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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

U.S. Continues to Pound Potential bin Laden Hideouts

Aired December 10, 2001 - 19:00   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.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: THE WAR ROOM. Opposition forces say they've got al Qaeda die-hards hemmed in, as they hammer away at mountain caves and tunnels, hunting for Osama bin Laden.

We'll go live to Afghanistan and to the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's information that is on those tapes that, again, shows the world just how evil Osama bin Laden is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Would millions of Muslim feel differently about a wider war on terrorism if they saw a videotape showing Osama bin Laden celebrating the slaughter of thousands of innocents?

I'll ask former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Wyche Fowler, Ken Adelman, the former U.S. arms control director, and CNN military analyst retired General David Grange as we go into the WAR ROOM.

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting tonight from Washington. There's an important new development in the U.S. war against terrorism. U.S. officials say they have come up with what amounts to a smoking gun piece of evidence, directly linking Osama bin Laden to the September 11th terrorist attacks. They say they plan to make public a videotape which, officials say, show Osama bin Laden bragging about the hijackings and the World Trade Center bombing, and joking that some of the hijackers did not know that they were going to die.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For those that see this tape, they will realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A senior administration official says the tape will likely be released Wednesday, and that an outside translator would be involved to counter speculation that the government had somehow doctored the Arabic-language tape.

Earlier, I spoke with Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, who has viewed the tape, and he says it's very compelling. He says bin Laden boasts directly that the attacks were more destructive than even he could have imagined. We'll have much more on the tape in our WAR ROOM discussion that's coming up in just a few moments.

Osama bin Laden's current whereabouts meanwhile remain very much a mystery, but his al Qaeda loyalists are under increasing pressure. Let's go live now to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, she's in Kandahar in Afghanistan for the latest -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, east of here, in Jalalabad, in fact in the Tora Bora Mountains near there, the so-called eastern alliance, who've taken over from the Taliban have been mounting an assault on those base mountain caves, because they say they believe, that Osama bin Laden and at least one of his top lieutenants, Ayman al-Zawahiri is there holed up. They say, they believe, that they have them and al Qaeda operatives confined to a four kilometer area, about one and a half square miles. But they have been meeting resistance in the last couple of days from the al Qaeda forces there, who have been fighting back with tanks and with mortars.

Of course the United States has been stepping up its airstrikes of that area, including dropping what is known as the daisy cutter, a very heavy bomb that makes a very, very big and destructive explosion. So here in Kandahar we drove in today. This is about the third since this town has been liberated, we saw a lot of evidence of American airstrikes on the road leading up here. and they're also said to be some 200 Arabs, potentially al Qaeda people holed up and surrounded by the tribal forces who've taken over in Kandahar, and they're somewhere over near the airport.

In addition Hamid Karzai, the man who has been nominated to head the interim government for Afghanistan, has announced that all political prisoners here have been released yesterday or rather today your time, that amounts to about 1,200 people.

In Kabul, the capital, U.S. Marines have gone into the old U.S. embassy there. It hasn't been occupied by the U.S. since 1989. And they went in there for an assessment. If you remember, in the early days of this crisis, the Taliban organized a demonstration outside that embassy, there were cars set on fire in the compound, and the seal was taken down. But with all the diplomatic missions slowly trickling back to Kabul, especially in advance of this new government being set up, the U.S. is now the latest to go and see what it needs to do to reoccupy its own diplomatic mission -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, as you know, more than 1,000 U.S. Marines are about 60 miles outside of Kandahar, where you are right now, Camp Rhino it's called. I take it, though, some of them are planning on moving in toward Kandahar, despite the fact that it's probably still pretty precarious, is that your sense?

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm not sure about them moving in. But they may very well, we have certainly seen U.S. special forces in Kandahar, I mean I saw a truck loaded with them yesterday, or a pickup load of them yesterday and they are here in the town. They seem to be getting a perfectly fine reception, almost going around unnoticed. And going about their business with very little ado. In terms of the situation in this town, there was you know, a sort of 48-hour period in which it wasn't quite sure which of the anti-Taliban forces had full control of it, but it does seem to be clearing up now. Hamid Karzai has seemed to have imposed his authority, and for the moment at least there does seem to be a central authority that is keeping the situation calm.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thank you very much. And Christiane will have much more at top of the hour in her special report "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN," and that's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, says the Taliban have been defeated, but the fierce fighting raging around Tora Bora highlights what they say about the war in Afghanistan being far from over. Our military affairs correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, joins us now live from the Pentagon. With all of the developments from that front -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it there was one message from the Pentagon today, Wolf, it was one of lowering expectations. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz conducted the briefing today, and he began with a message, essentially, referring to some of the reports in the press, of the pundits talking about the United States having already won the war in Afghanistan. And now having to focus on winning the peace. People talking about it all being over, but the shouting, and he wanted to say, at this point, it is important for the United States not to lose focus, and that that kind of talk was premature.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): U.S. intelligence reports, say Taliban leader Mohammed Omar has slipped out of Kandahar, but hasn't gone far. A handful of Taliban leaders have been captured by Northern Alliance forces under the command of General Dostum, including, sources say, the chief of staff for the Taliban army. But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says -- quote -- "It ain't over yet."

