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Live From Afghanistan: U.N., Afghan Government Reach Agreement About Role of Peacekeepers; Elections Afghan Style; Girls Go Back to School

Aired December 30, 2001 - 20:00   ET



After weeks of war, the pursuit of peace in Afghanistan takes a decisive step forward today. Afghanistan's interim government and the United Nations reach an agreement about the role peacekeeping forces will play in stabilizing the country.

Also, campaign season is in full swing in a small village near Tora Bora. These tribal leaders jockey for post-Taliban power on a political platform espousing brotherhood. But trusting one another is a hurdle the candidates and their constituents are finding hard to overcome.

Plus, after years of education exile, school bells are ringing for Afghan girls.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be a doctor for my future.


ANNOUNCER: Now that the Taliban has been toppled and al Qaeda conquered, there's little for Eastern Alliance fighters to do, except wonder about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. [


NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: "I think Osama is in Northeast Pakistan," says tank commander Zabet Wolojan (ph).



ROBERTSON: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, the last known hiding place of Osama bin Laden.

U.S. surveillance planes fly in the skies close to the border with Pakistan over the mountains, and U.S. special forces continue their efforts to find clues on the slopes of these hills for the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But in recent days, their efforts appear to be slowing down. Eastern Alliance fighters who provide them with security in this area are beginning to wonder if their high-tech allies haven't lost Osama bin Laden's trail.


ROBERTSON (voice over): For these Afghan fighters of the Eastern Alliance, there is little to do these days except wait. They came to the mountains to catch Osama bin Laden. Now more than a month later, they're beginning to think their al Qaeda quarry has eluded them.

"I think Osama is in northeast Pakistan" says tank commander Zabed Wolojan (ph).

"We have searched the mountains many times," says commander Gula Lin (ph). "We have arrested some Arabic people, and found a lot of dead Arabs, but the other Arabs and Osama have gone to Pakistan."

Indeed, among the more senior commanders in the mountains, there is surprise U.S. Special Forces continue their hunt.

"According to my information" says Commander Mohammed Tahir Sarjan (ph), "work here is finished and there's nothing in this area and no need for American commandos, but if they have a plan, they can stay."

Despite rumors, some fighters here may have helped Osama bin Laden escape, none show sympathy for him, and expect others to finish what they couldn't.

"The international community will find Osama and kill him" says fighter Wachan Gul. Time has passed and familiar battle front routines, servicing the machines of war, friendly contact with foreign forces in this search, even if much of the help has been from high- tech planes far above, has reaffirmed for these rugged warrior, they need updating.

"We have this old tank" says Saddam Mohammed (ph). "Everyone wants good equipment and good tanks." Almost as neglected as their aging hardware, are the men themselves. No uniforms, often just sandals on their feet, and according to commanders, no pay. Only three meals a day, although some suspect top commanders may be getting cash from the Americans they all help.

Surprisingly though, no animosity towards their better equipped comrades in arms, the U.S. Special Forces. Indeed most here say they just want help ending the mess the country has slipped into.

"We have been fighting for 25 years" says Azi Zulla (ph). "We are happy for an international force to come and bring peace."

In the meantime, until peace of bin Laden is found, they gather round the fire for another night, to ward off the only enemies they say they have left in these mountains now, the dust and the cold.

Nic Robertson, CNN, near Tora Bora, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Some of the al Qaeda fighters captured on the mountains here will likely be transferred to a Marine detention facility at Kandahar City Airport for questioning by FBI and CIA officials. The Pentagon has said that that prison facility and other operations at the airport will soon be taken over by Army units from the 101 Airborne Division. The Marines will likely be fully relieved from their duties there by mid-January.

As Bill Hemmer reports, despite a helicopter crash landing in southern Afghanistan, detainees do continue to arrive at the Marine base.



BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Under a full moon in Kandahar, word of a rare mishap for the U.S. Marines. Apparently late Saturday afternoon, a Super Stallion helicopter, a CH-53 apparently suffered a hard landing somewhere in the region. This helicopters has been a workhorse for the Marines throughout their operations here in Afghanistan.

We are told the crew of four is safe and fine. No serious injuries and no casualties on board. As for the helicopter, the Marines say sometime overnight Sunday and into Monday they will recover the helicopter and bring it back to the airport.

As for the latest on the detainees here in Kandahar, the number now 139, with 14 more brought in late Saturday night. We are told through sources on the ground that the process can be very slow at times, due to the difficult task of translating a number of languages back into the English language.

