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LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN

Aired December 20, 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.
ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH NIC ROBERTSON.

The first of thousands of peacekeepers arrive, but the exact role of these British Marines remains unclear. John Vause explains.

Rebuilding Afghanistan virtually from scratch. The country missing even the most basic services.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A recent fire and a series of storefronts in Kabul raged out of control for hours because there was no one to help put it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Harris Whitbeck on the massive task ahead.

Heavy security along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Hundreds of al Qaeda fighters arrested trying to slip through. But how many more have succeeded? And, is Osama bin Laden among them? Walter Rodgers is there.

And the now infamous Osama bin Laden tape. Hear from one man who says much was lost in the translation.

Live from Afghanistan, Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from Jalalabad, just north of the Tora Bora mountain range where it is suspected of being Osama bin Laden's last known hiding place.

U.S. Special Forces still comb the mountains going cave to cave and late night helicopter flights hint that an increase in their activities as U.S. military sources say that up to 500 Marines could join them in their cave-to-cave search.

In all the searches for Osama bin Laden, information and traces of information about where he's been and who he has met with have been key. One of those was released by the Pentagon last week, a videotape showing Osama bin Laden talking with close friends about the September 11 attack.

But as David Ensor has discovered, some of the translation in that tape may have missed key, vital parts of information.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The tape is by now famous for showing Osama bin Laden bragging about the attacks of September 11. What a Saudi dissident says and an independent translator hired by CNN confirms, is that the U.S. government left some significant parts of what bin Laden said out of its official translation into English.

ALI AL-AHMED, SAUDI INSTITUTE: The translators missed a lot of things on the tape. They missed the names of the hijackers, two of them mentioned by full names.

ENSOR: Bin Laden names two additional hijackers, the brothers Nawar Alhazmi and Salam Alhazmi. Later he says that four of the hijackers were from the Algombi Tribe. And the name of two others, Alshehri (ph). He names a total of nine of the hijackers, not just Mohamed Atta as in the original transcript.

Secondly on the tape, the visiting man, thought to be the crippled Saudi fighter, Kalid al-Harbi, talks of fatwas, edicts from some Saudi clerics backing the September 11 attacks. He names Sheik Abdul Rahman Al-Barak, a Saudi official, as issuing one of them. U.S. translators used the name of Al-Barani, which is not a name used by Saudis in the majority Sunni Muslim sect.

AL-AHMED: You know if you want just to use a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They didn't want to mess with the Saudi government, because al-Barak is a senior Saudi official, and he gave that fatwa.

ENSOR: One more striking example, precisely what bin Laden said to others just before hearing the first radio announcement that an attack he had planned had succeeded. "When you hear a breaking news announcement on the radio," he says he told followers, kneel immediately, and that means they have hit the World Trade Center.

AL-AHMED: Again, the second plane hit. He knelt again to the ground and paid tributes to God for this, and you don't see that here. It's very important I think.

ENSOR: The information missed in the English translation does not change the overall image the tape presents of bin Laden, admitting with pride his role in the attacks.

That message, say Saudi officials, is crystal clear to native Arabic speakers.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: The tape is very clear. It stands on its own. It's much more powerful in the Arabic language than it is in English because there's no translation, you get the nuance of it. You get the sheer horror of it.

ENSOR (on camera): The additional details paint, if anything a still more damaging picture of bin Laden, identifying nine of the hijackers and telling followers beforehand to get ready for the World Trade Center to be hit.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: In New York, the United Nations Security Council has passed by unanimous vote to authorize an international peacekeeping force for Afghanistan.

Overnight, the advance elements of that force arrived at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, 70 British Royal Marines. They will form part of an initially 3,000 strong 16 nation peacekeeping force.

We are joined now by John Vause who is in Kabul. John, what exactly is this force expected to do?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nic, they'll take up positions for the next 12 hours around Kabul. Their main job here will be to try and secure government buildings and they'll also be protecting U.N. officials as well as diplomats who will be in Kabul for the transfer of power to the interim government on Saturday.

The number should grow to around 200 to 250 over the next 24 hours, but ultimately as you say, their numbers will be in the thousands. Now there has been some dispute over what their authority will actually be on the ground here in Afghanistan.

It's important to note that they'll be operating under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter and that allows the use of force.

Now the interim defense minister, for one, General Falhi has said that their role should be largely symbolic, that they should be confined to humanitarian missions and that they should be staying out of sight at Bagram Air Force Base, and that they should have no power to disarm local Afghans or to interfere in Afghan affairs.

Now that puts him at odds with his own prime minister, the interim Prime Minister Karzai, as well as the local Afghan people who have welcomed the arrival of these troops.

Now their numbers should build up over the next couple of weeks. There will be troops coming from many NATO countries, and as I said, their role will be to protect government buildings and also to train local Afghan security forces on the ground. Nic.

ROBERTSON: John, can the people of Afghanistan expect to see the U.N. peacekeepers out patrolling in numbers in the near future?

