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Afghan Battles

November 26, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: These pictures are from a training session last week. Yesterday, hundreds of American marines lifted off in earnest from this same ship in the Arabian Sea, headed for ground deployment near the Taliban-held city of Kandahar. The Pentagon says they took control of a nearby airstrip and later attacked armored vehicles on the ground, paving the way for the arrival of additional coalition forces.

COL. PETER MILLER, Chief of Staff, Task Force 58: Now in short order, you’ll have a thousand-plus marines in the backyard of the Taliban within two days.

KWAME HOLMAN: News reports said the troops would join the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Today Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not provide that level of detail.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Their purpose is to establish a forward base of operations to help pressure the Taliban forces in Afghanistan, to prevent Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists from moving freely about the country.

REPORTER: “Forward operating base” tends to lead us to believe that there will be more to come, not just Marines, but others. Is the mission to go against the Taliban in Kandahar, or is the mission to go and try and find Osama bin Laden?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, forward operating base could, in fact, as you suggest, mean that there’s more to come. It could also mean exactly what we’ve said it is, and that is a forward operating base out of which you can operate; not meaning more to come, but you could use for a variety of things. You could use it for humanitarian purposes, you could use it for special operations, you could use it, as some of the questions have suggested, for the inflow of additional troops.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld said the ground troops could help seal off roads leading out of Kandahar.

DONALD RUMSFELD: We’ve had special operations capabilities in that part of the country for some time, and the… One of the advantages that accrues to us by having capabilities there is that the highways that connect the North and the South, and the East-West in the southern part going towards Iran, exits or entrances from Iran and Pakistan, can be interdicted from those locations.

KWAME HOLMAN: On finding Osama bin Laden, newspapers quote a local anti-Taliban leader as saying bin Laden was seen in recent days near Jalalabad with troops loyal to him. There’s also widespread speculation Taliban leader Mullah Omar is 300 miles south near Kandahar.

REPORTER: What about Jalalabad? It appeared that a lot of strikes in the Jalalabad area, and there are reports that there are thousands of Taliban fighters holed up there, and that there have been sightings of bin Laden there. Is that a new pocket of resistance, a new stronghold for the Taliban up there? Are there more fleeing to up there?

DONALD RUMSFELD: It’s been a stronghold from the beginning for the al-Qaida and the Taliban.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: That’s correct, and we’ve had, I think, almost, almost from the beginning we’ve had targets in that area, and it’s going after the leadership.

DONALD RUMSFELD: And there’s the area between Jalalabad and the Pakistani border.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: And Kabul is the… And onto the border is…

DONALD RUMSFELD: At Kabul, all the way across there, there’s caves and tunnels and places people can hide out.

REPORTER: Do you have an indication that bin Laden is there, or has been there or near there?

DONALD RUMSFELD: We don’t discuss indications, and I would add that we have so many indications of those kinds of things, sightings, but we don’t get into that.

REPORTER: Over the weekend there were some Northern Alliance people who were suggesting that if Mullah Mohammed Omar were captured, that he might end up being freed. Would you… What would be your reaction if that should ever happen?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I can’t imagine why he would be freed, or by whom, nor can I imagine that he’ll end up being captured. From everything I’ve read about him, he’s a rather determined, dead-ender type… (Laughter) …And– to coin a phrase– and I just, you know, it could happen, he could be captured. Everyone has an opportunity to surrender, nobody wants to kill somebody who’s surrendering, but he just doesn’t feel to me like the surrendering type.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Pentagon also confirmed five U.S. servicemen were injured in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, where Taliban prisoners staged a deadly uprising against their Northern Alliance captors. The uprising began Saturday when a Taliban soldier used a grenade to kill himself and two others.

JIM LEHRER: Also in the North, the Taliban surrendered their last major stronghold, Kunduz, after a two-week siege. Tim Rogers of Independent Television News is with the victorious Northern Alliance troops.

TIM ROGERS, ITN: The Northern Alliance swept into Kunduz this morning when Taliban resistance collapsed. Triumphant, the Alliance troops had expected to battle their way in against foreign Taliban who’d threatened to fight to the death. What the advancing forces found was a city relieved to see the Taliban on the run.

MAN: It was the darkest hours of the people. I mean, the darkest hours of your life that the Taliban make lots of destability and territory in Afghanistan, I mean in Kunduz province. For this, the people are very tired.

TIM ROGERS: Some Alliance troops were injured during early skirmishes, but the battle soon turned into a rout. We were among the first journalists to enter Kunduz, following the Northern Alliance into the city center. Many people were relieved that the fighting was finally over, but hundreds of men and boys milled around nervously, waiting to see what would happen next. So in the end, the Northern Alliance were able to take Kunduz with a minimum of opposition, and the threat from the foreign Taliban that they would stay and fight here to the death simply appears to have evaporated.

(Men yelling) When foreign Taliban were found hiding, they received tough treatment. This man, a Pakistani, was quickly surrounded and badly beaten. Bewildered and dazed, he was dragged into a truck, beaten again with rifle butts. His fate afterwards was uncertain. 30 kilometers west of Kunduz, hundreds of Taliban prisoners were searched carefully for concealed weapons. Overseeing the operation, wearing army fatigues, General Dostan, a Northern Alliance leader who has a fierce reputation for his treatment of foreign prisoners. The fall of Kunduz is the last link in the chain that secures the north of Afghanistan for the anti-Taliban forces, and its strategic position should now help the movement of humanitarian aid in time for the cold winter months ahead.