CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Live From Afghanistan With Nic Robertson
Aired December 21, 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 bombing break comes to an end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPTAIN JAMES McDONALD, USS STENNIS: We had F-14 aircraft drop laser-guided bombs and F-18s drop joint direct attack munitions or JDAM weapons in eastern Afghanistan today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: It's the first action of this war for the aircraft carrier Stennis. Frank Buckley is on board.
The rebirth of a nation, final preparations for the swearing in of Afghanistan's new interim government. The ceremony now just hours away. John Vause is in the Afghan capital.
He was 5 years old when he left Afghanistan, his family fleeing Soviet invaders. Now 26-year-old Ajmal Achekzai is back as a U.S. Marine, a mission with special meaning for one young man. Mike Chinoy has his story.
And a different kind of mission for a New York City firefighter on a deeply personal journey to Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In memory of my brother Tim who was killed in the World Trade Center as a firefighter, five other firemen in my firehouse were also killed in the tragedy. Yes, they were some heroic guys that day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN with Nic Robertson.
NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from Jalalabad, just north of the Tora Bora Mountains, the last known hiding place of Osama bin Laden.
It is already Saturday here in Afghanistan, and in just a few hours the country's new interim government will be inaugurated. Its 30 members will attend a ceremony whereby the previous president will hand over power to the new interim head, Hamid Karzai.
He is a Pashtun. He represents the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. His six deputy ministers underneath him will be from the other ethnic groups. Their job will be to provide security for Afghanistan until a broader based larger government can be formed in six months.
That will likely be formed under the auspices of a Grand Council, the loya jerga. After three months, after three days rather of intensive air scrutiny and ground scrutiny by surveillance aircraft and U.S. Special Forces on the ground, bombing has restarted in Afghanistan.
Warplanes from the USS Stennis took off and targeted a convoy, carrying al Qaeda and Taliban leaders as it departed the town of Hostin, Pachia Province, just south of Jalalabad.
However, Afghan-Islamic press says that some of the people on that convoy were elderly Afghan tribal leaders on their way to the inauguration ceremony inside Kabul.
We are joined now by Bob Franken at the Pentagon. Bob, exactly why did defense chiefs target that convoy?
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they reject the concept, the charge that these were people other than Taliban leaders. They say that they got intelligence, they being the Pentagon leaders, that there was intelligence that was obtained which clearly identified these people as Taliban leaders.
They were coming from an area where there is an intelligence- described former terrorist training camp. So in the words of the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there was never any question that these were anything but the enemy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL PETER PACE, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS: I'd like not to address the specific indicators that causes us to strike that particular convoy, but the intelligence that we gathered at the time indicated to us that this was, in fact, leadership and we struck the leadership and we will -- as we will do the next time we get that kind of intelligence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: And while that type of bombing used to be the norm, the norm these days is crawling along the ground, crawling in the ground, crawling through caves and the Pentagon officials confirm today that U.S. troops have already been doing this, the very dangerous search of some of the caves and tunnels that, until recently, were the very fortified home of al Qaeda fighters.
They will be joined, we're told, by more U.S. troops that are going to be taking up what is now the most important part of this was and perhaps the most dangerous. And they're going to be helped with a new piece of ordinance. It's called a thermobaric bomb. It is extremely new. As a matter of fact, less than two weeks ago, it was still being tested in the Nevada desert.
But now, ten of these 2,000-pound bombs will be sent to the region. They will be dropped according to Pentagon officials, dropped by F-15 planes. And the way they work, Nic, is they burrow in the ground like a bunker buster, but they explode in massive heat, melting everything in its way, everything in its way of the fireball underground.
Two thousand pound bombs operate somewhat like the daisy cutters do above ground -- Nic.
ROBERTSON: Bob, you talk about additional U.S. forces joining the U.S. Special Forces on the ground already doing the cave-to-cave search. Why is the Pentagon putting more and more resources into this search right now?
FRANKEN: Well they're looking for specific things. Pentagon officials won't say so, but they want to make sure that the intensity of the search continues.
Remember that U.S. troops may have a different agenda than some of the opposition groups, what we used to call the opposition groups in Afghanistan, who really are more interested now in returning to whatever passes for normalcy there.
So they may not be as aggressive. So U.S. forces are going to called in to at least supplement what they did.
