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MORNINGS WITH PAULA ZAHN

Can Al qaeda's Leadership Survive, or Could Osama Bin Laden Already Have Fled?

Aired December 13, 2001 - 08:15   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Punishing airstrikes by U.S. bombers and gunships against the Tora Bora caves and ground assaults by troops of the Eastern Alliance - can al Qaeda's leadership survive or could Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants already have fled?

Miles O'Brien is standing by at the big board. You just heard Brent Sadler's report, which basically confirms what Tony Blair's - the prime minister's spokesperson had to say early this morning. They believe Osama bin Laden is still at Tora Bora. Anything new to add to that Miles?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CENTER: Well Paula, let's talk a little bit more about Tora Bora and hear from somebody who has been there. It's a place that is sort of shrouded (ph) and mystique at this juncture, as we consider the possibilities of this 30 to 40-cave complex network that might have been built with the help of the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and someone who visited the Tora Bora complex during that period of time is a journalist who joins us now from London, Trevor Fishlock. Mr. Fishlock, good to have you with us.

TREVOR FISHLOCK, JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: Good to be here.

O'BRIEN: All right, what brought you to Afghanistan then and what led you specifically to those caves?

FISHLOCK: Well I was a foreign correspondent and I wanted to see something of the war in Afghanistan where the Mujahadeen warriors were fighting the Soviet occupation. And I walked to Tora Bora from the Kyber Pass. It took three days. I went with a group of Mujahadeen warriors and on the last day, the third day, we had a tremendous climb up a steep narrow path into Tora Bora itself, and it was so well concealed that I didn't realize I was there until I turned around the corner of a rock and there it was.

O'BRIEN: All right and could you give me a sense, then, of how well fortified it is and how long anybody could stay inside those caves. Is it relatively indefinite? We hear reports of electricity and all the - I wouldn't say comforts of home, but enough to sustain life for quite some time.

FISHLOCK: Well it's true, and I've read the reports too, that it's meant to be something like a James Bond sort of complex with perhaps a Dr. No figure sitting in there. But when I saw it, it was very much more primitive. It was a kind of fortress in the sky, high up in the mountains and from a balcony of rocks, you had a terrific view down the valley - a river valley, out from the plain towards Jalalabad.

But Tora Bora then, as I say, was primitive. It was very much like a quarry full of (INAUDIBLE) and rubble. It was the home of about 200 warriors who lived in small caves - hollows in the rock. They lived in foxholes and dugouts and they'd set up their machine guns to provide covering fire across the valley. So that anyone coming up that steep path, as I did, would have had a very tough job of it.

O'BRIEN: All right now as you have been talking, I know you can't see this - we have had some pictures here, a depiction of what these caves might look like right now at Tora Bora and as we fly into them, clearly things have improved probably since that time, the fortifications increased; the size of the caves increased. Give us a sense of what's inside.

FISHLOCK: Well when I saw them, they were pretty rough. There was minimal sleeping accommodations. I myself slept there for three days on an earth floor. Some of the men had rough string beds and they didn't eat very well. We survived on mostly bread and tea, and that was all that the men had -- sometimes a little spinach. And they looked old beyond their years, I think partly because it is a rough place - it was a rough place then without any luxury. But there was no mistaking their fighting spirit. That was as strong as ever, and I think that men who live in those caves and live in a place like that tend to be very tough people indeed.

O'BRIEN: Trevor Fishlock, journalist from London. Thank you very much for being with us, giving us a sense of what those caves are like and also an insight, Paula, into what the people are like inside - giving kind of new meaning to the term hunkered down Paula.

ZAHN: All right, thanks Miles.

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