Two Independent Television News reports summarize the latest developments in the military situation in Afghanistan. Then, Ray Suarez reports on the Pentagon briefings held earlier.
KEVIN DUNN: In the North of Afghanistan, American warplanes bombed pro-Taliban forces holding out in the town of Kunduz. The forces of the Northern Alliance are besieging the city, which is one of the last still to be held by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden. The Northern Alliance and anti-Taliban forces now control most of the country, leaving the Taliban fighters in Kunduz isolated and with little chance of escape. The remainder of the Taliban forces are concentrated around Kandahar, their spiritual stronghold in the South.
The whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are unknown. The Northern Alliance believe he's hiding at Maruf 80 miles east of Kandahar. Other reports say he's holed up in bunkers to the southwest while others suggest he's hiding in caves in the mountains to the North. In the last few days the United States has sent scores of additional troops into Afghanistan to step up the hunt for bin Laden, but Pentagon officials say locating him may still take some time.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a report from the first major Afghan city captured by the Northern Alliance. Andrea Catherwood of Independent Television News was among western reporters who got to the scene this weekend.
ANDREA CATHERWOOD: Northwestern Afghanistan, cut off from the world since the bombing began, 40 miles across these plains lies the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. We had received reports of massacres and lawlessness there, none of which could be confirmed. Our only route in was along the broad Oxis River, which separates the country from Uzbekistan, a border only opened to aid barges. The road to Mazar-e-Sharif is littered with the debris of war. Inside the city Northern Alliance soldiers looked relaxed and firmly installed. At the headquarters of the opposition force, I met with the city's commander, Abdul Russi of General Dostum's army.
By the time they reached the city most Taliban had survived, had fled or changed sides. But inside this school, more than 700 Taliban soldiers made a last stand. The men were reinforcements from Pakistan. They had just arrived. The school was their barracks and they were trapped inside. The Northern Alliance took me to a building overlooking the school. From here they fired on the Taliban during the two-day siege -- the floor littered with their empty cartridges. The Northern Alliance sent in tanks. From the damage to the school, it's clear the Taliban had little chance. The Northern Alliance claim they killed 520 Taliban soldiers. Three days later while we watched, the Red Cross workers were still pulling bodies from the rubble. Soldiers of the Northern Alliance then took us to a compound near the school and before us opened the metal doors of a freight container. Slowly its human cargo began to stumble into the light -- Taliban who had surrendered at the school and escaped the mass killing of their fellow soldiers -- 42 men, all we were told, from Pakistan.
The following day, two Red Cross workers arrived in the city. I joined them as they began talks with a faction of the Northern Alliance. We were taken to their jail. Almost 100 captured Taliban again from Pakistan. Among them some war wounded in urgent need of medical treatment including Amir Ahmed, a 15-year-old boy, with shrapnel from a grenade in his foot. The following day I went to visit Amir Ahmed. The doctors had already operated once. They hope they can save his foot. He told me he was from Peshawar in Pakistan. He had left just eight days ago to join the Taliban arriving in Mazar-e-Sharif two days before the city fell. The Red Cross is now trying to send a message to his family. But so far they have not been allowed to visit the men we find in the container. They have been taken away. We do not know what's become of them. But the bodies of hundreds of their fellow fighters lie here in this unmarked mass grave in a disused quarry on the outskirts of the city. The men buried here believed they were fighting a holy war -- if they were killed, their souls would go to paradise. But their remains lie here in an unmarked pit in this far off corner of a foreign land.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a battle update from the Pentagon, and to Ray Suarez.
RAY SUAREZ: At midday today, amid continuous reports of Taliban retreat, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stepped to the podium and promptly tried to dampen expectations.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The war on terrorism is still in its early stages. Perseverance and will and patience and sacrifice is going to be required in the months ahead, and while the nature of what's taking place is changing, it is going to be no less difficult.
RAY SUAREZ: Kandahar and Kunduz are immediate concerns. They are the two cities where the Taliban has yet to crack. Rumsfeld was asked about reports in both places of fierce fighting -- even in-fighting within the Taliban. Reports say some are ready to surrender; other reports say the Taliban supreme leader is negotiating the militia's surrender to its enemies. The secretary said U.S troops are not the ones cutting deals.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners. The negotiations that are taking place are, for the most part, taking place with the opposition forces and elements that are putting pressure onto the various cities you've mentioned, whether it's Kunduz or Kandahar or whichever. It's our hope that they will not engage in negotiations that would provide for the release of al-Qaida forces; that would provide for the release of foreign nationals, non-Afghans, leaving the country and destabilizing neighboring countries, which is not your first choice either. The idea that they would keep their weapons is not a happy one from our standpoint, either.
REPORTER: Allegedly these negotiations are calls for the U.N. coming in and intervening. You would not be in favor of either negotiations or the U.N. coming in to intervene in that particular fight?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I'm not in a position to have, really, an opinion on it. The... You know, the U.N. is going to do what it wants to do, but my... any idea that those people in that town, who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender, should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent.
REPORTER: So you would like it to be a fight to the death in that particular...
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, no! They could surrender.
REPORTER: Then what happens to them?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, one would hope they did not get let go into another country or even free in that country. They ought to be impounded. I mean, they're people who have done terrible things.
RAY SUAREZ: Rumsfeld was then asked about a report in yesterday's Washington Post. It said U.S warplanes have been poised to kill al-Qaida leaders-- leaders who then got away while the pilots waited for permission to shoot. In the article, a four-star general blamed, "micro- management of the war by Rumsfeld." The unnamed general said, "The execution of the war was 'military amateur hour.'"
DONALD RUMSFELD: There was no one identified in the story. (Chuckles) So, not just the one you happen to be quoting, but it was a world-class thumb sucker. (Laughter) The... With all respect to The Post, mind you.
RAY SUAREZ: Rumsfeld defended General Tommy Franks, the war's top military commander, known by the acronym CINC.
DONALD RUMSFELD: He has to balance the question of doing the maximum amount to kill people on the ground, who might be part of the al-Qaida and Taliban leadership, against trying to avoid so much collateral damage and blowing up of mosques and the like that he ends up creating a feeling against the United States and the coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan, and/or spreads the conflict... Now, then, you're going to have a bunch of people around the site who aren't the CINC, and they're going to look at it and they're going to say, "Well, gee, if I'd been doing it, I would have done this. I would have done more of that or a little less of this, or I would have done it faster or slower." There has never been a conflict where people didn't sit down and say, "gee, the CINC should have done this," or "the CINC should have done that." There's certainly no one in Washington holding anyone's hands behind their back. I can tell you that -- not the President and not this person.
RAY SUAREZ: Rumsfeld summed up the ways the coalition forces might get Osama bin Laden.
REPORTER: Are special operations forces going to be used in cave-to-cave operations, because that's what's sort of all of our speculation right now...
DONALD RUMSFELD: Yeah.
REPORTER: Or is it going to be left to Northern Alliance folks and whatever special ops forces may be with them?
DONALD RUMSFELD: If we were to do that, I would not be discussing it. And we have large rewards out, and our hope is that the incentive... The dual incentive of helping to free that country from a very repressive regime and to get the foreigners in the al-Qaida out of there, coupled with substantial monetary rewards, will incentivize-- through the great principle of university of Chicago economics... (Laughter) ...incentivize a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves, looking for the bad folks. There is no question there are people out looking.
RAY SUAREZ: The Defense Secretary said he would not be briefing the press corps again until after the Thanksgiving holiday.