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Could bin Laden Have Left Afghanistan?

Aired November 17, 2001 - 11:03   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.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are continuing to follow these reports that Osama bin Laden has left Afghanistan. We want to bring in now our terrorism expert, Peter Bergen. He's live in D.C.

Peter, good morning.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT : Good morning, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well first of all, your overall reaction to these reports; are they believable?

BERGEN: It's impossible to prove a negative Kyra, but I think that they're basically erroneous, to put it mildly. Let me explain why. One: Bin Laden is one of the most recognizable people in the world. He's got a $25 million reward on his head. He's six-foot- four, six-foot-five; it's not like he can disappear from Afghanistan and not be quickly found by somebody else.

As soon as he leaves, in a way, this relative safety of Afghanistan, what country is he going to go to? Iran? The former republics of the Soviet Union? Pakistan? All these countries are hardly sympathetic to the Taliban or bin Laden.

PHILLIPS: What about Chechnya?

BERGEN: Well you know, there have been reports -- bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan in May of 1996. As far as I'm concerned, or as far as we can tell, he's never left. And there have been a lot of reports that he might go to Chechnya or Somalia or Yemen; it never happened, and I think it's unlikely to happen now.

PHILLIPS: Also, you mentioned how tall he is and how obvious of a target he probably is. Well, the reports say he took his wives and children. How many wives and children does he have, and wouldn't that make a very obvious target, with such a large group?

BERGEN: Well that would be a group of at least 20 people, Kyra, because, you know, he's got four wives and I don't know exactly how many children, but certainly more than a dozen.

So I mean, the whole notion, I think, is sort of -- to put it mildly -- patently ridiculous, really. I mean, obviously he's on the run in Afghanistan, but it still is a country that he knows very well. He's been operating there on and off since '86. His followers know it well. He still has the hard-core Taliban supporting him. It really fails a lot of common-sense tests, that he might have left.

PHILLIPS: Now Martin touched on this with Jonathan Aiken at the Pentagon just a few minutes ago, and that is the political situation in Kandahar. Could this be some type of smokescreen to cause a distraction, to get Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan?

BERGEN: Well as Jonathan Aiken correctly pointed out, you know, the Taliban about two years ago said that bin Laden had, quote, "disappeared," and that disappearance took, I don't know -- it lasted probably around a couple of months -- suddenly he reappeared.

So this statement fits kind of a pattern of the Taliban saying things about bin Laden which subsequently prove to be basically wrong.

PHILLIPS: Also I just have to throw this out too: Would Osama bin Laden actually leave his second -- or his first-hand man I guess, Mullah Mohammed Omar -- would he actually, in a time like this, move away from him?

BERGEN: I don't think so. I mean, they may be, you know, operating separately, but they're quite close. I just think the whole idea that he's left Afghanistan basically doesn't make a lot of sense. It's impossible to prove a negative, as I said, but why would he leave Afghanistan? He would be so quickly caught. The moment he -- you know, the United States has got tons of aerial reconnaissance going on. A helicopter or a plane with bin Laden on it or, you know people -- if he slipped across -- there is a very long border with Pakistan. But believe me, there are a lot of people who are interested in that $25 million reward who aren't part of his crew.

PHILLIPS: Our CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Thank you so much.

BERGEN: Thank you.

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