Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Live From Afghanistan: First American Soldier Killed by Hostile Fire; High-Ranking Taliban Official to Be Handed Over to U.S.; Paving Way for International Security Force to Restore Order in Kabul

Aired January 04, 2002 - 20:00   ET




GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We had a Special Forces member killed earlier today by small arms fire in the vicinity of Gardez Khowst.


ANNOUNCER: U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffer their first loss at enemy hands. Bob Franken with the latest from the Pentagon.

A high-ranking Taliban official about to be handed over to U.S. forces. Tom Minter on the fate of the former Ambassador to Pakistan.

And a done deal, paving the way for an international security force to restore order in the Afghan capital.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Greetings once again from the Kandahar Airport. This is the site of the U.S. Military build-up here in southern Afghanistan. As we watched things here in Afghanistan, half a world away at the Pentagon, they're also watching the latest news on the first U.S. soldier to die as a result of hostile fire.

In addition, a CIA agent we're told was wounded as well. Let's get to the Pentagon now and Bob Franken, who is tracking this and a lot more from there today. Bob, hello.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Bill. Well as we've heard throughout the Afghanistan war, which is in its 90th day today, 11 Americans have died, some by accident, some by friendly fire, but only now has an American soldier died at the hands of the enemy.


FRANKEN (voice-over): Top Pentagon officials have warned that the War in Afghanistan has quieted down to its most dangerous phase. That point was tragically brought home by the Commander, General Tommy Franks, on the 90th day of the War. FRANKS: We had a Special Forces member killed earlier today by small arms fire in the vicinity of Gardez Khowst.

FRANKEN: He was the first member of the United States military killed by hostile fire in the Afghanistan war. It happened in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, an area officials believe is bristling with al Qaeda.

Defense and intelligence sources tell CNN that a CIA officer was also wounded. They walked into an ambush during a joint operation, seeking information on al Qaeda forces in the area. Officials would not say whether the super secret Delta Force was part of the mission. They will say the Army Special Forces soldier who was killed, was not part of Delta Force.

FRANKS: He was out for the purpose of working with and coordinating with tribal leaders in that area, and I think anything else that I would say at this point would be a bit too speculative, and so I'll leave it at that.

FRANKEN: Pentagon sources tell CNN, a quick reaction unit rushed to the area and evacuated the U.S. team. The CIA officer's wounds were described as serious but not life threatening. Although it happened just a few miles from the suspected al Qaeda complex bombers raked for a second straight day, General Franks said the two operations were not directly connected.

It is one of two areas of particular interest to U.S. planners. The other is the region to the west, where anti-Taliban forces are said to be in the process of dismantling Taliban forces. There are more and more reports that the negotiations include the fate of the Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar.

The interim government's Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah said in Kabul that whether Omar would be tried in or out of Afghanistan "will be decided when we capture him." But that uncertainty is definitely not matched in the U.S. government.

FRANKS: I'll reinforce the point by saying, either inside Afghanistan or as he attempts to leave Afghanistan, or in some place else, we certainly will -- we certainly will get him, Omar.


FRANKEN: As for the slain Special Forces soldier, Pentagon officials say they're not even quite sure with whom they were having the firefight, whether it was al Qaeda troops, whether it was Taliban, or even Bill, even bandits.

HEMMER: Yes, Bob more on this talk about the Pentagon saying scores of al Qaeda fighters killed in caves in the Tora Bora region, described at high altitudes. They say they'll do some DNA testing. What more do we know about that process going forward, Bob? How long could that take?

FRANKEN: It could take quite a while. The forensics teams are in there now, and of course, that can be a tedious process, trying to identify just who the victims are. They are doing a massive search.

There have been eight of the complexes that have been discovered extremely, to use the word again, complex very, very elaborate. Deep down into the ground some large quarters, and to give you some illustration of that, they found just reams of ammunition, weapons, so many bodies as you pointed out, and even in one case, a tank.

