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As Bombing Intensifies Around Kandahar, Signs War Winding Down; CIA Officer Killed at Fortress Compound During Uprising by Taliban Prisoners

Aired November 29, 2001 - 07:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: In Afghanistan, an American death at this compound. A 32-year-old father of three becomes the first U.S. combat death in the war against terrorism. To Mike Spann's father, there's no question who is to blame for his son's death.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you blame anyone for his death?



ZAHN: Good morning. Thanks so much for being with us this morning. Welcome. It is Thursday, November 29. From New York, I'm Paula Zahn.

Now on to some of the big questions we'll be tackling this hour. The first American combat death in Afghanistan was a CIA operative. Why is the CIA revealing so much? Also, will John Ashcroft's new strategy work? The attorney general is announcing a new plan this morning to fight terrorism. He will be our guest at 20 minutes after the hour. And is the U.S. missing an opportunity to liberate Afghan women? Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton says she thinks so. She joins us live a little bit later on this hour, as well.

We're going to get to those questions in a few minutes. But first let's turn to Bill Hemmer, who's standing by on war alert in Atlanta -- Bill.


Late developments in the war in Afghanistan. New U.S. troops in the north and intense air strikes in the south. Twenty to 25 soldiers from a quick reaction force have been flown from Uzbekistan to an air field near Mazir-i-Sharif. The U.S. troops will provide security, but details on their mission, as expected, are not provided now.

Meanwhile, the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar and the surrounding area have come under relentless U.S. air attack over the past 24 hours. Targets elsewhere in eastern and southern Afghanistan also have been hit there. A high profile capture is being reported in Afghanistan. The "L.A. Times" says that anti-Taliban forces have captured Achmed Abdel Rahman (ph), a prominent figure in the al Qaeda network. Rahman shown here in Cairo, Egypt back in 1995. He's the son of convicted terrorist Omar Abdul Rahman, the so-called blind sheikh imprisoned in the U.S. for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The flag at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia flying at half staff now. This for Mike Spann. He's the CIA operative killed during a prison uprising near Mazir-i-Sharif. It's the first U.S. combat death inside Afghanistan. Mike Spann was 32 years old, an Auburn University graduate and an ex-marine of eight years. He was married and the father of three.

Attorney General John Ashcroft thinks there are non-citizens in the U.S. who might have information on terrorists or acts of terrorism but that they are not coming forward because they violated immigration rules and fear they will be deported. So today, Ashcroft will launch a so-called cooperators program. Non-citizens who provide useful information will get what's called immigration relief from prosecution or deportation. The attorney general talking about that again in about 15 minutes time right here on CNN. Stay tuned for that momentarily.

A go or no go decision expected soon on tonight's scheduled launch of the shuttle Endeavor on a mission to the international space station. The problem is not with Endeavor, but a docking mechanism on board the space station. Sensors indicate an unmanned cargo craft has been unable to compete its docking procedures. Much more throughout the morning on that.

Weather news now. Winter like weather icing over the roads in Texas and Oklahoma and it's driving up the number of accidents. Also, hundreds of traffic mishaps are reported in Texas, where five people so far have been killed. Another five are said to be dead in the state of Oklahoma.

Finally from New York, 30,000 red, white and blue lights now. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting kicks off traditionally the Christmas season in the Big Apple. That switch, thrown by the first lady, Laura Bush, and the mayor, Rudy Giuliani. And the mayor called the tree a salute to our heroes. Mrs. Bush paid tribute to New Yorkers' spirits and courage. A good sight and special meaning, certainly, this year.

See you again shortly, Paula. Back to you now in New York.

ZAHN: Special meaning in the city and one that caused quite a bit of traffic last night, a gridlock alert when those lights were turned on.

All right, all the excitement has passed now. It is time to move on to what is happening in the Afghan city of Spin Boldak. As bombing intensifies around Kandahar, there are signs the war is winding down elsewhere in Afghanistan. As we just mentioned, in the city of Spin Boldak near the Pakistani border the Taliban say they are ready to surrender to tribal leaders. But there is one major obstacle.

Our Christiane Amanpour is standing by in Kabul now with more on that -- Christiane, good morning. Welcome.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, there appears to be an argument going on between the tribal chiefs down in Spin Boldak as to who would take over if and when the Taliban down there surrender. Also, of course, and the main focus right now are the political talks that are going on in Bonn, Germany and what's happening, according to sources at those talks, is that there has been an agreement reached, we're told, between the Northern Alliance delegation and the former king's delegation on an interim political solution, with the king acting as the supervisor of this interim settlement until a final agreement is hammered out.

U.N. sources at that talks, which is being sponsored by the U.N., caution, though, that there's still a lot of work to be done and not to draw any final conclusions from what's being told to us early this morning.