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: It remains the case that large numbers of al Qaeda terrorists, including senior leaders, as well as senior leaders of the Taliban, are still at large in Afghanistan. It's going to be a very long and difficult job to find them, to root them out.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon continues to bomb the caves and tunnels near Tora Bora in the east, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding. Over the weekend the Air Force dropped a huge 15,000 pound bomb on a concentration of al Qaeda fighters with the hope of killing some and demoralizing the rest.

REAR ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: There is a psychological effect of having ammunition of 15,000 pounds of explosive capability, that's brought into a very narrowly defined area. This cave complex is literally on the sheer walls of a valley and therefore the reverberation effect that goes up in those caves should have some kind of a negative effect.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon doesn't know for sure where bin Laden is, but is confident it's making his escape increasingly difficult.

WOLFOWITZ: This is a man on the run, a man with a big price on his head, a man who has to wake up everyday and decide do I keep all the security around me, which I need to make sure that some Afghan bounty hunters don't turn me in, but which help to give a lot of reports about my whereabouts, or do I go into hiding. He doesn't have a lot of good options.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: And more evidence tonight that the war in Afghanistan has moved into a new phase. The USS Kitty Hawk, the aircraft carrier that had been cleared of most of its planes, to serve as a floating base for special operations, has now left the waters off the coast of Pakistan. Some of the U.S. troops that were on board, have returned to the United States, others have moved to land bases in the region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, the U.S. military and its allies now have access to some of the captured Taliban leaders. How helpful have they been, will they be perhaps in finding Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar?

MCINTYRE: Well, they don't have lot of high expectation about that, except they do say, particularly with the tradition in the area of switching sides, that they are hoping they can get pieces of useful information. The one most talkative Taliban right now is that American Taliban, John Walker, he according to sources, has been telling the U.S. military what he knows. But it's not clear that what he knows is all that helpful. But, again, it's a continuous intelligence gathering effort, every piece of the puzzle helps put together a better picture of where Osama bin Laden might be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

And while the Pentagon warns there's still a lot of unfinished business in Afghanistan, is it time for the U.S. to expand the war against terrorism? Will release of the bin Laden videotape win any hearts and minds in the Muslim world?

Joining me now, here in the WAR ROOM, Ken Adelman of Defensecentral.com, a former U.S. arms control director; CNN military analyst, retired General David Grange; and Wyche Fowler, he's chairman of the Middle East Institute, he's also a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, in addition to that he served 16 years in the U.S. Congress.

You can e-mail me your questions, by the way, just go to our Web site: cnn.com/wolf. That's also, by the way, where you'll find my daily column. Let me begin with you, General Grange, this videotape -- can you see any reason why it shouldn't be released?

GENERAL DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I believe once it's assured that intelligence gathering techniques would not be compromised from showing the tape, that we should immediately show it throughout the Muslim world to use as an advantage, an advantage for us to show through the truth, that this guy is bad, that he did do this, that he was behind this. And perception management is very important and we ought to exploit that.

BLITZER: What about that, Ken Adelman? Do you have any problems releasing this videotape?

KEN ADELMAN, FORMER U.S. ARMS CONTROL DIRECTOR: I worry that what you are going to do is to have a lot of the Saudi officials who have been spewing a lot of hatred and all kind of glorify Osama bin Laden. I don't think there's any doubt among any of us whether he was involved or not involved. I think that really ended very quickly after September 11.

I think what has happened is that people are now realizing that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, seemingly friendly on the surface, have been spewing hate, have been making heroes out of these guys for a very long period of time. And I think that is dangerous to show him his responsibility in this and to show him that, my God, he accomplished all that.

BLITZER: Well, Wyche Fowler, you served in Saudi Arabia. You were the U.S. ambassador most recently. How is it going to play in Saudi Arabia, this videotape, if it's as compelling as the administration says it is?

