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CNN Live Event/Special


Aired December 14, 2001 - 20:00   ET



Al Qaeda cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, fiercely fighting back against the massive ground and air assault, possibly protecting Osama bin Laden, himself. CNN's Ben Wedemen talks to the terrorists.

U.S. Marines take the Kandahar airport without opposition. But danger lurks everywhere as they set up camp.


BRIG. GEN. JIM MATTIS: There are mine fields left over from the Soviet war, unexploded ordinance. And, of course, there are scattered groups of Taliban or al Qaeda, and we're on alert for them.


CNN's Amanda Kibel is there.



JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the morning light softly wakens the Afghan capital, it can make the aging architecture along the Kabul River appear like a picture postcard; quiet, comfortable and warm.


Greetings from Kabul. CNN's Jim Clancy, behind the headlines and off the beaten path, showing a side of this war weary city few outsiders would imagine.

Live from Afghanistan: Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. In the mountains behind me the U.S.-led bombing campaign has been focusing, focusing on an increasingly small area in those mountains, a hint perhaps that they are closing in on the al Qaeda forces.

Just in the last in the last few minutes, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said they have made significant gains on the ground, he said on Thursday, 240 bombs were dropped in the area. And in a short period Friday, 180 bombs dropped, a massive number of munitions compared to the recent -- compared to the bombing in recent weeks. He said that the significant advances have been made on the ground, that two kilometers have been covered, significant, he said, in this mountain terrain.

Now those forces on the ground, led by Hazrat Ali, a local commander, Ben Wedeman went with his forces on the ground and he talked with, on the radio, with al Qaeda forces on the other side of the frontline.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to believe anyone could survive this kind of bombardment, but al Qaeda fighters and possible even Osama bin Laden seem to be holding on, hunkered down deep in caves and tunnels. Over an eastern alliance radio, I spoke with an unnamed member of al Qaeda, in Arabic.

Speaking in Arabic I asked about morale. It is high, he said. We are well. I was also told that talk of surrender is a lie, and they refused to respond to questions about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. On an opposite hill, eastern alliance tribal irregulars await orders to move, taking advantage of a lull in the fighting to piece together a gun they claim was captured from al Qaeda.

Oblivious to outgoing tank fire, a different reaction to U.S. bombs. Eastern alliance commander Hazrat Ali, says al Qaeda is almost finished. Almost is the operative word. We just came under fire from al Qaeda snipers.

Shortly afterwards, we came under fire again. Al Qaeda has been pushed deeper into the hills, but days of punishing, round-the-clock U.S. bombing haven't silenced them. Ben Wedeman, CNN, near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Further south, near city of Kandahar, the city that the Taliban vacated only a week ago, Marines at Camp Rhino base, some 60 miles outside of the city began moving to Kandahar City Airport on the fringes of Kandahar. The airport was built by American contractors in the 1960s, it was used during the 1980s as a Soviet air base, key in their campaign to control Afghanistan, more recently it's been an al Qaeda training camp as well as a civilian airport. Amanda Kibel was with the Marines as they took control of this important airstrip.


AMANDA KIBEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since U.S. bombing on Kandahar Airport began, a view of the damage and the scale of the task the newly arrived U.S. Marines now face as they begin to rebuild it. They have their job cut out for them. Massive craters fracture the runway, the terminal building, while still standing, is little more than a shell.

In the control towers, surveillance from now is through remnants of windows, and then there is the unseen debris.

MATTIS: There's also unexploded ordinances, we're going to collect that up, and clean the place up a little bit so it's safe for use.

Making it safe has already started. Explosive experts have begun their work, and the gathering of weapons left by the Taliban is underway.

(on camera): These are just some of the weapons the marines found when they entered the airport. They describe them as pretty standard, mostly Russian and Chinese made ordinances. Some rocket propelled grenades, various ammunition and some land mines. They say there are other weapons similar to these in warehouses surrounding the airport. But the most surprising find so far have been the Russian- made guided missiles.

(voice-over): There's nothing so far to indicate the weapons found so far were strategically placed, instead, say the Marines, they seemed to have been left quite randomly, suggesting perhaps they were abandoned by the Taliban in a hurry.

While most of Kandahar city was handed over by the Taliban quite peacefully, the capture of the airport was not. Anti-Taliban forces backed by heavy U.S. bombing pounded Taliban positions here for a number of days, before the airport fell.

MATTIS: Right now the opposition groups cleaned out the Taliban pretty well around here so we are not overly concerned. There are mine fields left over from the Soviet war, unexploded ordinance. And, of course, there are scattered groups of Taliban or al Qaeda, and we're on alert for them.

KIBEL: The Marines say, while they are ready and able to call on to track errant Taliban, their first order of business remains at the airport.


(on camera): General Mattis also told CNN that he hopes that the airport will be up and running within a matter of days. When that in fact happens, he says, the Air Force will then be ready to receive eight flights it will also perhaps be there to facilitate the bringing -- bringing in of more troops. And also, possibly, he says, to assist the interim government in any way that they need it -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Amanda, once the airport is secure, there, is it likely that the Marines will be patrolling out on the streets of Kandahar city?

