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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Afghan Allies Hunt Assassins

Aired July 8, 2002 - 09:31   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: Now back to the war in Afghanistan. There is an all-out hunt for those responsible for this weekend's assassination of one of the country's vice presidents. But as Haji Abdul Qadir was laid to rest on Sunday, both the United States and Afghan governments vowed his murder would not derail efforts to bring peace and stability to the country.

Nic Robertson was with the British marines today. He joins us now live from Bagram.

Good morning -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

Well, those British Royal Marines working in eastern Afghanistan today, between the town of Khost and the boarder with Pakistan. Now, what they were doing is putting into effect what they call Eagle VCPs: Eagle stands for helicopter, VCP stands for vehicle checkpoint. What they've been doing is flying up the remote valleys that connect Pakistan to Afghanistan. These are routes that the Taliban and al Qaeda are believed to use as they slip between the two countries.

When they spotted a vehicle on the grouped, they descended the helicopter rapidly, troops flooded out of the back and then began to search those vehicles. What they were looking for were weapons, large weapons or large amounts of weapons. They said if they found rocket- propelled grenades or mortars, then they would confiscate them. Simple machine guns, people are allowed to hang on to those.

But the importance of what they were doing went beyond the weapons; what they say they are trying to achieve is to deny this territory to Taliban and al Qaeda, to send message to them that they are operating over a huge area, the area we toured some over 1,000 square kilometers, patrolling right along the Pakistan boarder. And they want to send a message to Taliban and al Qaeda that if you come into this area, the chances are we may have a helicopter up there, we may spot you, and we may pick you up -- Paula.

ZAHN: A thousand square kilometer area is a huge area. How long did they plan to keep these checkpoints in place?

ROBERTSON: Well, that's what they say the advantage of these flying checkpoints are, that they're never in place for very long. So nobody actually knows whether there will be a checkpoint on road A or whether there will be a checkpoint on road B, or what time it will be there.

How long that mission is kept up depends on how long the British forces remain here, at least in that particular area. And what we hear at the moment is the British forces are scaling down, and these soldiers will probably be leaving here fairly soon.

Talking with the soldiers there, I asked them what can be done better to do the job that you are doing here. They said, basically, we need more people. We need more helicopters or more men on the ground to keep the patrols up and to saturate the whole area -- Paula.

ZAHN: What's the latest on who might have killed the country's vice president?

ROBERTSON: Still no news on that. But the Afghan government here, through the president, Hamid Karzai, has called on ISAF -- that's the peacekeeping force here, the International Security and Assistance Force -- called on them to help them find the killers.

So far, 10 people have been arrested, but they were just Haji Abdul Qadir's bodyguards. But they were arrested for negligence, for not picking up on the fact that two gunmen were waiting to shoot him.

But the International Security and Assistance Force has more investigative powers at its disposal, perhaps more intelligence information at its disposal. That's what the Afghan government is calling for -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Nic Robertson, thanks so much. Appreciate that report.

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