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CNN Live Event/Special

Bin Laden Cave Complexes to be Searched; General Dostum Wields Power in NW Afghanistan

Aired December 24, 2001 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN with Nic Robertson. Clues about where Osama bin Laden has been and what he was planning. What other secrets will the caves reveal?


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Access to the so-called super caves at the heart of Osama bin Laden's operation through these hard to reach valleys.


ANNOUNCER: A new U.S. enemy in Southeast Asia? Why militants half a world away may being the next target in the war on terrorism.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're a bad group that needs to be put out of business. They're committed to be doing that. And we, the United States, are going to help them do it.


ANNOUNCER: The burkas may be gone, but Afghanistan's women, equality is still a dream.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the media, you just saw the burka. But under those burkas, there's plenty of problems.



ROBERTSON: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from Jalalabad, 30 miles north of the Tora Bora mountains, the last known hiding place of Osama bin Laden. For those of you expecting to see "GREENFIELD AT LARGE," we apologize. He'll be back next week. We hope you enjoy this program in its place.

The Pentagon says that in the coming days, the search for Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains will intensify, as Marines are soon to be deployed there in support of the U.S. special forces who are currently going cave to cave.

During the weeks of bombing that ended just over a week ago, many hundreds of munitions were dropped on the mountains, on the hillsides and in the valleys. Many al Qaeda camps were destroyed. On a tour through the mountains, we could see how remote some of those camps were and how much work still has to be done to uncover all the rubble.


(voice-over): High in the Tora Bora mountains, Eastern Alliance fighters sit around a bomb damaged al Qaeda camp, the undisturbed wreckage of buildings an indication that this outpost of Osama bin Laden's fighters has not be searched. Through steep-sided valleys and up and down high hills, Eastern Alliance fighters show off the many al Qaeda sites U.S. bombers hit in their quest for Osama bin Laden.

Like the entrance to this small al Qaeda cave, still blocked by rock falls following the bombing, there is little sign of thorough examination, despite reports U.S. special forces are going cave to cave.

Over head, an occasional warplane cruises through the sky. For the most part, the fighters left on these hillsides eye each other carefully. Three factions sit at one checkpoint in an uneasy truce, guarding the upper slopes of the mountains for the unseen U.S. special forces, who are keen to prevent any clues about Osama bin Laden being taken without permission.

Access to the so-called super caves at the heart of Osama bin Laden's operation are through these hard to reach valleys. However, so far, there appears to be little evidence to support their existence.

Passports found in a bombed al Qaeda camp and shown secretly to CNN hint at bin Laden's planning for September the 11. This Somali passport shows the bearer arriving in Pakistan, a common route to Afghanistan on September the 11. A different passport we have seen shows a young Saudi arriving in Pakistan on September 8, apparently in preparation for what was to follow the deadly attacks in the United States.

Back on the mountainside and away from guard duty, Eastern Alliance fighters relax, apparently more confident than most Westerners that for them, at least, the battle against al Qaeda is more or less over.


Now Eastern Alliance commanders have been meeting in the last few days to try and iron out differences between field commanders up there in Tora Bora.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the head of the new interim government, Hamid Karzai, made his first major political decision. He appointed the northern commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum as Deputy Defense Minister to Defense Minister General Fahim. Dostum controls the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. And it was felt amongst the new interim government that if Dostum was not -- General Dostum was not given a key position in the government, then finding unity in the government would be very difficult.

Dostum was a key ally of the United States in ousting the Taliban from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif over a month ago. However, he was regarded by many Afghans as somebody who has changed many times through the conflicts here. He was a supporter of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. And many Afghans still see him as one of the most ruthless warlords of the old regimes in the country.

However, General Dostum views himself as being a popular northern leader.

And as CNN contributor Robert Felton reports, in that role, he sees himself as a key part of any government in Afghanistan.


ROBERT FELTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): In northwestern Afghanistan, there is little confusion as to who is in charge. A man, who traditionally led this region, is now the undisputed leader of six provinces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

He is an ethnic Uzbek, born in northern Afghanistan in 1954. He came from a peasant family in the desolate region northwest of Mazar- e-Sharif. With only a seventh grade education, he joined the army and quickly rose through the ranks to become a commander of 600 men at age 24.

The name Dostum is actually a nickname from the Persian word for "my friend," an expression he uses to address people even to this day. The former Afghan Army general has been criticized for changing sides when he left the failing Soviet-supported government in 1992, to fight with the mujahedeen.

