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The Fall of Kabul

November 13, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The fall of the Afghan capital of Kabul to the Northern Alliance. It happened late last night, U.S. time, as the Taliban emptied out of the city and the Alliance troops moved in. They were accompanied by western reporters, who had traveled with them on their quick weekend march through Northern Afghanistan’s major cities. We start with this report from Julian Manyon of Independent Television News.

JULIAN MANYON: Early this morning we headed for Kabul on a road that until last night was the front line. Fearing encirclement the Taliban had pulled out of all their positions on the Shamali plain. All that was left was abandoned equipment and the massive craters left by American bombs.

A village, which had served as a Taliban headquarters, was almost completely destroyed. On our way we passed jubilant Northern Alliance troops racing towards the Afghan capital. They had been urged by President Bush to halt outside the city. For the moment, most of them had. A couple of miles outside Kabul, Alliance armor and truckloads of troops formed a massive traffic jam as security men held them back.

We struggled to get through. We were among the first journalists to get into the city, and we were immediately greeted by delighted crowds celebrating the departure of the Taliban.

MAN: I feel very happy because the Taliban troops went from Kabul. People of Afghanistan don’t like those people.

JULIAN MANYON: One man waved a piece of a Taliban turban, the symbol of their fanatically religious government. On a hillside above the city, shots rang out as alliance soldiers hunted down a few Taliban who had failed to escape with the rest. After a chase on foot, the men surrendered and were led away to face Northern Alliance justice. We found other evidence of the Taliban retreat: A vehicle wrecked by an American air strike.

This is the debris of defeat — a Taliban pickup truck which was packed with their soldiers destroyed by an American missile as it tried to flee Kabul. The bodies of the dead soldiers hideously mangled have been hauled over to the side of the road over there. Nearby we found a military base, which the Americans bombed repeatedly in recent weeks, destroying armor and wrecking buildings.

And late yesterday, as the Taliban were pulling out, the Americans bombed the villa which had housed their head of security for Kabul. The bombs missed their target because the men had fled two days before. I met the owner of the house who had been forced to hand it over to the Taliban.

MAN: You aren’t going to pay the rent. And they told us if you come in this area, we will shoot you. Yes.

JULIAN MANYON: You weren’t allowed to come back to your own house.

MAN: Yes.

JULIAN MANYON: By lunchtime floods of troops were entering the city, breaking their government’s pledge that they would remain outside. The takeover will make America’s declared aim of building a broad coalition government more difficult, but Washington will still be celebrating this resounding defeat inflicted on the Taliban.

JIM LEHRER: More now on the reaction in Kabul. Alex Thompson of Independent Television News was also there.

ALEX THOMPSON: Joy and the simple act of flying a kite again; that great Afghan passion which the Taliban tried so hard to stamp out. And in music coming from the few bazaars open today, and, of course, in the crowds gathering to cheer parties of Alliance soldiers wherever they appeared as they began entering the city this morning. There was a roundabout near the city center, which became speaker’s corner as people gave vent to their relief.

MAN: We thank God for delivering us from them. They sold our country.

MAN: Army and Northern Alliance coming and… here in Kabul. We are very happy

ALEX THOMPSON: Another man said the Taliban were just cultural vandals.

MAN: They are persons who want to… destroy our country, who want to destroy our culture.

MAN: We will shave it as soon as possible.

ALEX THOMPSON: And sure enough, street barbers were busy eradicating the symbol of Talibanism from some chins, though the vast majority of men here, the Northern Alliance included, prefer to keep their beards. Just as many women will still prefer to wear the burkha, but in post-Taliban Kabul, at least they know they’ve got the choice.

WOMAN: As a woman, I feel tranquil and free in Kabul. We want peace, we want the burkha to be removed and we want to work.

ALEX THOMPSON: But there was also dangerous anger on the streets here, too. “Death to Pakistan,” they chanted. A body at the center of this mob; they said it was an Arab Taliban being spat at, kicked and abused. Thus, within a matter of hours, Kabul had made another of her historic shifts.

This time from eastern-backed fundamentalism to western-backed opposition. And it’s not just policing. Tanks roared through the city center much to the delight of onlookers, but to the horror of some a little further afield. A sight to make Pakistan flinch and the United States worry. Although the Northern Alliance did say that they’d stop on the outskirts of Kabul– and they did for a while– it’s now early afternoon and they’re rolling their heavy armor right into the center of the city. “Don’t be concerned,” explained a general, “it’s not what it looks like.”

MAN: If you’ve seen tanks in the city, they’re going to surround Kabul, not to stay in town. So they’re just crossing the city, east, west and south.

ALEX THOMPSON: We were the first journalists allowed into Kabul’s airport. The soldiers first carefully removed the Taliban flag. No burning or insulting it because it bears the central words of the Koran.

JIM LEHRER: Within 12 hours of the fall of Kabul, the Northern Alliance foreign minister said his group was ready to share political power in Afghanistan. British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the United Nations to establish a presence in Kabul as soon as possible. The U.N. Special Envoy for Afghanistan met with the Security Council in New York. He proposed establishing a multi-national security force and a plan for a transitional government to run the country.