ROBERTSON: Bob, we're told that so far about 7,000 al Qaeda- Taliban members have been arrested. What is the Pentagon able to say about what information they're able to garner from those captures?
FRANKEN: Well, it's very, very slow going. Priority #1 is trying to decide which ones really matter and which don't. Only 23 of that large number have actually be turned over to the United States.
As you know, Nic, there is a facility that is set up now at the Kandahar Airport that can handle as many as 300 of them. But they're really going through this in a methodical way.
There are fingerprints being taken. There are mug shots that are being taken, not just because they're trying to decide whether to prosecute, but for future reference as this continuing war on terrorism goes into the months and years ahead.
ROBERTSON: Is the emphasis being placed on building a case, a broad case against the al Qaeda, or about finding Osama bin Laden as soon as possible?
FRANKEN: I think that all of that is what they're trying to do. Al Qaeda, of course, if more than Osama bin Laden. That is something that you hear repeated just about every time a member of the administration opens his or her mouth. So what the larger objective is, is to try and destroy this terrorist network. The largest objective is to destroy terrorism period. But of course, Osama bin Laden is the leader of al Qaeda.
He is somebody that has tremendous symbolic value, and in terms of the United States' desire for retaliation, at some point there will have to be a capture or proof that Osama bin Laden has been dispatched one way or the other.
ROBERTSON: In all the searches that we hear that are going on, are the U.S. forces on the ground running into any problems that are slowing them down?
FRANKEN: They're running into a variety of problems. They have run into some hostility. There have been some firefights we're told, nothing more specific than that.
We are told repeatedly this is a very dangerous endeavor, perhaps for the U.S. forces more dangerous than the earlier war.
ROBERTSON: Bob Franken at the Pentagon, thank you very much.
The warplanes that took off and attacked the convoy in Pachia Province, took off from the USS Stennis. It's only just arrived in the Arabian Gulf, and as Frank Buckley reports, the captain on board the ship made a dramatic announcement after the planes returned.
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attack aircraft from the USS John C. Stennis returned safely to the deck of the carrier after dropping bombs in eastern Afghanistan.
It was the first time aircraft from this carrier launched munitions in the conflict. Carrier captain, James McDonald, breaking the news to the crew over the ship's public address system.
McDONALD: We had F-14 aircraft drop laser-guided bombs and F-18s drop joint direct attack munitions or JDAM weapons into eastern Afghanistan today.
BUCKLEY: The Stennis has been on station in the Arabian Sea since December 15th. The first bombs to be dropped from its aircraft coming on the fourth day of combat operations from the carrier.
Members of crew have been eager to engage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After being deployed for about a month and a half, to hear somebody finally tell us that we did something positive, we were all excited about it, the crew and especially the people where I work.
Everybody was fired up and real excited to hear that we finally had done part of the mission that we came out here to accomplish.
BUCKLEY: USS John C. Stennis deployed to the region two months ahead of schedule, after the September 11th attacks on the U.S., attacks that affected many members of this ship's crew, including the carriers battle group commander personally.
REAR ADMIRAL JAMES ZORTMAN, COMMANDER, CARRIER GROUP SEVEN: My last assignment before I came here was in the Pentagon on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations.
Twenty-one of those people that were killed in the attack on the Pentagon worked directly for me.
BUCKLEY: The USS John C. Stennis is now engaged. The carrier it replaced the Carl Vinson headed home. The crew of this U.S Navy ship now in the fight.
Frank Buckley, CNN, aboard the USS John C. Stennis in the Arabian Sea.
ROBERTSON: We are joined now by retired U.S. General Don Shepperd. General, the bombing had abated for three days. It's restarted. What should we read into this new phase of the campaign to round up al Qaeda?
GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Nic, it appears that after the al Qaeda had left generally speaking the Tora Bora area, they fled to other areas. Probably some to safe houses, some to Pakistan, some to other areas of Afghanistan.
As they do this, we're gaining more intelligence. We're watching them with our sensors, and the strikes that we are making now will come from one of two things; preplanned targets that are gained from the intelligence from captured people or captured documents, or the other possibility is air power on call being directed by forward air controllers on the ground or obtained by our sensors, such as the Predator, the JSTARs, that type of thing.
ROBERTSON: Can we assume from the focus of attentions in this area that Osama bin Laden is still close by in Afghanistan?
