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Afghan Battles

November 30, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


TIM EWART: American aircraft continued pounding Taliban targets in southern Afghanistan today. The Pentagon released these pictures of B-1 bombers heading in from the Indian Ocean and being refueled en route. The aerial attack has been relentless, concentrating on the city of Kandahar and the mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, where it’s believed Osama bin Laden may be hiding with several hundred followers. On the ground, U.S. Marines have established a forward base near Kandahar, but it’s believed that, so far, they haven’t been involved in fighting there.

More prisoners, described as al-Qaida terrorists, were put on display by victorious Northern Alliance troops today. They were captured in fighting around the city of Kunduz in the north of the country. This prisoner insisted there is no war between Muslims now. But there’s no shortage of victims of war.

The latest internal refugees gathered in western Afghanistan, adding to the hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes. This woman said, “All that is left is the ground beneath our feet.” In the capital, Kabul, a senior U.N. official began a fact-finding mission by touring areas of the city devastated in fighting ten years ago. It happened when different factions of the Northern Alliance turned on each other, a reminder of how fragile peace deals and interim governments can be.

SPOKESMAN: What you can tell, always, is the ruthlessness of the combat when clearly people have been willing to shell, you know, civilian areas without any restraint.

TIM EWART: The latest news tonight is that there’s been fierce fighting on the outskirts of Kandahar between Taliban defenders and local militias opposed to them. There’s no evidence so far of the Taliban or Osama bin Laden being willing to surrender.

JIM LEHRER: Now, today’s Pentagon assessment of the Afghan campaign. Kwame Holman has that.

KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman General Peter Pace warned the public and the press against overly optimistic assessments of the war so far.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The Taliban can no longer freely move around the country. They’re finding it increasingly difficult to manage their remaining forces. Ironically, however, as the size of the Taliban real estate diminishes, the danger to coalition forces may actually be increasing. We’ve said since the beginning of the campaign that there will be casualties, but that that would not deter us. Indeed, it will strengthen our resolve to root out the terrorists and those who support them.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld was asked about reports some coalition allies want to see peacekeeping troops deployed in Afghanistan on a faster schedule than the United States would like. He said such decisions belong with Afghans.

DONALD RUMSFELD: It is not for the United States to decide whether or not or when, and if so, what makeup a peacekeeping force might come in or what role they might play with respect to the various sections of the country. It is the… The two players on that are the forces on the ground in the area where people are speculating there conceivably could be peacekeeping forces. One of them’s Kabul; another is the area from Mazar-e Sharif up to the freedom bridge in Uzbekistan. The real problem is that unless there is reasonable security, we’re not going to be able to get the humanitarian aid in, and we need to.

REPORTER: Which would argue for the immediate introduction of peacekeeping forces in those Northern areas, would it not?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Not necessarily. What it would argue for is providing security. In the most immediate period, it would argue for getting the bridge open and getting the area to Mazar-e Sharif safe, and then finding ways to get in here, where there is the greatest need. It does not matter if that stability is provided by peacekeeping forces. What matters is that it’s relatively safe. And to the extent that the opposition forces in those areas are capable of and willing to provide that kind of security, then the aid workers are happy to come in, and we’re happy to have people fly into airports.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Secretary suggested the U.S. would conduct military trials for Taliban or al-Qaida leaders if they are caught. He said the Taliban’s Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden have different objectives.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I think it is likely that Omar is a dead-ender, that he is determined to try to reenergize Taliban, to get the Taliban fighters to consolidate somewhere and to kill people, and to the extent they can hang on to Kandadar… Kandahar, hang on to Kandahar; to the extent they can’t, get in the mountains and wait their time and come back. Bin Laden clearly has a different interest. He uses Afghanistan as a lily pad, a place to be, a place to go out and kill other people around the world, to manage his al-Qaida network. It’s… They have quite different interests. One’s an Afghan; the other isn’t.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld made it clear the United States would reject any surrender deal for Taliban leader Omar.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I can assure you that the United States would vigorously oppose any idea of providing him amnesty or safe passage of any type.

KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Rumsfeld said procedures for detaining and questioning Taliban and al-Qaida leaders still are under review.