We're also told the ultimate question, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, is still an outstanding question.

On another note, we are told through sources that the same number of detainees, 139, is now being detained and processed somewhere in Pakistan. We do anticipate, through sources, that same amount to come here some time in the next coming days in the airport in Kandahar.

With the U.S. Marines, Bill Hemmer, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Now back to Nic Robertson, reporting there in Tora Bora -- Nic.


ROBERTSON: In Kabul, government officials edged closer to finalizing an agreement on peacekeepers in the city and the surroundings. The peacekeepers there will be limited to small numbers patrolling city, along with perhaps Afghan forces. As John Vause reports, however, there are still details to be worked out.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Nic, there will be a number of questions about that multinational force, questions like how many troops, what their authority and responsibility would be, and just where they would operate in Afghanistan. Well, it looks like those questions have been resolved. The Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul told media and journalists today that there had been an agreement had been reached, but there were few other details which he would give.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN INTERIM FOREIGN MINISTER: There is already the agreement. And -- the -- we are -- I think are part of the multinational force might be -- already be in the town, in Afghanistan of course. But in town, and so there -- so it was finalized. When I said the other day that very soon we will see -- we are going to see multinational forces in Kabul -- they are there.

VAUSE: Abdullah Abdullah wouldn't give exact numbers of how many troops will be on the ground here. However, the number, which has been quoted for quite some time now is around 3,000. They will be led by the British who have been on the ground here. A small contingent of Royal Marines arrived before the swearing-in ceremony on December 22. The Brits will lead this peacekeeping force. And it also looks as if those international forces will operate initially in Kabul and then spread to other areas of Afghanistan.

Now, Abdullah also confirmed today that they will operate under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which gives them the right to use force. Now, there has been some contention about the number of troops and what their authority will be. The Deputy Defense Minister, General Dostum, for one thought that the peacekeeping troops should only be here for up to six months. Hamid Karzai, the interim chairman, believes they should be here for at least six months.

Now, on the issues of the U.S.-led bombing campaign, at that press conference Abdullah Abdullah said that the interim authority's policy on the bombing campaign is that it should go on for as long as it takes. Now, that puts him at odds with a number of tribal elders from the Tika (ph) province, who had traveled here to the capital to meet with Hamid Karzai on the issue of the bombing. They wanted it stopped. They said that Karzai would take the issue up with the United States to get it stopped as soon as possible. However, Abdullah restating the interim administration's policy that they support the bombing campaign for as long as it takes -- Nic.


ROBERTSON: Well, to discuss peacekeeping and other issues, we are joined by our military analysts, retired U.S. General Don Shepperd.

General, the Afghan government still seems intent on limiting the number of international peacekeepers. Why is that?

MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Nic, it's very obvious that the Afghan people have for many decades -- maybe even centuries -- been very, very sensitive to outside forces deployed into their nation. They feel that they have taken their nation back to military action and to diplomacy on their own. They want to do it themselves. They want the assistance and the money of the international community, but they want to put this nation back together themselves, and they feel that they are best equipped to do it, Nic.

ROBERTSON: General, where do you see the peacekeeping force being perhaps in six months' time from now?

SHEPPERD: Nic, I believe that the peacekeeping force is going to be necessary for more than six months. It's very important that Afghanistan not be allowed to slip back into the tribal warfare and warlordism that has basically permeated the country for the last 30 years.

The peacekeeping force is going to be necessary to do two things: One is to establish law and order and security not only in Kabul but throughout the country, and then to disarm the population and then rearm a created Afghan army. While this is being done, an international security force that assists in all these and can call on uniformed military forces, such as the 101st being deployed to the Kandahar area, will be extremely necessary, because things are going to get out of hand and they are going to need help in doing this.

This is an enormous, enormous task to rebuild this nation and everything that goes into it -- the system of law and order, the police, the army, the economy -- a very, very difficult task ahead of this country, Nic.

ROBERTSON: Let's switch tracks here for a moment to the hunt for Osama bin Laden. There are so many reports now that he has gone to Pakistan. Is there any reason to believe that he has not fled Afghanistan?

SHEPPERD: I tell you, I have trouble believing that he is still in Afghanistan, although it's likely that if he wanted a good place to hide, there are still plenty of those places in Afghanistan, because it's not been totally cleaned of al Qaeda or of Taliban or of Taliban sympathizers. So there is still plenty of caves to hide in Afghanistan, particularly in the Kandahar area, in Helmand and Oreskond (ph) province.