He was forced out of power in 1997, when the Taliban advanced north and a second in command betrayed him. He fled to Turkey and returned this past May when the Northern Alliance sent a helicopter for Dostum and 30 men waiting at the border with Iran.

He joined men who had been fighting in the mountains for four years and quickly increased his force to over 2,000 men. These were the men who battled the Taliban regime at night, to avoid enemy aircraft, fighting on horseback, often on empty stomachs.

At the end of September, he was joined by 14 American special troops, who had a simple command, support Dostum. They rode with Dostum on horseback, calling in air strikes. If you look closely at the famous photo held up by Rumsfeld, showing Americans fighting on horseback, the man in front is Dostum.

Dostum had became a guerrilla commander, a strategic chess piece in America's war against bin Laden. Northwestern Afghanistan is the gateway to Russia and Europe and has an estimated population of 10 to 15 million people. Many of the inhabitants of these six provinces are predominantly Uzbeks, Turkman, Bazars (ph) and Tajiks.

Dostum had the popular support and military skills needed to defeat thousands of Taliban and maintain stability once they were gone. I joined Dostum a few days after he entered Mazar-e-Sharif. To show his new conciliatory style, he showed us two senior Taliban held in house.

He had negotiated their surrender peacefully, rather than through violent means. There have been significant changes in the last month under Dostum. Uniforms have arrived from Uzbekistan for his men. Afghan intellectuals have begun to return.

The friendship bridge is reopened. And people are welcoming peace. After four long years, this area of Afghanistan is coming back to life.

Dostum controls the second largest city in Afghanistan and has the support of millions of non-Pashtun Afghans.

Since the surrender of the Taliban in Konduz, he has been meeting with regional commanders, mullahs, village elders, women doctors and politicians. Long lines form outside form outside his compound from early morning to late night.

Dostum makes speeches about the need for reconciliation, forgiveness, and unity, sounding more like a statesman than a warrior these days. During the Ead festival at the end of Ramadan, he urged Afghans to enjoy the rights, to feel free to criticize him, and not to hate others once aligned with the Taliban.

Dostum is the leader of the local political party, called Jumbush Millie Islami (ph), which he wants to align directly with the goals and the freedoms of the United States. This part of Afghanistan is a different place, now that Dostum is back.

For the first time in four years, locals celebrated the end of Ramadan with laughter, music, festivals and games. As the gunfire of war changes to the firecrackers of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) versions, there is a spirit of hope and progress under Dostum, a man who's moving from war maker to peacemakers, from warlord to political leader, from alignment once with the enemies with America to its close ally. But the question remains, will America remain Dostum's friend?

This is Robert Young Felton for CNN, Shebagon (ph), Afghanistan.

ROBERTSON: The controversy over a convoy vehicles attacked in eastern Afghanistan Friday continues. The Pentagon says the convoy was struck because it contains senior al Qaeda and Taliban figures. The minister of Afghanistan's new border's division, Abrolo Zadtran (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on Monday said that he believed that there were four al Qaeda fighters on board that convoy. He said that they had fired stinger missiles and fired anti-aircraft guns at the U.S. warplanes.

However, other members of Afghanistan's new interim government say that the convoy was only carrying elderly tribal elders on their way to the inauguration of the new governments in Kabul. On Monday also, the head of Afghanistan's government Hamid Karzai met with survivors of that convoy.

The Pentagon says it was sure that it was following up on good detailed intelligence information. And that led to the attack on the 10 or 12 vehicles. and to the deaths of just a little more than 50 people.

In Kandahar, in the city hospital, a hold out of al Qaeda fighters there were surrounded on Monday. Eight al Qaeda, armed al Qaeda fighters who are being treated in the hospital, and have been there since the Taliban fell from our city little more than two weeks ago were surrounded by Afghan troops and U.S. forces.

According to eyewitnesses, there were exchanges of gunfire, though no reported deaths or no injuries. However, one person we are told by eyewitnesses was removed from the scene, and was taken to the military -- was taken to Kandahar Airport, where the Marines do have a military medical facility.

Now in CNN news series this week, focusing on countries that may come under international scrutiny. Now the spotlight in international terrorism is beginning to turn away from Afghanistan.

