thing to say, given the fact that that's probably the best way to attack United States.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, as you wrote, scratching their turbans, trying to figure it out. But look, we're just showing you the pictures right now. It's very dark pictures, the Reuters pictures of President Obama landing, apparently, at Bagram air base, which is north of Kabul and where the big U.S. base is.

What about anything that the wives have been able to say -- I guess the fascinating thing still is, look, it was years, not just a moment in Abbottabad, but years since Osama bin Laden came out of Afghanistan, crossed the frontier, the wild Waziristan, and jumped from safe house to safe house. Had wives, had children, gave birth in hospitals. I mean, there was just so much to know about how he could do that.

BERGEN: Well, you know, his wives have not been particularly cooperative. He has two older wives, 62-year-old and 54-year-old. They both have Ph.Ds. They're savvy. They're very bright. They've been very hostile witnesses, both to the Pakistanis and to the CIA officials. His younger Yemeni wife has been somewhat helpful.

She has given kind of a road map of where they lived in Pakistan, which has been published publicly, out there. You know, it is -- bin Laden was able to move around Pakistan in several cities for nine years.

AMANPOUR: Do you think we'll ever find out -- do you think, from all the interviews that you've conducted, that there was some kind of high- level knowledge?

BERGEN: I don't. I mean, there's just no evidence. Hard to prove negatives, but you know, we got 6,000 documents from the compound. If there was a smoking gun, our relations with the Pakistanis are not so great that we wouldn't have gone out and said we have a smoking gun. And I've talked to multiple people involved who've seen the documents, et cetera. They say there's no smoking gun.

AMANPOUR: And Richard Clark, extraordinarily, John Brennan, the president's adviser on terrorism, came out yesterday and actually admitted the drone strikes and admitted the presence of this operation, basically saying that the president wants his United States to be more open about it. What is that all about and is that -- is that what's going to take out the rest of the Al Qaeda threat?

CLARK: Well, the drone strikes were known to everybody on the --

AMANPOUR: Sure.

CLARK: -- so there was no real loss of intelligence to admit that we were doing it. John's speech yesterday was really to a U.S. audience, an audience that -- of lawyers and academics who have legitimate questions about the process of selecting who is going to be killed on the targeted assassination program, using drones.

And I think John's speech went a long way to answering many of the questions, not all of the questions, about whether this was legal and ethical and effective. I happen to think it is legal, ethical and effective, but it's not sufficient.

In addition to killing people, which we have to do, unfortunately, when they try to kill us, we also have to counter the violent extremism philosophy. And as you can kill people forever, until you counter the philosophy at the root level in the countries where people are turning to violence, they will continue to be terrorists.

AMANPOUR: Richard Clark, Peter Bergen, thank you so much for being here on this day. And we will be right back as we leave you. We're going to show you more of those pictures of President Obama landing at the U.S. air base in Bagram, Afghanistan. When we come back, we'll talk to one of the main Afghan freedom fighters. We'll get his story right after a break.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back. We continue our bin Laden coverage. And as you know, breaking news, President Obama has arrived in Afghanistan to meet U.S. troops there to sign a special agreement with President Hamid Karzai and to address the American people later on this evening from Afghanistan.

You can see the pictures that are coming in now, and we've tried to show them as they become available. The president's very secret trip, until he landed to Afghanistan.

Of course, Afghanistan, as we know, was where the 9/11 plot was hatched. And two days earlier an assassination there would telegraph the attacks 7,000 miles away on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Al Qaeda's suicide bombers killed Afghanistan's legendary freedom fighter, Ahmad Shah Massoud.

He was known as the lion of Panjshir, and he was the leader of U.S.- backed Mujahideen. Eventually his forces fought back the Soviet invasion of the 1980s. On September 9th, 2001, that is when Al Qaeda's suicide bombers, disguised as TV reporters, killed him.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister, former presidential candidate, was Massoud's closest adviser and constant friend. He joins me now, live from Kabul.

Dr. Abdullah, thank you for joining me. It's really important to remember what happened in Afghanistan two days before the 9/11 attacks. What was the impact of the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FORMER AIDE TO MASSOUD: First of all, the reason for that was that Al Qaeda and Taliban wanted to get rid of him and their assumption was that the resistance would collapse (ph) and immediately. And we get the news of (inaudible) Massoud's assassination secret until after September 11th, and then of course by then it was -- it had been that Taliban will (inaudible) collapse.

So (inaudible) Massoud was shouldering the responsibility which now (inaudible) altogether are doing it. But he was doing it alone in his -- in his room and with -- where the people of Afghanistan (inaudible) assassination broken out immediately after his assassination, the resistance would have collapsed immediately.

So we were lucky (ph), in a sense, despite the great loss for the people of Afghanistan and for freedom fighters throughout the world that that news was broken immediately afterwards and then (inaudible). And then (inaudible) afterwards.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Abdullah, what do you hope that the new strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the United States will achieve? Obviously, many Afghans, including perhaps yourself, have been begging the United States, quote, "not to abandon us," do you think this new strategic forces agreement is going to do the job?

ABDULLAH: Though we haven't seen the document, but (inaudible) we have and what we have learned so far, (inaudible) broad framework for cooperation in partnership between both countries and (inaudible) assurances to the people of Afghanistan (inaudible) much more important agreement will be the one which addresses the military security (inaudible) the details of it which will be signed later on.

So the importance of this has been recognized by the people of Afghanistan and we hope that it will deliver to our expectations.

AMANPOUR: And what do you make of the attempts to negotiate with the Taliban? I know that many believe that that's the only way to have a peace, because it probably will not be fought and won on the battlefield. You fought the Taliban. Ahmad Shah Massoud fought the Taliban. Can they be brought into the democratic process?

ABDULLAH: I don't think so. Perhaps some individuals were fighting on the ground or some individuals anyway. But other that that, the (inaudible) Taliban to all Taliban is a movement. Their idea of Islamic (inaudible) in association with terrorists from all over the world, it's not to be part of a democratic system but (inaudible) bring any system down and replace it with their own. And that's (inaudible) to why it's -- (inaudible).

And (inaudible) sometimes signals are giving all messages are giving to the people as we are any closer to making a deal with the Taliban in terms of peace and reconciliation. We have not set at any stage that they want peaceful resolution to the conflict, but they have made conditions but those conditions have also not (inaudible) they are shown it through many ways in multiple senses that they will fight today.

And with association with the terrorist groups and with the backing that they are having from ISI in Pakistan, until the end.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, thank you so much for joining us from Kabul.

And obviously, we're going to keep looking at that story, because the whole issue of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States is going to be key to a resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan and to allow the United States to pull out without as much danger as may follow a pullout. We'll be right back.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back, and updating our breaking news, as we've just seen, President Obama has arrived in Afghanistan to meet with President Karzai. They are expected to sign the strategic partnership agreement between the United States and Afghan governments.

President Obama will return to Bagram air base and will address the American people from there at 7:30 Eastern time. The president has arrived in Afghanistan on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

That after a 10-year manhunt to try to find him. As we know now, in the aftermath of that hunt for Osama bin Laden, we found out that for years he had been inside Pakistan. For years, he'd been hopscotching from safe house to safe house. For years, he had actually lived at the compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

Going in to get him, many portray as an incredibly important move, an important decision by the President of the United States. Some of his advisers were against it. Others said that he had to do it, given what he knew, and given the alternatives. He did it. The helicopters landed, the SEAL team went in. They got him. Osama bin Laden is dead. And the world is a safer place.

Thank you for watching. Good night from New York.

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