SHEPPERD: Nic, I don't think you can assume anything in Afghanistan. We've learned that already. My personal guess is that he is in Afghanistan. He could even still be in the Tora Bora area in one of the caves being searched.
The thing about him though is, he's likely to have a fairly large contingent of people around him to protect him. So he's got a big signature wherever he is. He's got a lot of people looking for him in Pakistan, where there is some sympathy perhaps. But the Pakistan Army is over there looking and looking hard. They do not want bin Laden or the al Qaeda operating from Pakistan.
He could also be in the Marouf area, north of Spin Boldak, lots of caves in there, sophisticated caves. He also could be in the Helmand or Oriscond Province of Afghanistan, north of Kandahar, where Mullah Omar's reported to be. So, Nic, there's lots of place for him still to hide in Afghanistan, and lots of places to look and it's still a dangerous time for our U.S. military and coalition forces there.
ROBERTSON: And we understand that more troops will be joining the U.S. Special Forces in the Tora Bora area, doing a cave-to-cave search. Why send in more troops at this time here?
SHEPPERD: Well very simply, although the fighting, the outward fighting has stopped by the Eastern Alliance in the Tora Bora area, many of them feel that their war is over.
The al Qaeda's been destroyed as a fighting force. So has the Taliban. They've essentially departed the area for the most part. They're not interested in going into any of those caves individually.
So it's up the United States if it wants to serve those -- search those caves or them and the coalition forces, and probably some help from the remaining Eastern Alliance military, to go in piece-by-piece to see if there's anybody still in there, see even if bin Laden is in there, and then decide whether or not to destroy the things that are in there or, of course, the people if they remain. Nic.
ROBERTSON: Given that there were a high number of Arab fighters in that area and only a small number have so far been captured, can it be called a military success so far in the Tora Bora Mountains?
SHEPPERD: That's really hard to say. It's not really going to be perceived as a total military success in Afghanistan until several things happen.
One is that we've got Mullah Omar or bin Laden or know that we have killed them. Two, that the al Qaeda and Taliban are really gone and dismantled, and basically we've made good inroads in other countries around the world. And, of course, that Afghanistan itself is stabilized with an interim government, and finally a permanent government.
There are many, many miles to go in Afghanistan, still a lot of dangerous military work to be done for cleanup, and of course, looking for Omar and also bin Laden and then, of course, getting the country stabilized and under the rule of law is most difficult. Nic.
ROBERTSON: If either of those leaders has been killed in the bombings of cave systems, just how hard is it for the forces there to truly positively identify that they found them dead?
SHEPPERD: Well that's a good question and it's one of our problems, if you will. If a person's blown up and buried underneath a mountain, quite frankly you're not going to know.
So we hope we're not left with this imperfect ending, if you will, not knowing for sure if we really got these people. Hopefully there will be a lot of intelligence about where they were in the end, and a lot of intelligence that we actually got them. But we could also be left with this murky ending of, we're pretty sure but we're not totally positive and now you've got the Elvis syndrome with reports of him and them showing up all over the world in various places.
We hope it's not that way and time will tell -- Nic.
ROBERTSON: Have the U.S. forces on the ground enjoyed the full support of the Eastern Alliance commanders, or has it only been a partial picture of help?
SHEPPERD: Well the Eastern Alliance and the forces within Afghanistan from the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces have borne the brunt of the fighting. Of course they've been assisted by United States and coalition air power and also by special forces from several nations. But they've borne the brunt of the fighting, so there's no way you can say that they have done anything less than their part.
Now obviously, we would like them to stay with us all the way to the end game. There's lots of liaison going on, lots of information, and groups of Eastern Alliance fighters going back into the Tora Bora area with us.
But the final search is probably going to be up to the United States and coalition forces with the assistance of the people who've done the fighting up to this point.
That's the way war works and it looks like the way it's working in Afghanistan -- Nic.
ROBERTSON: General Don Shepperd, thank you very much for joining us. Across the border in Pakistan, Pakistani authorities say they've arrested more than 180 Arab fighters in the last two weeks, fleeing the Tora Bora Mountains.
We're joined now by CNN journalist Kamal Hyder, who is across the border in Pakistan, in the town of Parachinar. Kamal, what have the Pakistanis been able to do in the last few days? Have they rounded up more al Qaeda fighters?
KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nic, the authorities, the military authorities are saying that they've got 189 people arrested in the past ten to twelve days.
We were on the edge of what is called the Pirate's Peak, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you may call it into Afghanistan in the Parachinar area, and we could see that the Pakistan Army was deployed in several key positions, moving high mountain around.
These troops were dropped by helicopters because operations are very, very difficult, but we saw ample evidence of Pakistani Army, well armed and fanning out, mopping up operations, search operations.
They're not going to take any chances they said with anybody trying to infiltrate from the Afghan side of the border into Pakistan. Nic.
ROBERTSON: Kamal, do the Pakistani authorities have any assessment of the numbers of al Qaeda who they believe may still be in Tora Bora waiting to come into Pakistan?
HYDER: Nic, most people in the Eastern Alliance and have fairly good intelligence are convinced that whatever fighters were in the Tora Bora area have vacated. Where they have gone is a mystery.
Some of them did try to come across into Pakistan. A few may be able to hide because there is some element of sympathy after all in the tribal area.
But in most cases, the tribals have made up their mind that they do not want to get involved in a losing war, especially when they have been able to stay out of it for so long. And the clergy, obviously had lost its clout in Pakistan, so at the moment the situation seems to be not good for the al Qaeda fighters, even Taliban fighters.
We have evidence and we were able to see that with our own eyes, that even Taliban fighters or Afghans trying to cross the border were being apprehended and questioned and interrogated, and when they were not found with any documents, they were taken in for further interrogation. Nic.
ROBERTSON: Kamal, of these 189 Arab fighters coming out of Tora Bora, are Pakistani authorities giving access to U.S. officials to question these captives?
HYDER: Nic, there is a lot of secrecy surrounding the relationship between the U.S. and the Pakistani intelligence agency. We do not see them overtly present anywhere, but there are indications that when these people are moved, they're moved first to Khuhart and Khuhart is a military garrison.
There in Khuhart there may be American officers present. We can not confirm that at this time, but there is some sort of collusion going on as far as the investigation process is concerned, and there must be some sort of a relationship between the American intelligence and the Pakistani authorities -- Nic.
ROBERTSON: Kamal, from what you've seen of the border there, are the Pakistani authorities getting all the support that they need to seal that border?
HYDER: Nic, there is one thing that I've noticed and that is that most of these men have gone in with, as far as their clothing is concerned, inadequate dress, but they are staying on these mountain positions and they are in a position to be able to seal that border for the first time.
You must not forget that this is the first time in Pakistan's history, in over 50 years that the army has been deployed in places in the tribal area where they had never set foot.
So this is an unprecedented move by the government of Pakistan, to move its military forces so close to the Afghan border, and yet enjoy a good relation with the tribals.
We could see that there is now some sort of a relationship developing between the tribal elders and the Pakistan Army. Nic.
ROBERTSON: Kamal Hyder in the Pakistani border town of Parachinar, thank you very much for joining us. When we come back, preparing to hand over power in Afghanistan.
ROBERTSON: A little less than three weeks ago in Bonn, Germany Afghanistan's leaders agreed to form a new interim government. It's 30 members will lead the country for the next six months, until a broader based council can be formed.
It will be headed by Hamid Karzai. In a ceremony today, he will be handed the reigns of power from the outgoing president, Burhannudin Rabbani.
We are joined now by John Vause in Kabul, who will be watching that inauguration later today. John, what are the priorities going to be for that interim government?
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well the priorities for the government, for the interim administration is to try and get Afghanistan back on its feet. They'd like to try and work out to try to get these warlords and these factions together to try and bring some kind of normalcy back to this society.
Now this is a great expectation amongst the Afghan people, that indeed that this interim administration can do what many governmental, many leaders in the past have failed to do.
It will be a symbolic day here in Afghanistan. It will be the first peaceful transfer of power in more than two decades. As you mentioned, President Rabbani will be here. That's a very important gesture, a very symbolic gesture.
He'll be here to hand over power to Hamid Karzai. Harmid Karzai later today will receive a military division. That's a symbolic gesture of the peaceful transfer of power.
Hamid Karzai will then swear in the 29 ministers of the new interim administration. Also here will be the U.S.-British peacekeepers that will be of the Royal Marines who will take up position around Kabul. They say that it will be a very low profile role.