WYCHE FOWLER, CHAIRMAN, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Well, I think it would be helpful. I think it would be helpful to the case that, as Mr. Adelman said, that we are making and that we believe.

I don't -- I disagree with him. There hadn't been any hatred being spewed out of Saudi Arabia or Egypt for that matter against us. All the hatred has been against bin Laden because he called for the overthrow of the Saudi government. They have had terrorism. At the same time our boys were killed, Saudis were killed. They have been trying to help us root out this network. And they know, and I think the world knows, the Arab world knows, that we have him, dead to rights, bin Laden on killing our people in Africa, in the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

I think they know we have him dead to rights on the USS Cole bombing. But there has been so little information for the reasons that we are discussing during this war that I also think that it would very helpful if he is gloating, if there is evidence on the tape that he had prior knowledge. I think it would be helpful to put with the rest of our evidence in the Arab world to make the case.

ADELMAN: Let me make clear what I meant. I meant that, as the ambassador says, it's absolutely right that the governments themselves have been supportive and very nice. They have been funding mullahs in the Islamic world. They have been funding press. They have been funding teachers in all the academies who have been spewing hatred of Jews, hatred of the United States, hatred of the West. It is not the government press releases I'm talking about. Those are fine. But those are very meaningless, to tell you truth. They're spewing with billions of dollars of year hatred of the West.

BLITZER: I think what he is referring to is the madrasas, the religious schools, especially in Pakistan from which a lot of the Taliban support came...

(CROSSTALK)

... many of those schools funded by the Saudis.

ADELMAN: Absolutely.

FOWLER: The Saudis have been very generous in their funding of Islamic causes and schools. But I'm afraid Mr. Adelman will not be able to produce any evidence of anti-American venom coming out of Islamic schools. I know that is written about by a lot of people who don't seem to have any evidence.

But I don't have any evidence of that. And as the official American representative for four and a half years, I was asked to find that by the State Department. Of course, our government would like to know it and put a stop to it and asked the Saudi government, but we have no evidence of that, I'm sorry.

ADELMAN: But if you go a Web site, the Memory Web site, every day they have translations of -- in Arabic -- of just sermons in the mullahs -- by the mullahs just -- teachings in the schools. I saw it today, and these are funded by the Saudi government.

FOWLER: I guess that the last word I think I can say on this is my evidence doesn't come from chatrooms and Web sites.

ADELMAN: No, it's not a chatroom. It's just a straight translation of what has been issued. I saw it just today what's coming out of there.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about the search for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the leader, the former leader of the Taliban, which now appears to have crumbled. And I have a map and I want to show our viewers what we are talking about.

The U.S. intelligence believe in this area, around Kandahar, southern part of Afghanistan, that's where Mullah Omar is believed to be hiding out, someplace up here in the Tora Bora area of eastern Afghanistan. That's where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding out.

General Grange, how much longer can these two guys hide out without being caught?

GRANGE: It's hard to find people in terrain. You can use it to all kinds of advantages whether it's jungle, mountain, desert. You can hide in terrain. And no matter what sophistication you have on trying to find people, it's very difficult.

This complex in Tora Bora, that's one complex and they're talking about four kilometers, square kilometers, of ground. Well, if you are a soldier on the ground, as an example, that's a big area. That is a big area. It may not be big at 20,000 feet with a Daisy Cutter, but it's big for a trooper. And it's the same south of Kandahar in these areas. You can hide very well.

BLITZER: Ambassador Fowler, we have an e-mail question. You know the region quite well. You've lived there. This from Scott in Hudson, Ohio: If al Qaeda members are spotted escaping into Pakistan, will the Pakistani government allow the U.S. military to engage al Qaeda on its border?

FOWLER: Well, I think we need to ask the American military that and General Musharraf. But every indication has been the full cooperation of the Pakistanis. They realize that we may have to cross the border in hot pursuit, I would assume. And I don't see impediments to chasing al Qaeda, whether they go towards Pakistan or go the other way.

BLITZER: The Pakistanis have been on the surface, General Musharraf, President Musharraf of Pakistan, very supportive, very cooperative, probably it would have been much more difficult for the the U.S. to achieve what it has achieved in Afghanistan without this Pakistani support.

Do you trust Pakistanis?

ADELMAN: So far, so good. I think they have done a wonderful job.

BLITZER: So, you have no problems with...

ADELMAN: No, I agree with the ambassador entirely on that.

BLITZER: All right. Well, pretty soon you won't be agreeing with him because we are going to be talking about Iraq and what's going to happen...

ADELMAN: You found it.

