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JIM LEHRER: Allied forces secured their hold on northern towns, and U.S. Marines dug in around the Taliban southern stronghold of Kandahar. Kevin Dunn of Independent Television News reports.
KEVIN DUNN: After three days of fighting, Northern Alliance troops, backed by British and American special forces, have retaken control of the fort at Mazar-e-Sharif. But until rebelling Taliban prisoners were finally subdued, the alliance continued to take casualties. Pictures from inside the fort, too gruesome to broadcast, show scores of Taliban dead. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, Russian soldiers landed to establish a mobile hospital and humanitarian center. It is the first Russian presence in the country since their troops were defeated 12 years ago by the Mujahadeen. Their numbers are small, but symbolic. By contrast, up to 1,000 heavily armed U.S. Marines have been sent into southern Afghanistan. They have been warned to expect to see combat. They also expect to win.
LT. COL. CHRIS BOURNE, U.S. Marine Corps: 11 weeks ago our country was attacked. Tonight Marines landed in Afghanistan. From that moment the tide has turned. This fight is over. For the al-Qaida, this fight is over for the Taliban.
KEVIN DUNN: The Marines were sent to seize an airstrip near Kandahar. From there, they will conduct sabotage and search and destroy operations against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
SPOKEMAN: — in combat I think other guys are anxious to go.
MATTHEW WESTOVER, U.S. Marine Corps: There’s just a lot of pride that you actually get the chance to actually do something for the states, you know.
KEVIN DUNN: The Marines have already seen action. Last night, their helicopters followed up an attack by Navy Tomcat jets on an armored Taliban convoy. Fifteen Taliban vehicles were destroyed in the first of what will surely be many missions.
JIM LEHRER: The view from the U.S. military leadership now. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Speaking from central command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Army General Tommy Franks said Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds across Afghanistan had fallen. But they said two areas of the country are not yet controlled by opposition forces, and those may be where Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden are.
GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: One of the general areas that we do not have firm control of is this general area in here, and so of course we’re paying very close attention to that. The other one that we do not have good control of, because… we talked about it a minute ago, in Kandahar. So this, then, is the second area where we have interest. Now, for me to say, “well, yes, one is Osama bin Laden and the other is the leadership of the Taliban”– well, I wouldn’t do that –
KWAME HOLMAN: General Franks gave an update on Mazar-e-Sharif, the northwestern town that was the first to be captured by rebel forces two weeks ago.
GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: Mazar-e-Sharif, according to my people who are on the ground there– and you know several of them were hurt yesterday in an air strike– it is not yet fully under control. I mean, there is… The city itself is as it has been now for a week or ten days. The city is doing fine. People are going about their business. But in this… In the sport complex where this fight started, it is not yet fully under control. And I’m not sure what that amounts to in numbers, but my people tell me that there probably are 30 or 40 very hard-core people still on the inside, and it’s just very simply a matter of rooting them out to the last… To the last person.
KWAME HOLMAN: General Franks said the situation in Kandahar also remains confused.
GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: We see evidence that a great many people of the non-Afghan type are working very hard to get out of Kandahar. We have applied pressure to the city of Kandahar, both from the North and from the South. We have gone through this without… Intentionally not striking high-collateral-damage targets, and so that certainly includes in Kandahar. We do not intend to go in and begin to just bomb the city of Kandahar.
KWAME HOLMAN: The General said U.S. soldiers have come across sites and labs where the Taliban may have made weapons of mass destruction.
GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: We’ve identified more than 40 places, which represent potential for WMD research or things of that sort. Of those, a great many are currently under opposition leadership control. And we’re very systematically going about our way of visiting each one of those, I think, as the Secretary has said. And we’ll continue to visit them until we’ve gone through all of them and performed the analyses that we need to perform to assure ourselves that we do not have evidence of WMD.
KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Rumsfeld said the next phase of the military campaign will be tougher.
DONALD RUMSFELD: This is going to be a very difficult period. Those cities are not safe. There are people in those cities who are hiding and who are perfectly willing to tie grenades around their bodies, blow up themselves and whoever else happens to be standing around. There are people who have defected who may redefect. There are people who have gone across borders who may come back across borders. It is a difficult environment for the Americans that are there, it’s a difficult environment for the coalition forces that are there, and it’s a difficult environment for the opposition forces who are attempting to provide some stability in those villages and towns. But we have to recognize that it’s not over. It’s going to take some time, it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be dangerous, and people are not going to live who are in situations like I’ve characterized or like this riot in the compound up in Mazar-e-Sharif.
KWAME HOLMAN: General Franks said as many as 1,100 U.S. Marines eventually would be on the ground in Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: Now to the UN-sponsored meeting in Bonn to form a new government in Afghanistan. Kristy Lang of TIN reports.
KRISTY LANG: There were four political groups represented in Bonn discussing the future of Afghanistan: The Northern Alliance, the largest delegation, with the advantage of military supremacy on the ground; the Rome group, loyal to the former Afghan King, Zahir Shah; the Peshawar group, which groups together Pashtun tribal leader backed by Pakistan, but also loyal to the king; and finally the Cyprus group established by Iran to challenge the king’s bid to power, its link to the hated warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who brought down the Kabul government in 1996, clearing the way for the Taliban. In the middle: The U.N. mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, who needs to persuade this disparate group to form an interim government.
YUNUS QANOONI, Northern Alliance Interior Minister (Translated): A monopoly on power and relying on the gains of our military– this is not important for us. We have a message. Our message is peace, national unity. We want a system in Afghanistan that will involve all sections of the population, men and women.
KRISTY LANG: And there are women delegates here making sure their voices are heard.
FATIMA GAILANI: We are not going to compromise upon these three things: We will never compromise upon equal rights and equal opportunity of education, equal rights and equal opportunity of work, equal rights and equal opportunity of political participation.
KRISTY LANG: There was a dramatic moment during this morning’s talks when Hamid Karzai– he’s a Pashtun military leader fighting on the ground in southern Afghanistan– rang in. He was put on the speakerphone, and he spoke to all the delegates, pledging his support for a unity government. Now, this is quite significant to hear a senior Pashtun leader saying, “Yes, I’ll share power with the Northern Alliance.” There was rather more hostility outside the conference gates between rival demonstrators– some arguing for women’s rights, others against American intervention. Inside, western diplomats were calling for a multinational peace keeping force. The Northern Alliance isn’t keen, but the carrot is billions of dollars of aid money.
JAMES DOBBINS, U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan: We’ve made clear that while humanitarian assistance will continue to go to people in need, as it did, even while the Taliban was in control, and while military assistance will go to commanders who cooperate with the coalition and the fight against terrorism, that reconstruction assistance, which is by far the largest type of assistance, will not begin to flow until there is at least an interim administration in place that represents all of Afghanistan with which the international community can work.
KRISTY LANG: The talks are expected to last up to a week. Nothing concrete has been decided yet, but as one senior European diplomat put it, “the atmospherics are good.”