Also there's a high security around the capitol already. Checkpoints are being manned by local Afghan soldiers, very heavily armed, local Afghan soldiers.
Also coming to town for this ceremony will be Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, the man who was in charge of the bombing campaign, the military campaign which ultimately forced the Taliban from power. Also coming back into Afghanistan will be thousands of refugees from Iran and from Pakistan. They now feel that the situation here is safe enough and it's secure enough.
They obviously have great hopes that that interim administration can do their job, that they can bring some kind of peace and stability to this country. The feel as if it's now safe enough to return home.
Many fled after September 11, up to 200,000 fled to the borders, to Pakistan and also to Iran. And what we've been seeing over the last couple of weeks here in Kabul is that the currency.
The local currency has made some spectacular gains, and that's a good barometer of public sentiment. It's made some spectacular gains in the last few weeks.
VAUSE (voice over): At the Kabul money exchange, the traders really are on the street. They carry big wads of the local currency, called the afghani, in 1,000 and 10,000 denominations.
Since the fall of the Taliban and with a new interim government about to be sworn in, the afghani has made spectacular gains. Just after September, one U.S. dollar would buy 85,000 afghanis. Today, the exchange rate is about 14,000 to the dollar, and the money traders expect further big gains in the coming weeks.
"The U.N. and other governments are going to help" says Karim "and so the value is going up. If they don't, the value will go down."
In Afghanistan, there is no Central Bank, no way of controlling the value of the currency, so the afghani is in many ways a barometer of public sentiment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the people looking for a new government, and 22nd December at 12:00 what's going on.
VAUSE (on camera): What will happen after the 22nd of December with the currency?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God knows better.
VAUSE: God knows better?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
VAUSE: In God We Trust.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, in God we trust. God is language.
VAUSE (voice-over): Across Kabul, many shoppers are buying big ticket items, a television. A washing machine, for example, will set you back three million afghanis. But most are using their reserves of foreign currency, like Samuela (ph). He's using Pakistani rupees to buy a VCR because he says the rupees are losing their value.
Still it will be a long time before the dealers can trade in their money sacks for wallets.
VAUSE: And also today, when they play the Afghanistan national anthem, they'll be playing it from cassette tape. They haven't had enough time to rustle up enough people to form a band.
You also might recall that when the Taliban were in power here, they banned music. So just one indication of how much rebuilding, how much further Afghanistan has to go before it gets back to some kind of normalcy. Nic.
ROBERTSON: Now John, in that interim government, three of the key positions, interior ministry, defense ministry, foreign ministry have all gone to the Northern Alliance, who took control of Kabul on the 13th of November.
How is that sitting with some of the other Afghan leaders around the country?
VAUSE: Well this interim administration is made up of old friends and even older enemies, and one of the key points for this interim administration over the coming months will be to see how it sticks together, if it can in fact work together.
Hamid Karzai obviously has a job for him to try and keep these factions together to try and make this interim administration work.
Obviously the Northern Alliance claimed the key positions as the spoils of war but obviously that doesn't sit easy with the other members of the Afghan or the interim administration.
But that's going to be up to Hamid Karzai to keep these people together, to try and make this administration and this coalition of very fractious powers come together and work for the good of Afghanistan.
ROBERTSON: John Vause in Kabul, thank you very much for joining us. When we come back: He left the country when he was 5. He's back now and he's 26. We'll tell you the story of Ajmal Achekzai and his job in the Marines.
Also, USO performers arrived to bring some festive cheer.
ROBERTSON: Led by Central Command Chief General Franks, USO entertainers arrived at Kandahar Airport to bring some festive cheer and morale-boosting spirit to the Marines based there. Among the performers were Drew Carey and singer, Wayne Newton. They brought some festive cheer to the Marines there. There were songs sung, jokes told. Many of the Marines at the air base -- at the air base at Kandahar Airport and spent weeks in a desert airstrip hunkering down against the intense cold and the blowing dust. They rounded out -- they rounded out the performers with a rendition of "America is Beautiful."
Now, among those Marines gathered, there was Ajmal Achekzai. He was five years old when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and like millions of others, his parents took him to become a refugee in another country. They ended -- they landed up ultimately in America, and as Mike Chinoy now reports, 26-year-old, Ajmal, is now a Marine with a mission.
MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was five years old when he left Afghanistan, his family fleeing Soviet invaders. Now, 26-year-old, Ajmal Achekzai, is back as a U.S. Marine on a mission with special meaning.
LANCE CPL. AJMAL ACHEKZAI, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I can never forget where I'm from, you know? I'm always an Afghan. I'm also a United States Marine, and so I can't forget that.
CHINOY: Ajmal Achekzai is one of two Marines of Afghan descent in the force occupying Kandahar Airport. Twenty-one-year-old Corporal Hamid Aziz, also from a refugee family, is the other, both supplementing their normal responsibilities by acting as translators.
CPL. HAMID AZIZ, U.S. MARINE CORPS: It feels real good. There is, you know, a good friendship going, of course, with the American forces and them working together, and obviously it's going to help them out.
CHINOY: Nearly two dozen Afghans from Kandahar have now begun working at the Marine base, helping to clean up and repair water and electricity facilities, important to U.S. forces, but also eventually to the revival of the local economy. With an ever-present security threat, the Afghans, selected with the help of the local authorities, are carefully searched, but all seemed genuinely happy to be here.
"Things are getting better now," says former truck driver, Parwan Shah (ph). "It was very tough under the Taliban. Now, we are glad to help the Americans."
For Ajmal Achekzai, it has been an emotional time, explaining the United States to the locals, and helping explain where he came from to his fellow Marines.
ACHEKZAI: Everybody has a stereotype. Rags, they call them towels, they're turbans on their head. Look at me, you know. It's not -- just because they're wearing that doesn't mean that that person is bad. You've got to learn about the person, talk to the person, see what kind of person they are.
CHINOY (on camera): Two men, from one nation and culture, now in the service of another, a bridge of understanding in a time of war.
I am Mike Chinoy with the U.S. Marines at Kandahar Airport.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, an interview -- when we come back, an interview with Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's new leader. Before the Taliban fell, he spent two months behind the Taliban lines -- he spent two months behind the Taliban lines trying to ferment anti-Taliban support.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAMID KARZAI, INTERIM AFGHAN LEADER DESIGNATE: I've been working probably sometimes 18 hours a day, sometimes riding on a motorbike, sometimes walking through a whole river bed for maybe four hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: Soon after the Taliban fled their stronghold of Kandahar about two weeks ago, Christiane Amanpour met with the head of Afghanistan's new interim government, Hamid Karzai. He just negotiated the Taliban surrender, and was living in the destroyed house of the Taliban's former leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Christiane asked Karzai about the challenges ahead.
KARZAI: It's an exciting time. It's a new beginning for Afghanistan. After many years of disasters and bloodshed and suffering for our people, we have a new opportunity, a new opportunity that the Afghan people must grasp, must take, a new opportunity that the world must use to help us.
I think Afghanistan will be peaceful, will be stable. And it will be peaceful and stable because the people want it, the Afghans want it. And it will be peaceful and stable because the international community is helping.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You made a decision, a risky decision during the U.S. bombing to come into Afghanistan, to rally support against the Taliban. Shortly, before you came, another leader tried the same thing; Abdul Haq was captured and executed on the spot. Wasn't that terrifying? Why did you decide to do it after that happened?
KARZAI: It's very unfortunate that we don't have among us a very fine man, a man that fought against the former Soviet Union. It shows the character of the Taliban, that they killed an Afghan hero for a terrorist. They protected the terrorist, a foreign terrorist, but they killed their own hero.
From that point on was when I learned that Abdul Haq was killed. My resolve got unbelievably stronger, beyond measure, to remove the Taliban by whatever means. And it was at that time that I decided that while I'm here to rally people peacefully against the Taliban, against terrorism, and to basically work the people against him. If need be, we must also take arms to get rid of this menace in Afghanistan.
AMANPOUR: Did you think you would survive?
KARZAI: When I was beginning my journey from the Pakistan border into Afghanistan, we were poor people on two motorbikes. We gave ourselves a 60 percent death chance and 40 percent chance to live, and the 40 percent won.
AMANPOUR: And when you came in, what did you have other than a desire to make this work? You didn't have an army. You didn't have arms. You didn't have the equipment. What did you have?