But another point of very intense focus is the issue of a multinational force for Afghanistan. Both the U.N. and the United States are weighing in on that and they want that force. Now, Northern Alliance delegates at the talks have said that they're not ready to consider that. But it hasn't come up on the table yet and the Northern Alliance key official, the foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah, has told CNN that the Northern Alliance will be flexible on the issue of a multinational peace force.


DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, NORTHERN ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINISTER: Our position has been that our preference would be an Afghan force composed of all ethnic groups, of course, under the U.N. once again. But this is the preference. But if we have to go for a multinational peacekeeping force, we will consider it positively. If it is needed, if it is required in the light of developments, we will consider it positively. There is no rejection for that.


AMANPOUR: Now, we've also been talking to the Northern Alliance defense minister, General Fahim, today. And we asked him what he thought the military situation was developing around Kandahar with the presence of U.S. troops there and the Taliban may be on the run. Definitely it's their last stand. We asked him did he think Mullah Omar and the Taliban were going to fold away and melt away any time soon.

He said he didn't think Mullah Omar was ready to surrender yet, but that the pressure was most definitely building with the presence and the increased numbers of U.S. troops on that area of Kandahar. And he also said that he believed that eventually both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar would be arrested.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. FAHIM, NORTHERN ALLIANCE MILITARY LEADER: You know that Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden have lost their regular forces. They move very secretly and travel from one place to another secretly. If Kandahar and the suburbs are captured, it's my strong opinion that Osama and Omar will be arrested.


AMANPOUR: Now, on the other issue, we asked both the defense minister and the chief intelligence minister here about the report of an al Qaeda official being captured by anti-Taliban forces, Rahman, as has been reported in the "Los Angeles Times." Both officials told us that they had no information on that. It may have been that he had been captured in some other provinces and the information has not yet filtered through to Kabul. But at the moment the word from high officials here in Kabul is that they have no information on the capture or arrest of that so-called top al Qaeda official -- Paula.

ZAHN: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much for that update. See you throughout the morning.

The war in Afghanistan comes home to a small town in northeast Alabama. As we told you just a few minutes ago, Mike Spann, a 32- year-old father of three and a CIA covert operations officer, was killed at a fortress compound during an uprising by Taliban prisoners.

CNN's Martin Savidge is standing by in Spann's hometown of Winfield, Alabama -- Martin, what's the latest from there?


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... the middle of a war in the heart of the rural south. The fight in Afghanistan just got personal.

TRACY ESTES, WINFIELD JOURNALIST: And for the first time, Winfield, Alabama can put a face with this war.

SAVIDGE: Welcome to Winfield, Alabama, the night the war came home. Most in this town of just over 4,000 didn't know 32-year-old Mike Spann was in the CIA, fewer still that he was in a far off place like Mazir-i-Sharif.

J. SPANN: He gave his life in the line of work, in the line of duty.

SAVIDGE: But suddenly a man almost everyone knew by his local real estate business found himself standing in a neighbor's yard talking of a loss no father should have to tell.

J. SPANN: And our family wants the world to know that we are very proud of our son Mike and we consider him a hero.

SAVIDGE: The news of Mike Spann's death traveled fast here, not on radio or television, but by word of mouth, on the telephone, at the restaurant and gas station. His high school football coach got the word at the coffee shop.

JOE HUBBARD, HIGH SCHOOL COACH: And I remember the last time I saw him at church with his two little girls. And I can remember what my daughter said. My daughter is a graduate of the University of Alabama, and she says he's a good looking young man and beautiful children. They was all dressed in white, the children. And a beautiful day.

SAVIDGE: Winfield is the sort of town where flags have always flown, not just put up after September 11. Now those flags have lowered, but the pride has only risen higher. I asked Mike's father if he blamed anyone for his son's death. His answer was short and direct.

J. SPANN: Osama bin Laden.

SAVIDGE: Osama bin Laden would have a lot of explaining to do here.

ESTES: Osama bin Laden has started something that America's going to finish. But now Winfield has a personal reason to want to see this score settled.

HUBBARD: You know, I hope he's not around too long, really.

SAVIDGE: Like I said, in Winfield, Alabama, it's now personal.


SAVIDGE: It is still very early here and people in this community are only now literally and figuratively waking up to the news of Mike Spann's death, the death of their hometown hero. You could sense that sort of extra edge of anguish that it brought to his family as I spoke to his father last night. This is the kind of town, like any town, where parents like to brag about their children's achievements, what it is they've done, the successes that they've had in life. The Spann family could never do that. They could only do that now, after his death -- Paula.

