TOPICS > Politics

Behind Enemy Lines

October 15, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now a chapter in the public relations war between the United States and the Taliban. Ian Williams of Independent Television News was among the reporters taken behind Taliban lines this weekend. They spent last night in an Afghan border town.

IAN WILLIAMS: It was shortly after 9:00 this morning when the bombs struck Jalalabad, scrambling our Taliban guards and shaking our hotel windows. Anti-aircraft fire opened up in reply, though their target was nowhere to be seen. There was an air of nonchalance amongst officials who’d come to escort us on our journey out of the country.

SPOKESMAN (translated): Only two bombs were dropped this morning. It was nothing unusual. This is this second week of the bombing, but they haven’t hit any of the military targets. The bombs are landing on civilian places, and they have become the targets. The bombs aimed at military targets have missed.

IAN WILLIAMS: There was, of course, no way to verify that, as he refused to allow us to leave the hotel to visit the area hit today. We later learned the target had been a military base near the airport. We had been allowed to go there late yesterday to see what remained of the radar at the bottom of a charred crater after being hit by a Cruise missile. The Taliban fighters we met, while accepting there is little they can do against American airpower, are full of bravado. Certainly here there seems no sign of disaffection among Taliban fighters. They all insist they are ready for action when the real war begins, by which they mean when American troops enter Afghanistan.

The reason for our invitation here had been to see the remains of Karam Village high in the mountains. From the evidence we saw, civilians, mostly shepherds, seemed to have been the main victims of the American attack. We saw no evidence of it being a military or terrorist base. The villagers claimed Karam was home to 300 families, and up to 200 people have died. It was impossible to verify those figures. I counted 30 fresh graves in three hillside locations. We had seen victims, including children, at Jalalabad’s hospital. Although this was a propaganda exercise, the visit to the hospital had been at our request. Our hosts needed constant reminders to take us here once the village visit was over. That was yesterday. Today it was clear they just wanted to see the back of us.

By late morning, we were on the move back towards the border, again under escort from heavily armed Taliban fighters. On the face of it, Jalalabad still looks quite busy, but we wanted to know the mood here, and had asked to visit the bazaar in order to talk to local people. This was refused– “for our own safety,” they said, though we did seize one opportunity during a brief curbside stop.

PERSON ON STREET (Translated): The planes came in the morning, and they bombed the area. They were aiming at the military bases here, but it created panic among all the people in the city. The people came out of their houses. It is not a good thing.

IAN WILLIAMS: Our Taliban hosts seemed far more concerned about preventing us talking freely to local people than stopping us filming their hardware, such as this aging anti-aircraft gun, one of several that lined the road to the Pakistan border. One of the most striking features of the journey to the border was the almost complete lack of refugees. It may well be they’re taking different routes out, but there were none on the road or on the plains beside it.

JIM LEHRER: At his news conference today in Washington Defense Secretary Rumsfeld called the claims of 200 civilians killed in Karam ridiculous and Joint Chiefs Chairman Myers said surveillance photographs showed no bomb craters in the village.