TOPICS > Nation

Afghan Battles

November 16, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: After speaking at the naval training center near Chicago today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responded to the reports that U.S. bombs dropped south of Kabul killed al-Qaida’s military commander Mohammad Atef.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The reports I’ve received seem authoritative, and indeed, as you point out, he was, I guess, very, very senior — number two– something like that– we have been, obviously, seeking out command-and-control activities and have been targeting them, and have targeted and successfully hit a number of them, particularly in the last five or six days.

REPORTER: But you don’t have any confirmation on…?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I do not.

KWAME HOLMAN: Atef’s affiliation with Osama bin Laden dates to the early 1980s, when Atef reportedly helped recruit fighters for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation. Atef’s daughter married bin Laden’s son earlier this year. The Egyptian-born Atef was charged with masterminding the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, in addition to being implicated in the planning of the September attacks. If he’s been eliminated, officials say, that’s consistent with their number one goal in Afghanistan: Disabling al-Qaida. Rumsfeld was asked if bin Laden still was there.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I suspect he’s still in the country and, needless to say, if we knew his whereabouts, we would have him.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld also had on hand photos of U.S. Special Operations troops traveling on horseback in Afghanistan.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The ones in the North have tended to be U.S. Special Forces who are embedded in Northern Alliance elements and have been assisting them with communications to bring in food, to bring in ammunition, to bring in medical supplies, winter gear, and also to communicate with the overhead air power that the United States has been supplying in Afghanistan. And every time we put a Special Forces team in on the ground, they… Targeting improved dramatically. In the South, the U.S. forces that have been on the ground have been in intermittently. They have been, for the most part, special operations U.S. Military, and they’ve gone in to do various tasks. They’ve done assessments. They’ve done some specific jobs of going into compounds that are owned by senior people in the Taliban or the al-Qaida, looking for intelligence. More recently they have been disrupting and interdicting some roads.

REPORTER: There’s a growing concern about the Northern Alliance as they move into these cities, as they take over the cities. Yes, there is a hospitable atmosphere for them, but there are reports coming out of Afghanistan that they are committing atrocities and that they are killing people, telling the Arabs who are there that you can surrender and be killed. I mean, that’s…

DONALD RUMSFELD: Come on, now.

REPORTER: Well, that’s the reports.

DONALD RUMSFELD: It is… There’s a report on anything you want to find and repeat. The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly proper for the Northern Alliance and anyone else, including American soldiers, to tell people either to surrender or be killed. If you’re in conflict, that is what you do. And if they refuse to surrender, as they’re refusing to do in Kunduz right now, there’s going to be fierce battles, and a lot of people are going to be killed.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld said Taliban and al-Qaida members now being held will be interrogated by the United States.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the first of two reports from Afghanistan. Bill Neely of Independent Television News is in Jalalabad, one of the latest towns claimed by the Northern Alliance.

BILL NEELY: The Taliban are gone but the guns are not. It’s eastern Afghanistan, but it’s more like the Wild West. In Jalalabad, the streets are filled with gangs of heavily armed men carving up a city where there is no law– just one traffic policeman. At least six factions claim they rule here; six men want to be governor. There’s potential for anarchy, which is exactly what people don’t want.

MAN: We want the security.

MAN: I have not lived any single day in peace. Even last night, I could not sleep, because of lack of security.

BILL NEELY: Adding to the volatile mix: Armed children. This is a unit of teenagers. Golman is 14, Armin 15. Then there’s Jalalabad’s main prison: The doors are open because 186 prisoners were freed yesterday when the Taliban were driven out.

SPOKESMAN: A cruise missile.

BILL NEELY: The Taliban fled from sustained bombing that devastated their barracks, tore holes in Jalalabad’s airport runway, and ended their five years of rule as quickly as it had begun. For the last two weeks, American bombs and cruise missiles fell on Taliban positions here every day, twice a day, and they haven’t stopped. Overnight we heard missiles falling about 20 miles from here. The American warplanes are attacking retreating Taliban troops. Osama bin Laden’s summer home in Jalalabad was one of the first targets. (Speaking Pashtun)

MAN: (translated) “The Arabs went to the mountains.”

BILL NEELY: Bin Laden’s Arabs were seen retreating here. They, too, are still a threat.

(Woman Weeping)

BILL NEELY: The Taliban murdered Abdul Haq when he tried to organize an uprising against them. His family returned to Afghanistan today for the first time in five years. They, above all, hope the Taliban are being driven out forever.

JIM LEHRER: Next, ITN’s Julian Manyon reports from Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.

JULIAN MANYON: These are the first pictures of British troops in Afghanistan. Royal marine commandos, reputedly members of the Special Boat Service, on the roof of a wrecked aircraft hangar at the Bagram Air Base, which is now securely in Northern Alliance hands. The first mission of the 100-man British team is reconnaissance, to evaluate the situation around Bagram, and assess the condition of the runways. Hundreds more British troops may arrive within days. They will clear a pathway to the Afghan capital for humanitarian supplies. They may also use Bagram as a launch pad for missions against Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network. Our attempt to approach the British soldiers led to a violent confrontation with undisciplined Northern Alliance troops who refused discussion. They fired shots into the ground to make us stop, slapped our interpreter in the face, and hit a cameraman with a rifle. We’ve been marched away from the area of the control tower where we saw what we believe was at least one British soldier, but the Afghan soldiers here are still trying to interfere with our filming. A short time ago, they threatened to shoot us if we went any further, and it must be said that the British contingent is at least ferociously well protected. British troops will face major problems getting the ruined air base, which was once the hub of Soviet power in Afghanistan, to function. The battle of the Taliban is only the latest to ravage the area. Though the runways are in reasonable condition, virtually all the air base buildings are destroyed. Some aircraft movements are now taking place. A Russian-made helicopter flew in, and a little later an Antinov transporter, also Russian, came in to land. Bagram could now play a major role in the war.