We start with the Philippines. And like Afghanistan, the Philippines does have hard-line Islamic militant groups inside the country. However, unlike the Afghanistan, it has a stable government, that is ready, willing and able to work with the United States in its pursuits of international terrorists.

As Maria Ressa reports, when she traveled to the heart of the battle in the southern Philippines.



Before the U.S. bombs fellow on Afghanistan. Even before the September 11 attacks, the Philippines was fighting its own war against Muslim militants linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, a group known as the Abu Sayef.


Bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammed Jolie Jalifer, lives in the Philippines from about 1987 to 1993. The ties are more than personal, say police.

The world first heard of Abu Sayef after the World Trade Center. Ramsey Youssef convicted in that bombing, was a link at trial to Osama bin Laden. He helped train many of the Abu Sayyaf's first members.

Police here say the group, named after a famous Afghan fighter, carried out more than 100 terrorists acts in its first four years. But after bin Laden's brother-in-law left and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) arrest, the Abu Sayef became a strange mix of ideologues and mercenaries. It's known best for kidnappings. Nearly 200 hostages in the past two years, most released in exchange for millions of dollars in ransom. This year, the Abu Sayef beheaded one American hostage and it's held an American couple, Martin and Gracie Burnham, since May. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo vows to crush Abu Sayef and stand with the U.S. in its global war on terror.

We have already been the target for all this time. And this is the reason why we understand what it means. Now it's not a lonely fight anymore. Now it's already part of the international battle against terrorism.

DENNIS BLAIR, COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC FORCE: They're a bad group that needs to be put out of business. The Philippines are continuing to committed to doing that and we, the United States, you're going to help them do it. [gunfire]

RESSA: Easier said than done. Troops fighting the Abu Sayef must maneuver in remote, rugged terrain, guerrilla war, difficult to tell friend from foe.

After September 11, the military has had help, with the us pledging nearly $100 million in military assistance. During President Arroyo's visit to the U.S. last month. President Bush offered more, asking her is he wanted U.S. troops.

Mrs. Arroyo' turned down the offer. And campaign here drags on, more than six months so far. The government is starting to lose the faith of its people. Many here in remote areas of Basilan, accuse the military of making a devil's bargain with the Abu Sayef. [gunfire]

During a hostage standoff in June, soldiers had the kidnappers and their hostages trapped in a church and hospital. Yet, all were able to escape.

How did like they escape? It's like they're together and they're all the same.

That surprise escape led to charges that officers were paid off with ransom money. Lawmakers in Manila launched an investigation. And at least one called for the command to resign, now.

SERGIO OSMENA, PHILIPPINE SENATOR: They seem to be dividing the spoils as far as ransom is concerned. The investigation found no corruption, but its message was no comfort.

MARITES, VITUG, AUTHOR: I'm convinced that it's pure, unadulterated incompetence of the army.

RESSA: Soldiers on the front said they lacked resources, like radios for communication. The military, denying corruption charges, acknowledges it needs help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We admit to tactical lapses. We admit to committing operational mistakes. But we don't admit to receiving ransom money. The U.S. Military is helping with equipment and training, but even with a friendly government, routing al Qaeda's friends from the Philippines has already taken longer than anyone expected.

Maria Ressa, CNN, Basilan in the southern Philippines.


ROBERTSON: When we come back, after years under Taliban rule, forced to stay in their homes, women take their place in society again.


ROBERTSON: One of the most pressing tasks for the international community in Afghanistan is getting humanitarian aid flowing again. Engineers from the British Royal Marines based at Baghram Airport, just north of Kabul, began rebuilding a bridge.

The bridge had been knocked down by U.S. bombers in October. The bombers had been trying to been trying to prevent the Taliban resupplying their front lines near the airport. The Royal Marine engineers putting in a temporary bridge. Their commanders say that they will soon be putting it in a permanent bridge structure, something akin to the Bailey type bridges that we use to rebuild Germany and other countries following the second world war.

Under the Taliban rule, women were forced to stay at home, only allowed to go out with a male relative. They're also denied the possibility of going to work.

As John Vause reports, now all that is changing.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At this gathering of Afghan women, prayers for a better future. Before the Taliban, they're all government workers, like Sonya, a former civil servant and teacher. And now with this new interim administration in power, they came to this women's center in Kabul, looking for their old jobs. Like women across Afghanistan, Sonya suffered terribly under the Taliban, and remembers how her sister died after repeated beatings for not wearing a burka.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She'd been told many times to put a burka on, but she couldn't. My sister had a medical condition, she says, and couldn't breathe under the burka, so this is why the Taliban would beat her.