But there are so many reports that he has fled to Pakistan, and perhaps there's some credence to this. It's very clear that at this moment we do not know where he is, and we do not know whether he's dead or alive. And if we find out, you can bet that we are going to be there as soon as possible, and there's lots of other people looking for him worldwide, Nic.

ROBERTSON: And as we stand here and watch the U.S. special forces in this particular area around Tora Bora continue their activities, what does it take for intelligence chiefs to sign off on this location, if you will, and say, OK, it's so thoroughly checked we know he's not here, we can pull out? SHEPPERD: Yeah, that's the question of the day. In other words, when do you say, OK, we give up, he is absolutely not here, we sign the bottom line and we go somewhere else. It appears that the Eastern Alliance is wondering right now why we are still there. They say we have searched the area, we've searched every place we can think of, we're familiar with it. If you guys want to go ahead and search, be our guests, but on the other hand we don't see any reason for this, because they seem to be pretty sure.

Whenever General Franks is assured that the special forces have gleaned every piece of intelligence they can, I'm sure he'll call off that action and go somewhere else, but it may be some time before that happens, Nic.

ROBERTSON: So far, general, the multiple aircraft flights and multiple helicopter flights that are going on inside the country, only one serious accident so far. What exactly are the problems that the forces face technically on the ground here?

SHEPPERD: Well, military operations are always dangerous, not just in wartime but in the train-up for war, and then when you're conducting operations. And just when you think it's time to relax, things are going well, something bad will happen, particularly in the case of helicopters, which operate at low level, which operate many of them at night. You have a situation where you're landing these helicopters in the dirt, dusty areas like Kandahar and many areas of the country, and you have a situation called brown-out, where the rotors kick up dust and you lose orientation and you lose depth perception.

It's very difficult, it can happen any time, but the training and equipment that we have, the safety of the operation so far is a testament to our training, our equipment, our crews and their professionalism, Nic.

ROBERTSON: General Don Shepperd, thank you very much, as always, for putting events here in context.

When we come back, democracy Afghan style, a model perhaps not to follow.


ROBERTSON: In rural communities where most Afghan live, local affairs are decided locally. Many do not feel the need to wait for Afghanistan's new interim government to run its six-month course or wait another two years perhaps for national elections to see who will run their village. As Walter Rodgers reports, Afghans at village level have their own style of democracy, a model perhaps that democrats around the world may choose not to follow.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mohammed Moree (ph) leads a village delegation to a tribal meeting of Afghan elders. He's been mayor of Sabra Soffla (ph) since Harry Truman was president of the United States. Moree (ph) survived a long, bloody war with the Soviet Union, Civil War with the Taliban, and more recently, the U.S. bombing of Tora Bora.

"Let's forget the past and now let's sit like brothers," he says. It's his campaign speech. Mohammed Moree (ph) wants another term as mayor.

Those who want to be selected village mayors sit with the tribal elders in a kind of nominating caucus. They pray Allah will solve their problems and unite Afghanistan. Outside, Omar Gul (ph) says not likely.

"Nobody trusts anybody here," he complains, sporting a belt he took off a dead Russian soldier. Inside, a tribal leader rejects a mayoral candidate, saying "he's deceived the people, not a good man."

Pajee Abdullah (ph) agrees and reminds the tribal council of how the Taliban abused power. "Barbaric" was his word.

Dhat Mohammed (ph) wants to be mayor of another village. He denounces corruption under the Taliban, but says he sees nothing wrong with growing opium poppies as a cash crop.

(on camera): Twenty years of war here does not make political reconstruction any easier. Many of those Afghans who should be participating are still refugees, but cross the border in Pakistan. Still, the tribal leaders say if the dissatisfaction factor gets too high again, they'll just call another election.

Judging by arguments heard outside the tribal elders meeting, nobody's happy. And Afghan unity is but the latest oxymoron.

Dhat Mohammed (ph) again promises if elected, nobody will have to pay him any bribes, but he's a rich man anyway. Still, this villager warns, "If Dhat Mohammed (ph) is elected mayor, I will personally kill him."

Unfazed, Dhat Mohammed (ph) claimed he's won by default, but there was never any vote, just a lot of shouting. Underlying the seeming chaos is the strong hand of the warlord, Hajee Abdullah (ph). I asked him what happens if a new mayor turns out to be a disappointment.