HEMMER: Well, Bob, with the Special Forces death and this casualty in eastern Afghanistan do you get any indication that Special Forces will either be backed away from that area or, in fact, stepped up? What's the word of the Pentagon?

FRANKEN: Well absolutely no indication that there's any change in the mission. As a matter of fact, General Tommy Franks, this was his weekly briefing. He was in Tampa. Many of us were here at the Pentagon. But he made no indication whatsoever that he was going to depart from the plan.

He expressed sadness, of course, at this death, really quite incredulous that this was the first one after 90 days, and said that the battle must go on and that casualties are just part of the story of war.

HEMMER: Got it, Bob. Bob Franken, live at the Pentagon. Bob, thanks to you. Back here in Afghanistan now, Bob mentioned a few moments ago, Helmand Province. There's a region here just west of Kandahar where it is said that 1,500 loyal Taliban fighters right now, are still armed with weapons. We're told there's a surrender negotiation in process right now for the men and their weapons and U.S. Special Forces are on the ground to oversee that.

We should also point out that negotiations and deadlines in this country have come and gone for the past three and a half months. We will wait and see now as to how this turns out.

Also in that same region, Helmand Province, it is said once again by high-ranking members of the interim Afghan government, the town of Baghran they still believe Mullah Mohammed Omar may be holed up there, possibly protected by those fighters.

Again, we are also told by some reports that Omar's been given a deadline to turn himself in. But what we do know right now, he's at large and it's anybody's guess as to whether or not he will be taken captive by U.S. forces anytime soon.

As we mention that as a backdrop now, live to Little Rock, Arkansas and retired General Wesley Clark is our guest once again on LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN. And General, given the fluid nature of these deadlines that we have seen, going back to the 7th of October, how trustworthy do you believe it is for the U.S. Special Forces to work in concert with Afghan forces on the ground trying to secure a surrender of Taliban soldiers?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, it's a very important question and there's really two parts to it. First of all, as we've seen with the death of a Special Forces soldier today, it's very dangerous out there.

If it was an ambush and they were out there doing liaison, trying to make contact with local people, or maybe even with local people, all those circumstances have to be investigated.

So the first question is, how trustworthy is it to work with them? How safe are we? We know it's dangerous. But the second part of the question is, well will they really negotiate the surrender? I think that in Afghanistan a lot of people over there have seen a lot of death and, you know, they don't want to be martyrs.

But on the other hand, force rules, and so it's a matter of bluff and counter bluff and that's why these deadlines and negotiations take so long and why the terms keep changing, because people are squirming for best advantage. We have to stay there. We have to have the muscle. We have to have the courage and the resolution to stay with this thing, and we will eventually get Mullah Omar.

HEMMER: General, I can tell you where the concern is here in southern Afghanistan. The concern is among these Taliban fighters that are now dissolving into society here, back into their own villages and towns, that they will wait a week, a month, possibly a year for the U.S. military to turn its head away from this matter, and then they'll resurface. How big of a concern is that looking down the road, General?

CLARK: Bill, I think it is a big concern, and I think it's one more reason why we can expect a relatively long-term commitment in Afghanistan. But you know there's another part of this risk also.

When a force like the United States that's a foreign force comes in, and it's got incredible technology and very powerful weapons and very well disciplined troops, everybody gives it a wide berth.

But people are watching us, and as they watch and they look at how we operate and they see us and size us up, there will be a few people out there who say "you know, these guys aren't -- they're not ten feet tall either and we can take our shots and we can get away."

And so, paradoxically, the risk goes up over time, the more we do in that country until we take all the Taliban out, break up their organization and punish the leaders. And that's why it's so very important to stay with this.

HEMMER: General, what do you make of the reports we're getting, Bob Franken was talking about, of these caves apparently bombed and quite successfully from a military standpoint. Scores dead says the Pentagon. DNA testing will be involved.

