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Pentagon Seems Skeptical of Reports of Mullah Omar's Surrender of Kandahar

Aired December 6, 2001 - 09:34   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's go to Bob Franken, who is standing by at the Pentagon with reaction to reports of the planned surrender of Kandahar. Bob, can the -- is the Pentagon confirming this yet?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a little muddier than that as things always are, as you know, Paula. Everyday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Victoria Clarke, has a meeting with reporters off camera. It's called a "gaggle," for reasons I've never been able to understand. But in any case she was, of course, asked about the reports that the surrender of Kandahar was imminent, and that it had been negotiated by Omar -- Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban.

All she would say is -- and I'm quoting -- "we are aware of conversations going on, but we don't have anything that we can confirm at this time. Cannot confirm even that these talks involve Omar, but we have nothing we can confirm at this time," and as far as reports from the region that part of the deal, according the Taliban ambassador -- the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, part of the deal would involve Omar staying free under tribal protection in the city of Kandahar.

I can't characterize the Pentagon reaction except to point out how many times the secretary of defense has vigorously opposed any idea of Omar staying free. Vigorously opposed is exact language. We'll have another chance to ask him about it, Paula, when he holds his briefing in less than two hours.

ZAHN: Okay, Bob, you made it clear what the Pentagon is and isn't saying, but you've been covering this beat for a long time. Help us sort through the murkiness here. When you have you the Islamic press reporting that Kandahar is about to fall, and now the Associated Press says not only is it about to fall, but Mullah Mohammed Omar has offered to surrender as early as Friday. Do you put any credence in those reports whatsoever?

FRANKEN: Well, first of of all, the Associated Press has been very careful in its writing, as you know. We talked about that earlier. On the one hand, news agencies were reporting what the Islamic Press was reporting. That's an agency that's been characteristic -- close to the Taliban. In the particular case of the A.P. report, it's quoting the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, and both sources, in the eyes of Pentagon, have been questionable sources over a period of time.

So, everybody is looking at this very carefully. So many things are murky, particularly over in the United States. It takes a while to sort things out. The Pentagon may have to go back to the Afghan allies and say, look, this isn't good enough. If you want our continued support, you have to do "X","Y", and "Z". The Pentagon's big concern, here, it that things don't really get out hand. The secretary of defense has made it very clear that capturing Omar is a priority for the United States.

ZAHN: Well, I guess one thing is clear, from no matter how you interpret these reports, that the charge that Mohammed Mullah Omar made, that he was going to -- or excuse me, Mullah Mohammed Omar made, that he was going to fight to the death, don't seem to be, in no way, realistic.

FRANKEN: Well, of course, there's a term we use in basketball called "trash talk," and I think the people here considered that all along.

ZAHN: All right, Bob Franken, as always, good to have your update. We'll come back to you as soon as details - new details emerge.

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