CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH NIC ROBERTSON
Aired December 7, 2001 - 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.
NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the Afghan/Pakistan border.
Three hours drive away up the highway in Kandahar, residents woke early Friday to chaos and widespread looting. Later in the day, forces of Mullah Maqib (ph), the new commander of Kandahar, moved into town. The looting stopped, and by late in the day they were joined by other tribal fighters, and the situation in the city returned to some kind of normality.
We have been waiting here at the border for the Taliban to lose control in Kandahar and to move into the city. However, with the Taliban on the run and tribal forces potentially jockeying for power on the highway, we were advised it was too dangerous. But with the help of tribal commanders, as soon as the Taliban left the frontier town of Spin Boldak, we were helped across the border. We were the first journalists to visit the town, and we found the new commanders there, ready and willing to track down al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Raising the flag of exiled King Zahir Shah, Achatzai (ph) tribesmen declared this corner of Afghanistan free from Taliban. Only hours before, they say, the last Taliban fighters left after first surrendering their weapons.
The Achatzai (ph) tribal fighters wander freely around this part of Spin Boldak. Negotiations with the Taliban left them one-third of the tiny border town. Two other tribes control the rest.
For now, as the change in order takes place, the streets are somewhat chaotic. Given that these people have just thrown off the Taliban overlords, a remarkable sense of normality pervades. In a quiet room, away from the confusion of the streets, Hachi Kareem Kahn (ph), head of the Achatzai (ph) tribe, holds court.
Tribal elders come to show respect. The vigorous debate is over how to run their part of town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If we catch any Arabs, we will arrest them, we will hand them over to the international law. They destroyed our country and spilled our blood.
ROBERTSON: And while most of these men knew and got on with the Taliban, for the seven years the hard-line Islamic militia ran things here, these tribesmen want revenge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Leaders of the Taliban would not be given amnesty. All problems that happened to Afghanistan are because of these leaders. If it were not for their crimes, Afghanistan would not be in this misery.
ROBERTSON: Unlike Kandahar, three hours drive down the highway, tribal leaders here in Spin Boldak say they have been united sufficiently to prevent looting here, despite all the valuable goods stored in this frontier town.
ROBERTSON: For now at least, in advance of Afghanistan's interim government being set up, these tribal leaders do appear to be sharing power. Further north, however, where the Taliban have been ousted from power for some time, the focus has been shifted firmly on to finding al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
We have two reports tonight from the region. First, from Ben Wedeman, who has been with thousands of mujahideen fighters on the ground moving into the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tora Bora takes a pounding from a steady stream of U.S. B-1 and B-52 bombers, targeting positions manned by members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network in the rugged mountains near the border with Pakistan.
As the bombs fell, Eastern Alliance fighters relaxed on the ridges below al Qaeda's positions. On this day, they did little more than watch the action, chant and pray, and talk about what they'll do if they find Osama bin Laden.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will kill him, maybe. That belongs to our commander.
WEDEMAN (on camera): Punishing air strikes and a rather lackadaisical approach by the Eastern Alliance have failed to budge al Qaeda. Now it appears other forces are coming into battle.
(voice-over): Through a telephoto lens, armed men, not Afghans, trudge with their Afghan guides toward the mountains. Local Eastern Alliance commanders say as many as 20 U.S. special forces troops are operating in this area.
Hazrat Ali commands the Eastern Alliance fighters around Tora Bora, and warns that although the U.S. bombing helps, it won't do the job.
"You could bomb day ant night," he says, "and it won't make a big difference. Soldiers have to go in there."
And that is when the real battle for Tora Bora will begin.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, Agam (ph), in the White Mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
ROBERTSON: Well, the scale of the battle there is only hinted at by the sheer size of the mountains. They are, of course, the foothills of the Himalayas of Everest fame. Brent Sadler reported from another flank on the battle front in this huge battle.
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is the end of a dramatic day of military activity in the foothills of the White Mountains now in shadow behind me in eastern Afghanistan. We have seen one of the most sustained and heavy periods of U.S. air strikes, American bombers flying over this location, bombing, pounding positions of al Qaeda in the lower and higher religions of those mountains behind me. Very hostile terrain at the top of which, the fortress, mountain fortress of Tora Bora possibly hiding Osama bin Laden himself is located.
Now, according to anti-Taliban force commanders on the ground here, as those U.S. planes were bombing those positions, they are claiming that -- the anti-Taliban fighters claiming that they have inflicted some severe casualties on al Qaeda, claiming to have killed at least two dozen of the al Qaeda fighters, also two of their senior commanders. The anti-Taliban groups are also claiming that they have received radio appeals from al Qaeda representatives asking for time, breathing space if you like, they are asking for five days it said, for them to clear positions, for the anti-Taliban to stop fighting and for al Qaeda to begin position to clear their areas and to withdraw from this region so that they can move perhaps into Pakistan.