What about that process? Have you known about this in the past in other conflicts, and how in the world is something like this carried out to get verification of the identities of certain fighters who may have been killed in this conflict?

FRANKEN: Well we've never had anything quite like this in my experience. We didn't in Kosovo because we didn't target Milosevic the same way in Belgrade. But the issue here is really to take our time and learn as much as we can about al Qaeda from this going through these caves.

Now General Franks gave us the best description thus far. We know there's eight major complexes. He's been through seven of them. Presumably, we're getting valuable information out of that, in addition to the forensic process.

As far as forensics is concerned, it's a matter of assembling all of the information on the key individuals and taking pictures and really using that information. My guess is we don't have enough information to identify most of those people. It's going to be a long, long process.

HEMMER: Let's talk about the possibility for a next target, General, in this War on Terrorism. There is continued reports, stepped up almost on a daily basis now at the end of this week, about Somalia and reconnaissance planes flying missions over there, watching for the possibility of targets on the ground. Is Somalia the next target in this war, General?

CLARK: Bill, I think it's a next target, but the Pentagon has been very careful thus far not to disclose what the next target is, and I have to ask this question. The journalism community has been pounding on Somalia, and as a result the Pentagon's answered and said, yes we've stepped up reconnaissance.

But are we asking the same kind of questions about Lebanon? Are we asking those questions about the Philippines? Are we asking the questions about Yemen? And I haven't seen the same intensity of questioning of the Pentagon, and so we may be here a little bit a victim of the questions we're asking on this, and the information the Pentagon's willing to disclose. I think it's too early for the Pentagon, really, to know what the next target is.

HEMMER: Well put and clarification well noted. Retired General Wesley Clark, live in Little Rock. General, thank you and hope you find time to enjoy your weekend this weekend. We'll talk again in the very near future. General, thanks.

Now we want to go to Islamabad, Pakistan where a familiar face and a familiar voice may be turned over to U.S. authorities. Live to Islamabad now and CNN's Tom Minter who is tracking this front. Tom, what do we know? Good morning to you.

TOM MINTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. Just about everyone knows his face, knows his voice. Few people know what Mullah Mohammed Omar looks like or sounds like, especially. But the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, as CNN first reported many hours ago, will be sent across the border, basically deported from Pakistan.

He was picked up in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday by Pakistan intelligence authorities and taken to Peshawar and the process then began for sending him to the new interim government of Afghanistan. The U.S. has expressed an interest in having Zaeef and will probably be waiting across the border at Torqim (ph) when indeed he is brought there by vehicle and told to return to what is now Afghanistan.


MINTER (voice-over): Mullah Abdul Saleem Zaeef simply ran out of time and luck. The former Taliban ambassador has applied to become a refugee with the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees, UNHCR, but that request was denied.

He then applied to Pakistan for political asylum. That request was not approved, and Thursday afternoon Pakistani authorities picked him up at home. Sources tell CNN he was not arrested, but simply taken into custody to prevent him from going into hiding.

He was taken to Peshawar on Pakistan's frontier with Afghanistan, and was being held in what was called protective custody. Pakistani officials tell CNN that Mr. Zaeef was not being questioned by either Pakistani or American officials, and that he would simply be handed over at the border, or in diplomatic terms, deported.

The former ambassador was allowed some time to clear up his affairs, after Pakistan ordered the embassy closed nearly two months ago. That time has apparently run out. Zaeef was the most public face of the Taliban, holding daily press conferences from its embassy in Islamabad to offer the Taliban's version of the military campaign in Afghanistan.

The former ambassador often told reporters different stories, one time that the Taliban had no control over Osama bin Laden, and then the next day stating he was a guest of the government. After the bombing campaign against the Taliban started, Mr. Zaeef claimed that his government no longer had control over bin Laden or knew his whereabouts, a claim scoffed at by U.S. officials.