VAUSE: Well there is some debate over exactly what role they will play, but it seems at this stage, one of their missions will be to secure the national roadways. We know that the roads around Afghanistan are extremely dangerous.

They're very -- there are still these gangs of warlords and bandits which are roaming the national roads, and we've seen incidents where journalists have been killed on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul.

So one of their missions will be to secure the national roadways, as well as to support and protect the operational day-to-day of the interim government in Afghanistan.

ROBERTSON: John Vause in Kabul, thank you very much. And later in the program, we will be talking with Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

As part of the rebuilding of Afghanistan that the United Nations is going to be involved in in the future, there is much to be done.

Twenty-two years of war in the country has destroyed much of the infrastructure. And as Harris Whitbeck found out when he visited one fire station in Kabul, just how big the task of rebuilding is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is one of only two fire stations in all of Afghanistan. Located in downtown Kabul, it was smack in the middle of a front line during fighting between factions battling for control of the city.

Shells and shrapnel virtually destroyed its roof and walls, and almost all firefighting equipment.

"We only have one active truck" says the deputy fire chief, "and we can't always start it. The war has destroyed all our resources."

A recent fire in a series of storefronts in Kabul raged out of control for hours because there was no one to help put it out.

(on camera): The winter season increases the danger of fire because people use charcoal stoves to keep warm. This year in particular, firefighters say they're not prepared to respond to emergencies.

(voice-over): Shoddy equipment and a corps of only 30 firefighters for one of the country's essential services, one example of the many challenges the incoming government will face as it tries to rebuild the country.

But help is on the way. On this day, a delegation from Russia's Ministry of Emergencies visits at a Kabul fire station and promised to donate equipment and supplies.

"There is a good opportunity to help Afghanistan politically and economically" he says, "but they will need time and international cooperation to rebuild."

As one firefighter showed off his skills, a U.S. B-52 bomber flew overhead, a reminder of the trials this country has endured and now changes that many people hope will make things a bit better.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: In northern Afghanistan in the city of Mazar-e Sharif, a reminder also that perhaps the stabilizing role, the international peacekeeping force may play.

In the late afternoon, a grenade was thrown into a busy market. Local officials say 100 people were injured, six of them seriously. The local health minister called the act a terrorist act. The fragmentation grenade was thrown into the busy moneychangers bazaar in the late afternoon.

In eastern Afghanistan, in the Tora Bora Mountain area, U.S. Special Forces are continuing their cave-to-cave search for information and al Qaeda members, possibly also Osama bin Laden who may still be hiding out in the Afghan mountains.

However, many al Qaeda fighters are fleeing south from the Tora Bora mountains across into the border regions of Pakistan. We are joined now by Walter Rodgers in the Pakistan border town of Peshawar. Walter, what are the Pakistani authorities able to do at the moment to stem the flow of al Qaeda and catch them?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nic, there's something of a lockdown in this extreme northwestern corner of Pakistan. The provinces of Khyber and Khouran are the two under the greatest security alert. The Pakistanis have moved two Punta regiments into the area.

In addition to that, it's very important to remember the Pakistanis have at least six internal security agencies operating there. They have paid informants in the villages among the various tribes there, the Irexis, the Turis, and the Mengols, and any of the Afghan-Arabs, the Arab al Qaeda fighters escaping from the Tora Bora region would stand out like sore thumbs in this area. They could not hide here very long. Nic.

ROBERTSON: What problems are the Pakistani authorities up against in that area, Walt?

RODGERS: Well of course it's extraordinarily mountainous. This is the infamous Khyber Pass area of Rudyard Kipling in literature. Having said that, the Pakistani authorities have a lot going for them.

Recently, within the last two weeks, they promoted a whole host of these tribal chiefs, the Irexis, the Turis and the Mengols, this to make sure they stay in the pocket of the Pakistani government.

The speculation here is that because these are Arabs, the al Qaeda fighters fleeing the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan are Arabs, the speculation here is they stand out like sore thumbs.

They don't speak the local language. Even if they do, they speak it with an accent. They do not look like the natives of the extreme northwest frontier province here in Pakistan.

So it's assumed by many here that they can only stay a few hours in these villages and then head for the Indus Highways, which moves southeasterly towards Karachi, which is a port city in southern Pakistan, southeastern Pakistan.

There the assumption is, the al Qaeda fighters who are left and there are at least 21 we know are on the loose and perhaps more, they are going to try to jump a ship it's believed, head for places like Somalia, Sudan, other ports in the Middle East.

But they're not going to be able to stay long here in Pakistan, because they are very vulnerable. They have a high profile. Nic.

ROBERTSON: Walter, is there any evidence that U.S. Special Forces are working on the Pakistani side of the border as well?

RODGERS: I asked that question again last night, Nic. The answer I got was, if they are you may assume they're being extremely discreet about it.

