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Tension Builds Among Tribes in Kandahar

Aired December 8, 2001 - 08:07   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.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: The Taliban are gone from Kandahar, but the conflict remains, as tensions build among tribal forces occupying this city in southern Afghanistan.

CNN's Nic Robertson, is in Kandahar, the only Western journalist there. He joins us now by telephone.

Nic, what's the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Jeanne, we've just arrived here. En route here, there was a lot of destruction on the roadside close to the airport, in particular. At the airport, a group of fighters under the command of the former governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha have been fighting with Taliban forces for about a week.

Right now, they tell us that there are 200 Arab fighters, who are surrounded at the airport. As we passed the airport, we could hear gunfire. There's a lot of destruction, a lot of destroyed vehicle, a lot of dead bodies at the roadside.

Also we say, as we got closer and closer to Kandahar, more and more armed men at the roadside. The situation inside Kandahar, I talked with a commander loyal to Gul Agha, commander Yousef Pashtun (ph). He told me that over night, on Friday night, they believed that the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was in Kandahar city.

However, they say by Saturday morning that they believe that he had gone missing, and they don't know how he left the city, but that has given them great cause for concern. They did believe that they knew exactly where he was, that he was inside the city of Kandahar, but now they believe they've lost him. That happened overnight last night.

Now also in Kandahar City, there is currently tension between the two tribal forces here. Mullah Naqib Omar, who the Taliban surrendered power of the city to, controls a section of the eastern part of -- of the western part of the city, rather, I am told.

Mullah Naqib is disliked by a lot of the tribal forces here. They do not think he is a suitable leader to control Kandahar at this time. The reason for that is, they believe he was too close to the Taliban, that in 1994 he surrendered the city of Kandahar to the Taliban too readily. So they find him to be too close to the Taliban, and they do not want him currently in a leadership position in Kandahar. Now the other tribal elements here are aligned behind the interim head of Afghanistan, that is Hamid Karzai. His main commander here on the ground appears to be a Commander Gul Agha. Currently we are told that there is discussion between these two groups, the groups representing Hamid Karzai and the groups representing Mullah Naqib. We are told that the situation is being dealt with through discussion, and there is no fighting. Indeed, inside the city of Kandahar, we do hear no fighting at all.

There are a lot of our men on the streets. We arrived at dusk. People were sitting down outside their stores for their evening iftar meal. That is the meal that breaks the fast at the end of each day for a Muslim in the Holy month of Ramadan.

The city, as I say, is quiet and the streets relatively deserted at this time. Jeanne.

MESERVE: Nic, just to clarify. You said that it is the belief of the anti-Taliban leaders that Mullah Omar has left, but you didn't clarify for us if they have any idea where he might have gone.

ROBERTSON: No, they said they don't know where he's gone. They're concerned that he managed to get out of the city overnight. They say that they are reasonably sure that Friday night he was in the city, and by Saturday morning, he has gone.

They last night on the roads exiting the city, they had set up checkpoints and were checking all vehicles leaving the city. However, there are several main roads leaving the city, but there are also a lot of routes that leave through the desert region, not through the main highways.

They say that they have been patrolling. They have been looking for Taliban leaders, and indeed their Commander Yousef Pashtun, who I spoke with earlier, had been out on patrol for the last eight hours, he said, looking to see where Taliban forces might be hiding. Jeanne.

MESERVE: Nic Robertson in Kandahar, thank you.

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