MINTER: One Western diplomatic source, when asked by CNN about the whereabouts of Mr. Zaeef simply popped up and said he will pop up again somewhere. Now it appears that somewhere will be Afghanistan -- Bill.

HEMMER: Tom, two questions to follow up here, and with the delay in the satellite, I'll save you the chagrin here waiting for it, and I'll pop both of them at you this way. Why now, knowing this man has gone in and out of Pakistan for some time, and also what do you U.S. intelligence sources hope to gain from him? You mentioned Mullah Mohammed Omar. Is there more that this man might know, Tom?

All right. Apparently the delay in the satellite is even more intense than we thought. We lost the connection there with Tom Minter, live in Islamabad. Our apologies and regrets, but Abdul Saleem Zaeef again, once again expected to be handed over to U.S. authorities. We will see how that plays out in the day as we head toward the day of Saturday here in Afghanistan.

In a moment here, peacekeeping in Kabul, the mission is now underway. We'll go live there to the Afghan capital when we come back here. Back in a moment.


HEMMER: Now to the future of Afghanistan, and the security that is going to be necessary in many parts of this country. It took a step forward on Friday in the capital city of Kabul, toward this particular mission. CNN's John Vause now live in Kabul to bring us up to date on what he saw there earlier on Friday. John, good morning.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. Well that was the deal that was signed by the Interior Ministry, Yanus Kanuni (ph) as well as the British General John McColl representing the International Security Assistance Force or ISAF as it's known now, and that will pave the way for something like 4,500 to 5,000 troops to eventually take up patrols here in Kabul sometime in the next couple of months.


VAUSE (voice-over): Now at that ceremony, at that signing of that agreement, the interim Chairman Hamid Karzai, he said he hoped this agreement will bring to an absolute end the presence of terrorism and banditry in Afghanistan, a very significant agreement.

This deal, it was initialized earlier this week. It was then sent off to all the nations who will be contributing troops. They OK'd this deal. They then sent it back here to Kabul, and that's what we're seeing here, this ceremony, this signing ceremony in Kabul last night.

Now we've already seen a small number of British Royal Marines on patrol already here in Kabul. They've been on the ground since before the December 22nd swearing-in ceremony of the interim administration. They've been doing some joint patrols already with local Afghan security forces.

But as we said, over the next couple of weeks, the number of troops here will swell to somewhere between 4,500 to 5,000. There will be troops from a number of nations from Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and they will take up security positions around the capital. And after that, they will slowly move to other cities around Afghanistan.


VAUSE: Now ISAF has been mandated by the United Nations. They will work under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which gives them the right to self-defense, the right to use force. However, they've only received a six-month mandate from the United Nations.

At that signing ceremony, the British General John McColl said there is nothing unusual about only receiving a six-month mandate. It could very well be extended for another six months. In fact, there's speculation that these peacekeepers will be on the ground in Afghanistan for anything up to two years.

Now that fits in quite nicely with the timetable which was worked out at Bonn. The interim administration will be in power for six months. They will then hold this loya jerga, hand over to a provisional government for the next two years, and then sometime within that two-year period, the hope is that Afghanistan will hold elections and that the people of Afghanistan will eventually elect their own leaders.

Now the role of ISAF is clear. It is here to support and to offer security for the interim administration and that provisional government, once it gets established. It is here purely as an assistance force. In fact, we've seen the name change a number of times to finally get to this International Security Assistance Force name which they've agreed on, and in that ceremony which they signed to last night, here in Kabul -- Bill.

HEMMER: John quickly here, curious to know, obviously through your reporting there, there are a number of outstanding issues that still remain unsolved. But given the current nature on the streets of Kabul, what have you noticed and observed, given the security level today? How secure, how safe is it, John?

VAUSE: Kabul is very unique at the moment. When I arrived in Kabul about a month or so ago, what I noticed is in fact there are checkpoints outside the city. They are de-arming people as they arrive. There's no warlords here dividing up the streets. In fact, Kabul compared to the rest of the country, is extremely safe and secure.