KARZAI: The population. The people. The knowledge that the people are against what's going on in Afghanistan, because the Afghans want dignity and honor, because the Afghans want the terrorists to go, because the Afghans want the terrorists to finish, to be eliminated, that the Afghans do not the Taliban, do not want the oppression. I knew that.
AMANPOUR: You asked the United States to help at some point. How did to work?
KARZAI: It worked well. I asked the United States, after I learned that the Taliban and their Arab terrorist friends are not going to go by negotiations or by peaceful means, and that they are going to be extremely brutal against those people who rise up against them to oppose them. They killed people, so I decided to ask for U.S. help and other international help, and I did receive it.
AMANPOUR: And what did you get from the U.S.? And what did you ask for?
KARZAI: I asked for everything, for humanitarian help, for arms, for political help. I got all of it.
AMANPOUR: And how did you go from province to province, village to village to rally support?
KARZAI: Sometimes using motorbikes, sometimes walking. I've been walking probably sometimes 18 hours a day, sometimes riding on a motorbike, sometimes walking through a whole river bed for maybe four hours, sometimes driving in a pickup truck through valleys full of water and mountains. It was exciting. It was a mission, and I never felt tired. I never felt helpless. I kept going, so did my friends, so did my colleagues.
ROBERTSON: Now, Hamid Karzai will be a guest on "WOLF BLITZER'S LATE EDITION" show on Sunday at noon Eastern.
When we come back, New York firefighters and policemen travel to Kabul to raise spirits and help themselves better understand the events of September 11.
ROBERTSON: It's just over 100 days now since the September 11 attacks. And three firefighters and two policemen from New York, who worked alongside many others that day at the World Trade Center to try and save lives, have traveled to Kabul.
As Harris Whitbeck reports, they hope to bring hope and understanding to the people they meet.
JOE HIGGINS, NEW YORK FIREFIGHTER: What do you think about this?
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Higgins is in Afghanistan for just six hours, just long enough to complete a deeply personal mission. He is a New York City firefighter. His brother, Tim, was too. Both responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center.
HIGGINS: I am here in memory of my brother, Tim, who was killed in the World Trade Center, who was a firefighter. Five other firemen in my firehouse were also killed in the tragedy there. Those were some heroic guys that day. I'll tell you, man, it was the most unbelievable thing you ever witnessed.
WHITBECK: Joe was sharing his story with the men he also considers heroes, some of the U.S. Army Rangers and members of the Special Forces, who have been in Afghanistan helping hunt down Osama bin Laden.
HIGGINS: You know, it's Christmas, you know? These guys are away from home. Twenty years ago, I was in this region in the Persian Gulf with the Marines. So...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, you were.
HIGGINS: ... you know, as a young fellow, you know, it's kind of -- you get a little distraught being away from home during the holidays, and these guys could use a morale booster to let them know we're proud of them, and that they're sticking up for us.
WHITBECK: Helping others helps him too, he says. Joe, three other New York firefighters and two policemen, brought nearly a ton of humanitarian aid to be distributed to the victims of Afghanistan's latest war.
HIGGINS: I've got pockets full of candy for the kids. We want them to see what it's like to have a dum-dum lollipop and be able to fool around with their friends, you know? That's what it's all about.
WHITBECK: It's also about remembering the reason for the U.S. military operations in the country. He brought with him a piece of one of the jetliners that slammed into the World Trade Center. HIGGINS: Well, I want some soldier to take that piece and put it into his pocket and think about it while he's here and make sure he knows he's here for a good reason. And I know you know that already.
WHITBECK (on camera): Joe buried a piece of the destroyed Twin Towers in Afghan soil. He says the rubble of two tragedies melded together symbolizes what needs to happen next: Two peoples working together to erase the horrors of the past.
Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Bagram, Afghanistan.
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GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, CMDR. U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We love you. You have our respect and you have it. And we miss you back home. You're very, very special.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: It's shaping up to be a very busy holiday period for all of the troops here. The increase in size of the U.N. peacekeeping force, and for many of those Marines based in the desert airport at Kandahar, will be moving to the mountainsides of Tora Bora, and while they'll be surrounded by snow and pine trees will still feel a long way from home.
And for the new interim government of Afghanistan to be handed over the reins of power today, a busy time for them -- their task: To bring peace and stability and security to a country that's been at war for 22 years.
Thank you for watching. I am Nic Robertson live in Afghanistan. We'll be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at the same time tomorrow.
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