KIBEL: Nic, that is a possibility. At this stage, however, they are very clear on the fact that their main mission remains to secure airport, to make it safe, and to get it open. They say they stand ready to do whatever they are asked to do, but as far has the general is concerned, his only instruction right now, his only mission is to make that airport run smoothly.

ROBERTSON: Do they -- the forces there believe that controlling this air base will make it easier to catch Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar who's still on the run in the region?

KIBEL: No. I think that the forces who are at the airport, certainly have not had any instructions in terms of Mullah Mohammed Omar. They have not been given any kind of direction as far as the capture of Mullah Mohammed Omar is concerned. But of course, as you know Nic, there are a number of special forces, special U.S. forces on the ground here in Kandahar already, there have been here a number of weeks it's very possible that working in conjunction with the airport, with the Marines, the reinforcements now at airport, as well as the facility to bring in possibly, more forces, more special troops. There will be some coordination in the pursuit of Mullah Omar.

ROBERTSON: What is the situation in Kandahar city itself? There were tensions earlier in the week after Taliban left, are those being smoothed out now?

KIBEL: Very much on the surface, Nic, things in Kandahar city appear to be very, very smooth. There is no tension, really, that one can see visibly. However, when you scratch beneath the surface, even a little bit, the tensions do remain. There are still as the General mentioned in my pockets of Taliban, who are, we are being told, still hiding out in areas very close to Kandahar city. In fact, we heard of one which is just 15 minutes away from where we are right now. The difference in groups, the different interest groups, different tribal groups loyal to different tribal leaders, they still have tensions between themselves. And it is interesting to note that even though Hamid Karzai and the other leaders may have agreed to cooperate on this new interim government, on the streets their troops, their forces, still have a long way go in terms of learning how to work together to give the ground that they fought so hard to gain -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Amanda Kibel in Kandahar. Thank you very much. And as Amanda was telling us, the U.S. forces on the ground will be helping secure that air base to bring in humanitarian supplies. In London, efforts also underway to bring about a stabilization force for Afghanistan. Heads of NATO, military leaders from NATO, countries, gathered in London. Among them, France, Germany Italy, also Turkey -- Turkey and Jordan as well as representatives from the United States, although the United States is not expected to put a peacekeeping force inside Afghanistan. Those meetings taking place in London.

Also, in the north of Afghanistan, a morning ceremony for the loss of a key commander in Afghanistan. Two days before the September the 11th attacks, Ahmed Shah Massoud, who's regarded by many in the north of Afghanistan and the Northern Alliance as one of their greatest military commanders, was mourned by political and military commanders.

Harris Whitbeck has the story.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prayer chants over a fallen hero. Inside this lonely mausoleum, high atop a hilltop in Afghanistan's Panshir valley, the country's new leader prays over the body of the man now known as the great martyr.

Here lie the remains of General Massoud, the famed Northern Alliance commander who was assassinated last September. The tomb is still under construction but has already become a place of pilgrimage. And Massoud's loyal bodyguards still watch over him.

"I'm guarding his grave because I loved and respected him," he says. "It is a duty of Islam to guard the grave of a leader." So day in and day out, the general's former soldiers stand guard.

(on camera): General Massoud had always said he wanted to be buried on this hilltop. And he said he wanted madrasas, or religious schools for children, to be built in the valley below. It was one way of ensuring that his legacy would live on.

(voice-over): A legacy his bodyguards know well. "Massoud wanted the people of Afghanistan who have endured war for decades and decades to be liberated," he says. "He wanted them to forge their own destiny."

On this day, some of Afghanistan's future leaders trekked to Massoud's tomb to pledge to respect that wish. Among them, Hamid Karzai, who will be installed as interim prime minister next December 22. He was accompanied by his defense minister and other top officials. Karzai later broke the traditional Ramadan fast with the leaders of the different factions that have fought each other for more than 20 years, showing the unity that many say will have to endure if Massoud's vision of a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is to become reality.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, in the Panshir valley of Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: When we come back, regional reaction to the latest Osama bin Laden video and the implication that he is complicit in the September 11 attacks.


ROBERTSON: In some Pakistani communities, where sympathies for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda run deep and conspiracy theories about the September the 11th attacks abound, there is disbelief that Osama bin Laden could have implicated himself in the latest video release.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This man says the tape is an American fabrication. There is no truth in this evidence. They made this up to justify their attacks on Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody talking about from -- about such a big plan would let a person with a video camera in his hand into the room.


ROBERTSON: In some Arab nations, particularly Jordan and Egypt, where political leaders have supported the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, there is disbelief there amongst many elements of the population that Osama bin Laden is involved.


JAMES MARTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Egypt state television has been showing the bin Laden tape, sometimes in its entirety.

