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Matthew Chance: No timetable in Afghanistan

CNN's Matthew Chance
CNN's Matthew Chance  

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Gen. Tommy Franks, who's heading the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan from his Tampa, Florida, headquarters, was in the war region Sunday, where he addressed allegations that the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance suffocated some Taliban prisoners.

CNN's Matthew Chance, who is covering the visit, spoke Sunday to CNN's Carol Lin.

CHANCE: This is an issue that has been gathering quite a lot of momentum here in Afghanistan over recent weeks, and Gen. Franks took the time to address it, saying that the issue should be investigated, that people should gather the facts about exactly what happened at Mazar-e Sharif.

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The allegation is that hundreds of Taliban prisoners were crammed into shipping containers, which were sealed airtight, thereby causing the suffocation of many hundreds of people.

The question is, of course, to what extent, if at all, did U.S. forces have any awareness of what was going on? Could they have acted to prevent it? Or indeed, should the U.S. forces be culpable for the alleged crimes of their allies?

LIN: It is a sticky situation though because the United States needed at the time the backing and the work of the Northern Alliance and is now in the process of backing and even paying local warlords to hunt down al Qaeda. So it's a tricky relationship that the United States has to have on the ground in order to achieve a nation-building goal in Afghanistan.

CHANCE: It's always been a tricky relationship from the moment that the United States forged that alliance with the Northern Alliance, as it was called back then. It was always well-known that figures within the Northern Alliance had bloody hands, that they had committed atrocities in the past, killings of their enemies, which were perhaps unlawful under international legislation.

And you're right, too. There is a big challenge on the part of the United States. It has been challenged ... to try and hold together the various fractured splinter groups, ethnic groups, tribal loyalties that are currently underpinning the administration in Kabul. So it is a very volatile situation and one, obviously, the United States is very key to keep a grip of.

LIN: Matthew, did the general outline a timetable for how long the United States would be in Afghanistan?

CHANCE: Well, actually, Gen. Franks was specifically asked about how long U.S. troops would be expected to stay in Afghanistan. Would it be a few years? Would it be five years? He specifically said that he was not prepared at this stage to set a time frame.

He said he was here, that U.S. forces would be here to make sure that the people who are the reason for U.S. forces being here in the first place -- by which, of course, he was referring to the Taliban and al Qaeda -- to make sure that they never return again. And so he said that to determine how long U.S. forces would be here, they would have to make sure that this situation, that situation never re-emerged.




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