Friday, September 08, 2006
Tortured border is terrorist haven
On a map, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan seems complicated enough -- a tortured squiggle running back and forth. Fly over that squiggle in a helicopter and you get a sense of just how impossible the border is to patrol. There are twisting river beds, mountain trails, stunning cliffs -- nothing like any border I've ever seen.
Small wonder why it's been a haven for the Taliban and possibly even Osama bin Laden since the United States drove them from their Afghan strongholds.
We spent hours today flying over North Waziristan with members of the Pakistani military. They were eager to show us how they're sealing off the border between North Waziristan and Afghanistan.
At one point, I was just a couple of miles from Camp Tillman, an American forward operating base in Afghanistan that I'd visited just a few months ago. The base named after Pat Tillman, the former NFL player killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. At the time of my visit, a couple of the soldiers told me about being out on patrol and taking fire from insurgents, who then disappeared across this same border back into Pakistan.
Now, a very gracious Pakistani general was telling us that he's got it all under control. Yes, some individuals might make it across the border -- one or two -- but certainly no vehicles. And he was telling us something else -- that the deal the Pakistani government has just cut here in North Waziristan that allows the Taliban and other local groups to police themselves as long as they don't try to spread trouble across the border in Afghanistan would actually make the border safer.
Others have a different take on the deal, calling it akin to putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
The general is a sincere and gracious man and was clearly proud of what Pakistani army is accomplishing along the border. But we're going to be on Afghan side of this border once again in just a couple of days. What do you think we are going to hear from the U.S. soldiers this time?
Taliban adopting al Qaeda tactics
Anderson and senior producer Charlie Moore landed in Afghanistan early this morning.
We sent them because we figured many news organizations will use the backdrop of Ground Zero here in New York to memorialize the five-year anniversary of 9/11. Of course, remembering the victims is hugely important, but we also wanted to go back to where this all began and assess exactly what has happened to the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the presumed safe-haven of Osama bin Laden.
(Nic Robertson and his producer Henry Schuster and terrorism expert Peter Bergen arrived a few days ago to begin their reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan for us.)
As for the massive explosion and suicide car bombing near the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan this morning, Anderson and his team had just landed in Kabul and were waiting for their equipment when Peter Bergen alerted them a huge blast had just occurred. They rushed off to the scene and found it already cordoned off by Afghan, French and U.S. troops. U.S. soldiers quickly confirmed to them that two of their comrades had died (and by now we know at least 16 civilians also died).
Anderson described the tremendous impact of the blast. They were about 50 yards away from where it went off. The street was covered with broken glass. Flesh and blood were everywhere, Charlie reports.
A U.S. intelligence official there told them they expect to see more of this -- the Taliban capitalizing on the 9/11 anniversary to remind the world it is anything but wiped-out. What about al Qaeda? The intelligence official told Anderson and Charlie that the Taliban and al Qaeda do not cooperate per se. Instead, he said, al Qaeda acts as a kind of big brother -- he called it a role model -- for the Taliban.
Naturally, you'll see Anderson on all of our prime-time programs tonight and he'll have much more to report on "360" tonight at 10 p.m. ET.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Will the real Mullah Omar please stand up?
I'm sitting in my office staring at the grainy images of a mysterious man on the U.S. State Department's "Rewards for Justice"
Web site. At this moment he may be hiding in a cave along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Maybe he is eating with close aides. Maybe he is dead. Maybe he is walking down the middle of a street, making small talk with visiting American troops.
The man in question is Mullah Omar
, the mysterious and secretive figure who was the head of Afghanistan's authoritative Taliban government. Ever since the Taliban was driven from power following 9/11, he has been hunted for, among other things, his suspected close ties to Osama bin Laden.
The State Department has two pictures of Mullah Omar on their Rewards for Justice Web site. But a photojournalist in New York, who is experienced in Afghanistan, has been arguing for months that there is a basic problem revealed to him by his sources: The pictures are not Mullah Omar. Ed Grazda is pushing hard for the State Department to update its images.
Confusion is understandable. The Taliban, citing ultra-orthodox views of Islam, outlawed photographs of people, saying making any image of a human being was forbidden by the Koran. But intelligence agencies argued years ago that another key purpose of that move was just this: If the leaders of the Taliban could keep anyone from taking their pictures, it would be very hard to track them down or prove they were the men in charge during the Taliban's most brutal and repressive days.
The State Department is understandably defensive about the allegation of a mistake. After some relatively tense phone conversations earlier, they sent me an e-mail explaining that they have looked into Mr. Grazda's claim that the men on their site are actually other Afghans ... not the guy they want; but they are sticking with their current pictures because they believe those are the best images they have. They believe the pictures are of Mullah Omar.
Maybe it's him. And maybe it doesn't matter. He's been on the run for nearly five years and we haven't caught him yet.
What do you think? Is a Web site WANTED poster ... right or wrong ... going to make any real difference in the hunt for Mullah Omar?
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
My summer job ... nearly 20 years ago
So an interesting thing happened today. A Web site has published an article saying that I once worked for the CIA.
CNN received a call from the Web site yesterday informing us that they were going to publish this story. They didn't have all their facts straight, and I've received some questions about it, so I decided to just write this blog post, hoping to get the facts out there.
As a college student, I had a number of summer jobs and internships, including working at the CIA. Keep in mind, we are talking about nearly 20 years ago. The Bangles "Walk Like An Egyptian" was on the radio. I was 19 years old, and like many college students was curious about a variety of careers.
There was a flyer for the CIA in my college career counseling office, and I applied for a summer job. I was a political science major and was interested in serving my country.
For a couple months over the course of two summers, I worked at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. There are reporters who've been in the military, others who've interned on Capitol Hill while they were in college.
I know the CIA may sound more exotic and mysterious, but it was actually pretty bureaucratic and mundane, at least the little bit that I saw of it. By the end of the second summer, I realized it was not a place I wanted to work after college.
I've told all my employers about it over the years, but have chosen not to talk about it publicly. When I began to travel overseas to war zones as a reporter, I realized that some Jihadist might not understand that what people do for summer jobs in college doesn't mean they make a career out of it.
Oh, yeah, in case you're interested, after I graduated college, I briefly worked as a waiter, but I decided not to make a career out of that job either.