MOHAMED KAMAL, CAIRO UNIVERSITY: I am sure that the Egyptian government and some other Arab governments who support the U.S. war efforts were happy that they received that tape. And, they wanted to show their public opinion that they were right from the beginning.

MARTONE: Moderate Arab governments, such as those of Jordan and Egypt, have supported the U.S. attacks on bin Laden and al Qaeda despite popular opposition. But the tape the U.S. says incriminates bin Laden beyond a doubt has so far met with suspicion in the Jordanian and Egyptian capitals. Some men at this cafe in Amman said the video was a U.S. fabrication.

"In my opinion, it's a fabrication. The film was made to condemn him. I don't think it is evidence," said Feraz Abohajjlah (ph). Reactions to the tape's contents were similar among some of Cairo's upper class, like this Ph.D. in international economics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is full of lies. It's only lies. I don't think it is true. That is all.

MARTONE: Do you think Osama bin Laden is guilty or not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't think that Osama bin Laden did anything at all.

MARTONE: But this Egyptian professor of political science says the tape could produce more understanding for the U.S. war effort, especially if it is soon backed with more details.

KAMAL: The U.S. needs to provide more information about how it got the tape and if bin Laden knew that he was being taped or not so people will not say it is totally fabrication.

MARTONE: Aligned with this, say analysts, must also be a U.S. government effort to show it wants to understand Arab and Muslim countries and their concerns.

(on camera): Even those here sympathetic the to U.S. war on terrorism say that the United States is against Arabs and Muslims and in favor of Israel at all costs. This perception, say analysts, must change before any U.S. effort to win Arab or Muslim hearts can succeed. James Martone, CNN, Cairo.


ROBERTSON: When we come back, a unique perspective on what the Afghan capital, Kabul, has to offer its residents and visitors.


ROBERTSON: Often chaotic, sometimes dangerous, sometimes peaceful -- despite its war-torn appearance, the city of Kabul has a lot to offer, as CNN's Jim Clancy found on a tour around the city's streets.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the morning light softly wakens Afghanistan's capital, it can make the aging architecture along the Kabul river appear like a picture postcard, quiet, comfortable and warm. But it isn't like that often.

A walk through city streets can be overwhelming. Here, Kabul shouts out the strains of overcrowding. Its residents complain of underdevelopment. Women and children, begging in the streets, attest to poverty and unemployment. Whatever their status, every Kabul resident has running water and they have to go the street and pump it themselves.

Carts drawn by horses or humans are a common site. Battered buses and yellow taxis belch dark diesel fumes. Still, bicycles seem the favorite mode of transport for most. There are several traffic lights and a few of them work, sometimes. Depend instead on the policeman directing the chaos from the relative safety of his island perch. There are rules, of course, and the first appears to be that none of the rules apply.

Above it all, an ancient wall that predates Islam rises over Kabul's edge. Crumbling now, it seems to admit it failed to keep people out. Today, the Afghan capital's strength may well be that it has served as the intersection for so many people, so many cultures, for so many centuries. It is a city surrounded by peaks filled with people whose ancestors were unafraid to cross them. Those who stayed may trace their roots to Genghis Khan or the traders who carried silk from China to the shahs courting Iran.

(on camera): If there was one phrase that described this city of Kabul, it would probably be market town. Whether it's cauliflower from Kandahar or persimmons from Pakistan, goods from virtually corner of the earth, you find it all right here in the city's open air street markets.

(voice-over): In a country where hunger stalks millions, Kabul's street stalls are brimming with fresh produce, meats, nuts and spice, most of it ready to be carried home. But some, still making the long walk from the countryside to the city center. It doesn't get any fresher than this. Car repair shops, duly caked in grease and grime, line up in gasoline alleys. If one mechanic can't find the part, perhaps the next one. The sheet metal shops, too, are clustered in a familiar pattern, followed by merchants throughout the capital. No superstores here. Each shop owner may end up serving as customer stepping next door to borrow some inventory.

Chicken Street is popular but don't expect to find any chickens. There are bouquets on the neighboring Flower Street though. The signs in English beckon upscale customers to collections of carpets, clothes and jewelry sold by candidates for the chamber of commerce.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Afghanistan is a very historical country. In this case, we have some very nice carpets and some other handicrafts. And this give -- foreigner people is very interested to buy from us. I hope to visit many people. And I'm very happy to visit with you.

CLANCY: That's your invitation. Whatever you may have heard, the people of Kabul are warm, polite and generous. Perhaps it wasn't always like this, I don't know. But when nearly one and a half million people live surrounded by the ruins of war, it's also likely they work harder to get along.

Jim Clancy, CNN.



ROBERTSON: Thank you for watching. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back tomorrow. Up next, "THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN", and for international viewers, please stay tuned for "WORLD SPORT."

We leave you with some pictures of the Tora Bora mountains at more peaceful moments. The snow on the high peaks, an indication of the tough conditions for the fighters and for the al Qaeda forces holding out.