BLITZER: ... in the Arab world.

ADELMAN: We found them in their own area of agreement here.

BLITZER: All right, good. We will see how long that agreement holds up. When we come back, would the Arab world tolerating U.S.-led attack on Iraq? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our CNN WAR ROOM.

Would U.S. allies in the Arab and Muslim world stand with the United States if it attacked Iraq again? And would they stand with the U.S. in a wider war on terrorism?

Let's continue our conversation. First of all, General Grange, I guess it goes without saying, if the U.S. were to launch air strikes or ground invasion of Iraq once again, and would they stand with the U.S. on wider war on terrorism?

Let's continue our conversation. First of all, General Grange, I guess it goes without saying that if U.S. were to launch airstrikes, or a ground invasion of Iraq, once again, what the Arab neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia, others in the gulf, their stance would be critical in determining how successful this invasion could be.

GRANGE: I think it would be a lot more difficult than last time. Even...

BLITZER: Even though the Iraqis have been reduced in terms of their military capability?

GRANGE: I think so. I still think it would be more difficult, but it can be done. And I think that we have to approach it working the Kurdish issue, the Shiite issue, some of the internal conflicts, although they are not massive, that maybe we can exploit. It is going to be different from Afghanistan because they have a regular standing army and they have some substantial equipment now they have rebuilt. But I think that we can take it down and we just have to watch that it doesn't spread to regional war. And that's the problem with the coalition if you are not careful.

BLITZER: Ambassador Fowler, another e-mail question from Jack, in Wilmington, Ohio. "What will Saudi Arabia's reaction be to any -- to a U.S. conflict with Iraq?"

FOWLER: Well let me take off where the general left off. If we had indisputable evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind in any way these attacks on September the 11th, then we would have no choice as Americans and I think we would unite unquestionably behind action against Saddam Hussein. And we would probably be able to keep our coalition together.

But absent that evidence, which apparently we do not have, or certainly not been shared, first of all, we would lose the coalition, quite frankly.

BLITZER: So, the Saudis wouldn't be willing to let the U.S. use bases in Saudi Arabia to launch strikes against...

FOWLER: This is a difficult issue in the region. First of all, it is a big subject. But, the -- Gulf countries by and large, this is going to surprise some people, maybe some people right here, the Gulf Arabs around him, his neighbors do not feel threatened by Iraq at this time for a couple reasons. One, they think we really did a job on him in the Gulf War not only devastating his army, but in Arab terms, devastating his psyche.

He is not coming after them in their opinion. And if he does, he knows that the Saudis and the United States of America would all unite if he dared attack another Arab country.

BLITZER: What about that, Ken Adelman?

ADELMAN: I guess I disagree with both colleagues. I don't think it stakes any kind of substantiation that he was involved in September 11. We know that...

BLITZER: To win the support of the Arab world.

ADELMAN: No. I don't think so. I think that to win the support of Arab world, A, I don't think we need that much support, but B, if we win and liberate Iraq I think that would win great support of the Arab world.

BLITZER: Do you think that could be done without support of Arab world?

ADELMAN: Without the exclusive support, yes, I don't believe -- let me just finish, Wolf -- I don't believe that we need the kind of tremendous coalition that we had before. I agree with the ambassador here that the Iraqi army is way lower -- one third what it was before, and I think it would be a cake walk.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ambassador.

FOWLER: It would be a tremendous mistake to try to go after Iraq without our Arab allies together, as we were in the Gulf War. And we would not do it, we could not keep that coalition together, in my opinion, at this time.

BLITZER: Without direct evidence and unfortunately we are going to have to leave it right there. Ken Adelman, Ambassador Fowler, and General Grange. This conversation will continue. Thank you very much.

And it has been a day of remembrance. Just ahead we will show you how the most recent victims of America's war on terrorism are being honored.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back here. Some of the day's latest developments once again. Bush Administration sources tell CNN the much talked about videotape of Osama bin Laden is likely to be released on Wednesday. On it bin Laden reportedly brags about the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The American who died in combat in Afghanistan was buried today. CIA officer Mike Spann was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Spann was shot and killed during a Taliban uprising in a prison at Mazar-e Sharif.

And at Fort Campbell, Kentucky there was a 21-gun salute and a final roll call for 3 Special Forces soldiers. They were killed by friendly fire last week in Afghanistan. During the memorial the soldiers were hailed as heroes in helping to liberate Afghanistan.

And that's all the time we have tonight. Please join me again tomorrow twice at both 5 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "CROSSFIRE" begins right now.

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