That mountain range behind me marks the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the anti-Taliban commanders on the ground here say they refused to do that, they reject that request and they are going to continue with their assault, which they say will intensify in the coming days ahead.
Now another important development today: We saw what appears to be a deployment of unidentified special forces, a group of non-Afghan armed men moving slowly up the valley toward Tora Bora, with pack animals loaded with equipment and guides. It was reported several days ago that as many as 20 American personnel one the ground in the eastern Afghanistan, but their services were not identified by commanders here. But it does seem to be a deployment of some special forces of some kind heading up to this very key region, possibly for intensified air activity in the coming days ahead.
Also, at the end of this day we saw tanks, T-55's, which have been pounding away at those al Qaeda positions, moving forward, presumably for a better shot so that they can continue support, tank support, armor support of the warriors, the anti-Taliban warriors making their way, inching toward the final objective of Tora Bora itself. But that is going to take many, many more days of what's expected to be tough and heavy going.
Brent Sadler, CNN, Agam, in the White Mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, Marines dug in at a military air base, a military air strip in the desert south of Kandahar, go on the ground offensive for the first time, chasing down Taliban leaders.
ROBERTSON: For more than a week now, over 1,000 Marines have been dug in at a desert airstrip, 60 miles southwest of the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Now, for the first time, they went on an offensive, chasing down Taliban leaders. And as Department of Defense pool reporter Rick Leventhal reports, they contacted out in the field some Taliban fighters. And according to the Marines, seven of Taliban were killed.
RICK LEVENTHAL, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE POOL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A Cobra attack helicopter takes off from the desert airstrip alongside Camp Rhino in search of a possible enemy convoy in the area. Heavily armed fast attack vehicles join the hunt, but find no threat. Inside and outside the base walls, U.S. Marines are in high alert, especially after Thursday night, when enemy forces, on vehicles and on foot, were spotted probing the camp's perimeter in more than one location. Marines responded with illumination rounds, mortars and automatic grenade launchers, lighting up the night sky dozens of times.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been a lot of adrenalin going in here. Everybody is keeping warm from the cold, that's for sure.
LEVENTHAL: During a second wave of mortar rounds late Thursday, a Marine Huey helicopter crashed and burned on the runway, injuring two men slightly and destroying the aircraft. The crash is under investigation, but a spokesman says it's 99 percent certain the chopper was not shot down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are thinking, like, we're down, it's one of ours.
LEVENTHAL: And the Marines from task force 58 have now carried out their first offensive action since seizing this compound November 25, killing seven enemy fighters and destroying three vehicles along roads near Kandahar.
(on camera): As a matter of policy, the Marines won't discuss specifics of their rules of engagement when countering enemy forces, except to say the rules are designed to ensure Marine success in their mission.
With the Marines in southern Afghanistan, I'm Rick Leventhal.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON: With the Taliban on the run and the support inside Afghanistan dwindling measurably, Amanda Kibel takes a look across the border inside Pakistan, at the former vocal champions of the Taliban cause among the hard-line Islamic militia there.
AMANDA KIBEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just two months ago, just after the American military campaign in Afghanistan began, Hafez Khalil (ph), a senior member of the extreme Islamic pro-Taliban JUI Party took to the streets of Quetta, Pakistan to spread the party message.
"Long live Sheikh Osama, long live Mullah Omar," he shouts. His supporters respond with the same.
But that was then. Now it seems the party line has been reversed.
"It was a very big mistake," he says, "for the Taliban not to surrender on the 8th of October when the bombing began. Why did they take such a long time to surrender? If the Taliban had surrendered before, so many lives could have been saved."
Hafez Khalil (ph) says the JUI misjudged the situation in Afghanistan.
"We thought then the people of Afghanistan supported the Taliban, but we were wrong," he says. "We understand it was them that pressurized the Taliban to surrender, because their houses were destroyed and their children were dying."
But the official about-face doesn't seem to have reached all of the party faithful yet.
(on camera): Returning to the Friday protests here after sometime away, it's striking just how little seems to have changed here, despite significant changes on the ground in Afghanistan. There are the same flags, the same passionate feelings, and the same unwavering support for the now ousted Taliban.
"The Taliban are not finished," says this man. "They will come back," he insists, "when the Americans have left."
"Even if the Taliban are finished inside," says another, "we are not. We will fight until the end."
The talk here is still of joining the Taliban to fight the jihad, heading for the holy war across the border in Afghanistan. Hafez Khalil (ph) says those who choose to go will fight a lonely battle.
"If somebody wants to bang their head against a brick wall," he says, "nobody is going to join them."
