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PAUL DAVIES: Surrounded by heavily armed fighters, the Taliban spokesman refused to contemplate surrender as he addressed foreign journalists in one of the few provinces still under Taliban control. “Kandahar may be surrounded by opposing forces,” he said, “but the Taliban would fight on in their spiritual stronghold.”
SYED TAYYAB AGHA, Taliban Spokesman: We will defend our nation and we will defend our religion until we are alive, and we will not give any chance to anybody to interrupt… Or to disturb our Islamic rule in Kandahar and other surrounding provinces.
PAUL DAVIES: Asked about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, he claimed the Taliban had lost contact with their guest and ally.
SYED TAYYAB AGHA: We have no idea where he is. Because you see that our areas, they are limited now to three or four provinces. So now we don’t know where he is. So there is no relation right now. There is no communication.
PAUL DAVIES: In the north of the country, the bitter struggle for Kunduz continued today with Northern Alliance forces laying siege to the town where several hundred Taliban fighters and 30,000 civilians are trapped. It’s because of increasing concern for the civilian population that America has offered to temporarily halt the bombing to allow surrender talks to take place. The commander of American forces in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, says the Taliban can choose between surrender or military defeat.
GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: I don’t know how long that battle will continue, but at the end of the day, we will prevail in the vicinity of Kunduz.
PAUL DAVIES: Britain’s Foreign Secretary says the international coalition is now close to achieving the targets it set before launching military action in Afghanistan.
JACK STRAW, Foreign Secretary, United Kingdom: We can see that from the fact that the Taliban are fighting for their survival, but only in a limited number of places in Afghanistan. The al-Qaida organization had largely been broken up, and what remains of them are on the run.
PAUL DAVIES: The British government believes with the swift removal of the Taliban, the first step has been taken towards the stable representative government, replacing gun law in cities like Herat here, where people are starting to get used to life without their Taliban rulers. A priority now is getting sufficient aid into the country to help a vulnerable civilian population through the winter. And although that process has started, its difficulties and dangers were underlined today, when a U.N. aid convoy was hijacked by unknown gunmen near Kandahar.
JIM LEHRER: Back in this country, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld described the immediate goals of the Afghan campaign. He talked with reporters on his plane on the way to Fort Bragg. Here’s some of what he said:
DONALD RUMSFELD: What’s going on is that we continue to work toward our three goals of dealing with the al-Qaida completely, dealing with the leadership of Taliban, and seeing that Afghanistan is not a haven for terrorists. Now, the way you have to do that, obviously, is to pursue those individuals and organizations and forces wherever they are in that country. They’re in a couple of enclaves right now, large enclaves, in Kunduz and in Kandahar.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, what about the negotiations for Kunduz? What are your thoughts about that?
DONALD RUMSFELD: My thoughts are very simple about negotiations anywhere in the country, and that is that the people either surrender or they ought to be fought. And the Northern Alliance forces are fighting them. And until they surrender, I suspect they will fight them.
REPORTER: There are increasing reports there that on the ground is pretty chaotic and that these different warlords are kind of setting up territory and that they’re acting autonomously of any kind of united effort. Is that a concern now, especially when you hear the Northern Alliance people saying that they don’t want any foreign troops on the ground at all?
DONALD RUMSFELD: The question is, is it chaotic? And my answer is, no, it’s not chaotic. In fact, it’s really amazingly orderly. I suspect there has not been a change of power in that country in decades that has been as orderly and with the very limited loss of life. What we’ve seen is a great many Taliban changing sides. We’ve seen a number of other Taliban and al-Qaida fleeing. We’ve seen a few very serious battles, some of which are still taking place. And then once the battles are over, there, to be sure, has seen some… At least reports that Taliban killed people as they left and looted as they left various cities, and that they have prevented some… That the al-Qaida has prevented some Taliban from surrendering, in some cases killing them. Now, in terms of anything else going on, for example in Mazar-e Sharif, it’s orderly at the present time. The same thing’s true in Kabul, to my information. Most of the other towns that have changed hands are quite orderly and people are behaving in a reasonably responsible way.
REPORTER: The Pentagon people like to talk about centers of gravity, hitting centers of gravity. What was the center of gravity that you think gave us a military hit that sort of changed the direction of this campaign? What was the key?
DONALD RUMSFELD: That’s a tough question, and I’m not sure we’ll know with any precision for months, when people can be interviewed and talked to. I think one of the critical, to use a different phrase, I think one of the critical aspects of this, thus far– and it is far from over, let there be no doubt; I mean, this has got a good distance to run– but one of the critical elements is the fact that the Taliban are so repressive, and that there was in the Afghan population a distaste for the repressiveness of the Taliban and the al-Qaida. I think, second, among the Afghan people there was a dislike for the foreigners. That is to say, the al-Qaida and the… Whether it’s Pakistanis or Middle Easterners or Chinese or Chechens, whoever comprise the cluster of foreign elements that’s been really running that country in a major sense…I think there was a distaste for those people and a preference that they not be there. So…
REPORTER: And how did this military campaign take advantage of those things?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, at that… I think one thing the United States has had and has going for us is that it is very clear we do not intend to occupy Afghanistan. We have no interest in that real estate at all. We want the Afghan people to have that country, and that aspect of it, it seems to me, coupled with the humanitarian effort, the willingness to work with the various elements in the country, even though they don’t work with each other, the single-mindedness of… on the part of the United States to deal with the al-Qaida and to replace the Taliban, provided a lot of incentives for the forces to take steps to oppose Taliban and al-Qaida. You couple that with very effective air support, because of the folks we’ve had on the ground, providing that improved targeting, and then couple that with the fact that the Afghan people generally want their lives improved– they’re starving, they’ve been repressed, and they want those folks out of there– it seems to me that combination is what’s created the advances that have occurred thus far.
JIM LEHRER: In an interview with CBS News released today, Rumsfeld said he would prefer that Osama bin Laden be killed rather than captured alive. But he said the U.S. might not have much choice in the outcome.