Now one of the issues for the peace and security of Afghanistan will be to try and de-arm the warlords and the tens of thousands of young men out there who carry guns and have only known how to pull a trigger for years and years and years, trying to get them into some kind of other employment. That's one of the main issues for this International Security Assistance Force.

But Kabul itself is very secure. The issue for this peacekeeping force will be when it moves into the other areas, particularly the south, to try and maintain the security and the peace of Afghanistan.

HEMMER: Still a long way to go for the rest of the country indeed. John Vause, live in Kabul. John, thanks to you.

We're also now getting a name released on that U.S. soldier, the U.S. Special Forces member killed in combat due to hostile fire in eastern Afghanistan. I want to go back now to the Pentagon and Bob Franken, who is tracking this. Bob, what have you found out there in Washington?

FRANKEN: Well, Bill, the Pentagon has just a moment ago put out a release with the identity of the Special Forces Sergeant 1st Class who was killed in action in the eastern part of Pakistan. I can just read it to you. "The Department of Defense announced today that Army Special Forces Sergeant 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, 31, of San Antonio, Texas was killed in action in Afghanistan as the result of enemy fire."

Of course, what we've been told is, is that he was part of a unit that was looking for intelligence, for evidence of al Qaeda forces in the eastern part of Pakistan, which is supposed to be bristling still with al Qaeda.

He was accompanying a unit that included CIA. Some sources say that it involved the ultra-secret Delta Force. In any case, there was an exchange of gunfire, small arms fire with an enemy force still unidentified, and it resulted in the death.

Again, I want to identify him, Sergeant 1st Class of the Special Forces Nathan Ross Chapman, Army Special Forces, 31 years old of San Antonio, Texas. It does not list where he was based. We're still trying to get that information. The information is a bit difficult to get at this time of night on a Friday night at the Pentagon.

Anyway, that's his identity, and I will also point out that an unidentified CIA officer was also wounded, serious wounds. He was evacuated and he is expected to survive. Bill.

HEMMER: Bob quickly, any indication which branch of the Special Forces he was working?

FRANKEN: He was with the Army. He was a Special Forces trooper. The Special Forces are the Army units. The larger umbrella name for all the Special Operations people is that, Special Operations. But Special Forces designates the U.S. Army.

HEMMER: Got it. Bob Franken, thank you very much there, 31 years old, San Antonio, Texas. Bob, thanks.

OK now, I want to go back to northern Afghanistan. There is a change afoot at the schools and universities. Apparently women are signing up and signing up by the dozens in the town of Mazar-e Sharif. One school opened up recently. Women were in attendance.

Under the Taliban rule, women were not allowed to attend schools or universities. It was strictly forbidden. Some expect enrollment to skyrocket. To this point, hundreds have signed up thus far.

In southern Afghanistan you might recall Camp Rhino was the initial footprint for the U.S. military here, and the U.S. Marines back in late November. Camp Rhino is now closed. The marines were there earlier this week, fixing up a few areas there for construction projects to officially close down shop in Camp Rhino.

All the marines are either here in Kandahar, or have gone back to their ship at sea. As the marines like to say, officially they have returned Camp Rhino to the desert.

In a moment here, a final thought on the power of a Boeing engine. Back in a moment. We'll explain.


HEMMER: A final note tonight from Kandahar. We don't want to make too much of our conditions here at the airport, but we are sleeping on the floor in an airport terminal that has half the windows blown out due to U.S. bombing.

Every night we receive between 30 and 40 huge cargo planes landing on a runway about 100 yards away from our sleeping bags. Last night it felt more like 20 yards. Our crew has one conclusion as of this morning. Boeing makes an extremely powerful engine. That's it from Kandahar.

See you again on Sunday night, when LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN continues. For our domestic viewers in the U.S., Kate Snow follows next. For our viewers overseas, stay tuned for "WORLD SPORT." So long now from Afghanistan.