But if the party policy has softened, some of its people it seems have not. Here, old habits die hard. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now there is here!
KIBEL: The security guard explains, our elders and our party leaders told us not to allow women inside the stadium. This is a religious demonstration.
And what of their supreme religious leader Mullah Mohammed Omar? Here at the protests, his name is still sacred.
Once again, official policy begs to differ.
"Maybe," says Hafez Khalil (ph), "I will not support him."
Amanda Kibel, CNN, Quetta, Pakistan.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, what Afghan refugees living inside Pakistan fear the most: Being told to go back home.
ROBERTSON: When the Soviet army occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, almost four million refugees flooded across the border into Pakistan. Twenty years later, almost two million remain. Many of them have put down roots. And as Tom Mintier reports, some fear the livelihoods they have now they may soon be forced to give up.
TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Abdullah Baher is an Afghan who's afraid of what the new Afghanistan political accord will mean for his life.
ABDULLAH BAHER, AFGHAN REFUGEE: I don't want to go back for right now, by force.
MINTIER: Baher and many others here are scared by what they're reading in the Pakistani newspapers, stories that suggest Afghans in Pakistan would now be rounded up and sent home.
Baher has lived in Pakistan for nine years, he has both a passport and a visa. He owns this video rental shop in Islamabad. He says someday he wants to go home to Kabul, but not now.
BAHER: For right now they don't want to go back to Afghanistan, for right now, but if the situation is good, I mean, and everything is all right so they're going to go back.
MINTIER: Mohammad Mubashir (ph) is here illegally for 18 months, no passport, no visa, no permission to be here.
"Sometimes," he says, "I have to give money to the police." The two men standing with him are also here as illegals and worried about being sent away. Of the three million Afghans living in Pakistan, most are here illegally. Seven out of every 10 don't have a passport, don't have a visa. They simply live and work here. The news of a plan to send them home spread like wildfire.
A spokeswoman for the U.N.'s refugee agency says she has heard nothing about forcing Afghans back to Afghanistan.
MAKI SHINOHARA, UNCHR SPOKESWOMAN: If it was a forcible relocation or forcible repatriation then we will definitely have a very much of a problem with that. However, these camp areas are right along the border, it's very insecure.
MINTIER: Pakistan's foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, says while his country wants Afghans to be able to return home, he denies his government will force them out.
ABDUL SATTAR, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: There is no decision of the government of Pakistan that should be a cause of anxiety regarding forcible repatriation of Afghans.
MINTIER: But anxiety is exactly what people like Mohammad Mubashir (ph) are feeling. He feeds his family on the thirty U.S. dollars he makes at the video store each month. If he is sent to a refugee camp there will be no paycheck, and no future.
Tom Mintier, CNN, Islamabad, Pakistan.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, how, after years in forced isolation under Taliban rule, a few women are now emerging to play a leading role in the running of the new Afghanistan.
ROBERTSON: Not only did the Taliban ban women from leaving their homes without a male relative, they also forbade them from working. In the Taliban's view a woman's role was to stay at home, and educate her children in the way of Muslim holy book the Koran. With Taliban banished from power now a new political shape is emerging, and women, as Patricia Sabga reports, are playing a part in it.
PATRICIA SABGA (voice-over): Under the Taliban, they had 0 percent of the power. Now women have nearly 7 percent, at least for the next six months. Two women stepped into key posts in Afghanistan's interim government; one as minister for public health, the other as deputy chair and minister for women. It may prove to be nothing more than symbolic, but it is a beginning for those Afghans who suffered the most conspicuous excesses of Taliban tyranny.
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, N. ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINISTER: I think it's one part of the decision to put women in the government, in the high posts, is to give the clear signal for the Afghan women as a whole that things have changed. To regain their confidence.
SABGA: In the Afghan capital, confidence was tempered.
The country's most prominent feminist, Soraya Parlika, told us two women alone can not secure women's rights, but it is a good start.
This woman told us: "The new postings are good for all women, because they will enable more of them to work."
At this burqa shop we asked these women if the appointments would make any difference to their lives.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She says, "I don't know."
SABGA: Five years of imposed silence have robbed many women of their voice, but not all. Jamila Mujahed was the first women to broadcast the news after the Taliban fled Kabul.
"It's not the number of women that matters," she says. "Women were robbed of all their rights, so this little change is the biggest thing for us."
(on camera): The accord calls for the new government to be gender-sensitive. Those words have an arduous journey to action, given the brutal gender apartheid suffered under the Taliban. But if this government can affect real change in the lives of women here, it just may work for the rest of Afghanistan.
Patricia Sabga, CNN, Kabul.
ROBERTSON: Thank you for watching LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN. We'll be back at the same time tomorrow.
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