"When a new mayor doesn't obey us, we will dismiss him, punish him, put him in jail." The gun pretty much still decides everything in this country. And the abject poverty suffered by the Afghan people may have to be endured even longer, at least until after the next election.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Gorekil (ph), Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: In this region and others around Afghanistan, there are indications some narcotic poppy farmers are returning to grow poppies. Under Taliban rule, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan escalated, to the point where the Taliban produced three-quarters of the world's heroine. The Taliban in the year 2000 banned poppy cultivation almost eradicating it completely from the countryside.

Now, many farmers are beginning to -- many farmers concerned about their economic future in this period of instability as the Taliban are removed from power, are returning to growing the poppies. Reports vary as to how many are, perhaps some reports say as many as one-third of farmers have returned to growing poppies.

Because of the Taliban's overproduction of opium in the past, this could mean that inside Afghanistan this year the world's supply of heroine could be met from production by farmers like this. This province of Nandahar around Jalalabad was one of the most productive areas for poppy growing, and it looks as if farmers, some farmers are returning to it again this year.

When we come back, in Kabul girls begin to return to school.


ROBERTSON: Afghanistan's new administration is calling on women in Kabul to remove their burkahs. Under the Taliban rule, the burkah became the symbol of the Taliban's power over society and women in particular. They banned women from leaving homes without wearing the all-enshrouding burkah. Now, the Afghanistan's women's movement reports that the new interim government is calling on woman to return to work and take off their burkahs.

However so far, there is some reluctance among the women of Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan to shed the last vestiges of the Taliban's harsh rule. However, rolling the clock back, turning the clock back on some of the other Taliban's harsh impositions, like the ban on girls education, is proving a little simpler. As John Vause reports from Kabul, girl's schools are beginning to reopen.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Kabul's main school for girls, something which hasn't happened for five years, mothers dropping off their daughters for class. This was more than the start of a new school year, but the end of an era, where women everywhere across Afghanistan were denied basic human rights like education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so happy. I'm glad because I come school. Yes.

VAUSE (on camera): What would you like to study? What do you want to be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be a doctor for my future.

VAUSE: Do many girls here like Seda (ph) want to be doctors, teachers, educated working professionals, but they are starting with nothing. Classrooms have no desks or chairs. There are no books or pens or pencils. There's not even chalk for the blackboard. Many windows don't have glass.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you help us? The world? We don't have anything. We want the world -- we hope the world, all the world, they can help -- if they can help.

VAUSE: Compared to other schools around Afghanistan, the facilities here aren't too bad. That's because when the Taliban were in power, it was a madrassa, used to teach only boys and only Islamic law.

(voice-over): Many girls did receive some education over the past five years, illegally at home. Their teachers risked going to jail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was very difficult for us to be in Taliban situation. It was very hard situation. And we can't go at schools and we was at home with sadness.

VAUSE: Despite the almost overwhelming job ahead, there was much joy here today, for both teachers and students, simply to start a new school year. But as the school's principal told me, the world was so critical of the Taliban. Now she says, the time has come to show that it is serious about helping the women of Afghanistan.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: Coming up, Bahrain makes its contribution to the U.S.-led war on terror.


ROBERTSON: So far, few Arab nations have contributed troops to the U.S. war on terror. Jordan was the first. As Alex Quaid now reports, Bahrain has put its only battleship at the disposal of the U.S. war against terror.


ALEX QUAID, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The small Arab nation of Bahrain is offering its only frigate, the BANS Sabha, to the coalition against terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first out of area deployment, out of the Gulf.

QUAID: The Sabha is Bahrain's largest warship, a cruiser carrying surface-to-air missiles and 240 crew members.

The chief of staff of Bahrain's defense force says the crew trained for this mission for a month.

General Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa says they are totally prepared to take part in the international humanitarian effort and strengthening the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Sabha will take part in search-and-rescue operations at sea, evacuating casualties, and escorting ships carrying aid.

RONALD NEUMANN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO BAHRAIN: This is a mutually supportive relationship. It helps us. At the same time, it has provided security and stability for Bahrain.

QUAID: In 1996, the United States gave the ship, the USS Jack Williams, to Bahrain in appreciation of the relationship between the two countries. It was renamed the Sabha, after two forts with the same name, making the ship the third fortress, symbolizing the establishment of law, order and deterrence against aggressors. A name fit for its new mission.

Alex Quaid, CNN.


ROBERTSON: Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at the same time tomorrow. Up next, "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS."




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