ZAHN: And they're doing it in such a poignant way. In any of your conversations with either Mike Spann's father or family friends did anybody indicate frustration that they somehow felt the government was caught off guard in Mazir-i-Sharif?

SAVIDGE: No, they didn't. That point was brought specifically to his father and he did not blame the government. He did not blame the fact that the prisoners had not been checked for weapons. He simply said that his son had done his duty serving his nation, something he'd also wanted to do -- Paula.

ZAHN: Martin Savidge, thanks for that report.

From the outside of the war on terrorism, President Bush has been warning that there would be American casualties. Now that the U.S. has suffered its first combat death, will it change the way Americans look at the war? Joining us now from Washington is CNN military analyst Major General Donald Shepperd. Good morning. Welcome.


ZAHN: The question I have for you, is there any excuse for prisoners not having been patted down and weapons taken away from them?

SHEPPERD: Well, Paula, it's very, very hard to say. As we watch military operations and the things develop around the world on television, they look easy. They are exceedingly complex and exceedingly dangerous. And the general rule of thumb for military operations anywhere is whatever can go wrong will and it'll go wrong at the worst possible time.

This seems like a well planned event. It's true that some people obviously slipped through with weapons. Others were acquired in there. It's hard to blame anybody, but this is really an unfortunate incident.

ZAHN: But the bottom line is, or maybe this isn't correct. Shoot this down if it's not correct. Wasn't the Pentagon caught off guard here?

SHEPPERD: Well, remember, the Pentagon was not the one conducting this operation, Paula. The Northern Alliance was in charge of this operation. It's true that Mike Spann and others were there at the location taking part, but this was not conducted by the United States. We're not directing those operations. We are coordinating and have a liaison but this is the Northern Alliance's war, not our war. And our people are in the middle of it in dangerous situations.

ZAHN: And we understand the Pentagon now is sending in some 100 men from its mountains division. Is this in direct reaction to the death of Mike Spann?

SHEPPERD: Well, it appears to me that what's taken place there is another FOB or forward operating base closer to the scene of the action. The further you are away from action when it takes place the harder it is to assemble people, communicate with them, brief them and then get them into an area. So it appears prudent to me after this took place that you would have a couple of dozen people closer to the action that you can move in very quickly if Americans are in danger or if they're needed for any other operation.

ZAHN: I think you've just really intelligently described the fog of what happened, particularly with the Northern Alliance in control at that point. In a situation that occurred like we just witnessed in Mazir-i-Sharif, was there anything the Pentagon could have done to brought it -- bring it into control quickly?

SHEPPERD: The way this has developed, I don't think so. Again, it'd conducted -- the operations are conducted by the Northern Alliance. We have a liaison with them. We have obviously CIA people, as Mike was there on the scene, doing the things that these very brave CIA warriors do unnoticed all around the world in dangerous situations. They're everywhere. And I'm not sure in this particular case that the Pentagon could have done anything other than sweep large numbers of U.S. forces into the area, which is exactly what we're trying to avoid.

ZAHN: On to the issue of the marines. At what point do you think they will be moving directly against the Taliban?

SHEPPERD: Well, some interesting things are developing in the southern part of the country. Of course, the marines have been inserted, reportedly 750 to 800 now in country, establishing a base through which others can be brought in if necessary. You're also seeing indications in the Kabul area of assembly of large numbers of tanks by the Northern Alliance.

I think what you're going to see is the Pashtuns under Ismail Khan moving from the northwest in Herat, you're going to see the Northern Alliance moving from the Kabul area and then the marines acting as a blocking force down south, supported by air power. It appears that the battle for Kandahar or the turnover of Kandahar is going to happen sooner rather than later.

ZAHN: And when you say sooner rather than later, are you talking about within a matter of days?

SHEPPERD: I think it -- the initial actions could be in a matter of days. You see Spin Boldak on the border being, negotiations taking place for turning that over. It could happen in a matter of days. But my guess is it'll happen within the next couple of weeks. It's much more complex to get to Kandahar, which is the Taliban stronghold, with reportedly as many as 20,000 Taliban fighters still in that area now desperate for obvious reasons. It's a long way, 350 miles from Kabul through rough territory, about 270 from Herat. So this could be a big battle if it develops in Kandahar or along the way.

ZAHN: General, as always, thanks for your wealth of information this morning. Appreciate your time.

SHEPPERD: A pleasure, Paula.

ZAHN: Still to come this morning, a new strategy from Washington. Will the attorney general's new plans help fight the war on terrorism? And a little bit later on, low tar or low nicotine cigarettes -- find out why some say the ad campaign is just smoke and mirrors. Those stories and more as CNN continues. John Ashcroft coming up in just about four minutes or so. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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