To have U.S. forces operating in a friendly country like Pakistan would not exactly be the kind of thing the Pakistani government would want publicized.

There are areas here, Kurat south and west of where I am in Peshawar, where there are prisoners and they are being interrogated, the al Qaeda prisoners. They're being interrogated. It's assumed that there are at least FBI people there, but of course they would be operating in plain clothes. These are doing the interrogation.

One thing that's interesting, you know that within the past several days the Pakistanis were moving some of these prisoners towards Kurat for incarceration and questioning. Several of the prisoners took over a bus. They killed seven Pakistani soldiers, security people at the time.

So you have approximately 21 Pakistanis -- or excuse me, 21 al Qaeda Arabs on the loose here in Pakistan and there's a huge manhunt underway. These people may have, the al Qaeda fighters may have chosen a remote area to seek refuge in, but as I say they're not going to find much by way of refuge.

There's a $25 million out for bin Laden himself. It's not going to be easy for them by any stretch of the imagination. These are wanted men, and when I ask what happens to them in Pakistan once they're caught, what happens to them now that they've killed Pakistani security officials, they say "we're like Texas and Oklahoma here. We execute 'em."

This is an Islamic country and Islamic justice can be very severe if those al Qaeda fighters are caught, the ones who killed the Pakistani security guards -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Walter Rodgers in Peshawar, the border town in Pakistan, thank you very much for joining us.

When we come back after the break, we'll discuss with Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, the problems the peacekeepers may face.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTSON: The United Nations has passed by unanimous vote a resolution allowing a peacekeeping force to go to Afghanistan.

Much of that 3,000 member peacekeeping force will be made up of British troops, some 1,500. The force, at least for the first three months, will also be led by a British commander, Major General John McCoy.

We are joined now by Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Ambassador, we have heard already in Afghanistan that some ministers, in particular the defense minister, is opposed to such a large peacekeeping force. Do you believe this will present problems?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: No. We're used to difficult situations. The Brits have been doing peacekeeping, quite tough peacekeeping, for some time.

I think our first job, I agree, is diplomatic and the commander of the force, General McCall, has already been out last weekend to Kabul to talk with the present defense minister and with his military leaders how this is going to go and he will have the experience to work out exactly what the division of tasks will be.

Of course, it's not going to be easy. This is meant to be with the Afghans, not against the Afghans, but I think we'll work it out.

ROBERTSON: What exactly will be the role of the peacekeeping force?

GREENSTOCK: First of all, we're there to assist the Afghans in maintaining security in Kabul and the surrounding area, and that will be both local security, particular points agreed with the Afghans, and the general security of the area.

Secondly, there will be liaison with the interim authority as they go about their business in Kabul and outside, on how they should start constructing their security arrangements.

And thirdly, we are prepared as part of the tasking of the force to look at the longer term with the Afghans, to look at how they are going to train up new security forces to do the whole job throughout Afghanistan and if they want a training team, if they want help with logistics and equipment, then I'm sure we'll be able to provide that.

So it's short-term out to long-term over the months ahead and I think that's going to be quite a task but with the Afghans to work cooperatively on their behalf.

ROBERTSON: Will the force be extending its role beyond Kabul to other cities in the country?

GREENSTOCK: No, it's important to realize this. The resolution gives authority for this force to do this task in Kabul and the immediate surrounding areas.

The security in outer Afghanistan is, of course, a concern to the whole international community but no arrangements for that have been settled by the bomb agreement, and if the Afghans want help on that, they will need a further agreement and further U.N. authority for international forces to do that.

This is focused on Kabul to enable the interim authority to do their stuff in the early months.

ROBERTSON: So will we expect to see the force in Kabul disarming people on the street? How will they tackle those type of security issues?

GREENSTOCK: Well that will be for working out with the Afghan authorities. Clearly, General Fahim wants not too much visibility in the early stages. We'll see how that goes.

The first obligation is on the Afghan interim authority to do its own work. We're there to help them, but they must do it within a competent arrangement, within standards that the international community expect.

So there will be liaison with them on how that gets done, and the visibility of the international security assistance force will be worked out as we go along, but the Brits have immense experience on how to work that out and I think we'll be okay.

ROBERTSON: One of the likely things that General McCall will be telling his troops will be about deference to local sensitivities. What are those sensitivities?

GREENSTOCK: Well first of all, they're Islamic. One has to recognize the culture of the Afghan people. Secondly, the political structure is young. It's fragile, and different ministers will be working out different relationships in what is basically a coalition government, and that's why I put the diplomatic task first.

Diplomatic, political and then security and military all go together and I think that it's going to be really quite a sensitive issue for the first few months until we've settled down, but we're trained up for that.

We expect that and the Afghan know themselves that the world is watching them and they've got to produce the right answers.

ROBERTSON: Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, thank you very much for joining us. We'll be back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTSON: Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at the same time tomorrow. Up next, "THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN", and for our international viewers, please stay tuned for "WORLD SPORT."

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