VAUSE: Today, an unexpected meeting with Seema Samar, the newly appointed minister for woman's affairs, just two days on the job. Over the next six months, she will try to undo some of the damage caused by five years of Taliban rule.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The problem they're going through is unbelievable. In the media, where you just saw the burka, but under the burka there is plenty, plenty of problems. "The burka," says Dr. Samar is not the most pressing issue for Afghan women.

More importantly, she says, the right to work, to education, to freedom of speech. For now, she says, the best they can hope for is the return to the 1964 constitution, which guaranteed these basic human rights.

According to Dr. Samar, the burkas will come off, when the women feel safe and secure. But for now, there are psychological problems, trauma and depression caused by the harsh years of the Taliban. And Dr. Samar is just one of two women in the male-dominated interim government.

SAMAR: They know that I am strong enough. I struggled during the Russians, after Russians and during Taliban. So I will continue my struggle.

VAUSE: A long, hard struggle for women like Sonya as well, now desperate to work and to put the past behind her.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


(on camera): When we come back, Christmas with the Marines at Kandahar city airport.


ROBERTSON: For the last week or so, U.S. Marines have been making Kandahar City airport their home. They began this Christmas by concentrating a new chapel at the airport and singing Christmas carols, as Bill Hemmer reports, and he's been the Marines, they have many thoughts of home at this time.



CROWD: We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas...

DANIEL RIDINGS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I really don't mind being away at the holidays. I'm kind of known as the scrooge around home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merry Christmas, Daniel. We just -- I guess you wanted to get out of singing the Christmas carols with the guys so you decided to have an interview with us.

D. RIDINGS: Well, they didn't invite me to do the Christmas carols, but I'm kind of glad they didn't.


But thanks dad, it's nice to hear from you.

Corporal Derek Butrell, California, I miss you Laura Lee. I love you. Miss you Dillon, mom, dad, Brian, Jeff, Chris. And happy holidays. And I'll be home soon.


DEREK BUTRELL: Dylan's my son. I'll be home soon, son. I know that you're walking now. And I'll be ready to play ball soon.

CHRISTEN MATTHEWS, CPL. MATTHEWS WIFE: I'm very proud of what he's doing and I'm glad that he could be a part of it. It's hard being away from him this time of year, but at least he's out there doing something good for the country.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show him your teeth. Show a smile. Show everybody your teeth. Come on baby.

Marisa lost another one of her teeth. Smile. Come on, smile. Smile Marisa, you're on TV. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. Mejo. This is day. I'm here and I'm thinking about you. This is my best Christmas present this year. Take care of yourself mejo. And I'm thinking about you all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, dad.

HEMMER: First up, your holiday salute. Name, rank, hometown, please.

WILSON: Hi, my name is Corporal Wilson. I'm from Prince William County, Virginia. And I just want to say hi to all my family. And I love you guys.

JESSICA GOLDBLUM: I'm Senior Airman Jessica Goldblum from Waverly, New York. And I just want to say merry Christmas to my family. I love you all.

HEMMER: What type of Scrooge are you?

D. RIDINGS: I'm really not that bad.

HEMMER: Well, let's get it from the family, the Ridings family. Is he a scrooge? And how so?

BARBARA RIDINGS, CPL, RIDING'S MOTHER: He's actually not a Scrooge. He just hates to sing. And so even when we're in church, he just kind of -- when we're all singing and belting out these songs, and we go to church that really kind of gets going, he never gets into it as far as that lively music. He just never gets into it, but he sits there and opens up his stocking?

And your stocking will be there for you, Daniel, when you get home.

D. RIDINGS: That's nice.

HEMMER: That's so sweet. (LAUGHTER)

Well, listen, we're not going to beat up on you today. Merry Christmas to your family one last time.

D. RIDINGS: Hey, merry Christmas, parents and Emily. And tell everyone I said hi and I love you all. And give Maggie little bark for me, all right?

B. RIDINGS: We will.

GROUP: Merry Christmas, Daniel.

B. RIDINGS: Tell all the guys that we love them and we're praying for them.


ROBERTSON: Well, we understand their thoughts. And from all the CNN teams here in Afghanistan and the region, we wish you a merry Christmas. Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN, we'll be back at the same time tomorrow.