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JIM LEHRER: 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 multinational security force and a plan for a transitional government to run the country. At the Pentagon in Washington Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. Special Forces were in Kabul, and also in the South, the area still under control of the Taliban.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We are clearly in this for the long haul. We do need to find the leadership of al-Qaida and the leadership of the Taliban and the senior people and to stop them. And then we need to address that network and other networks elsewhere in the world. But it will take time.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: The advances of the Northern Alliance lines could not have been achieved without the Afghan citizens rejecting Taliban control, and in some areas Taliban forces deciding to ally themselves with opposition rather than face destruction. As far as al-Qaida is concerned, coalition and Northern Alliance efforts have degraded some of al-Qaida’s fighting units and destroyed areas where they might hide. I do have one image for you. It is not a before and after, but rather an example of how the Taliban have parked tanks and other vehicles very near religious sites and residences. As you can see from– hopefully you can see from the picture there, the distance from the tanks, that are indicated by the arrows, to both the old tomb or mosque in the center and the houses nearby, would make it difficult to strike without causing unintended damage to nearby residents or the religious structure.
REPORTER: Could you… General Myers particularly, looking at the situation, does it seem like what the Taliban did as a strategic withdrawal, as they’re claiming, or is it a retreat in defeat? And are they being pursued by U.S. strike forces as they go down South?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: I would think it’s a retreat. I mean, it’s a combination of things. It’s defections and it’s withdrawal, and it’s just trying to blend into the landscape, I would think. And so it’s… It appears to be more disorganized than organized. I think they are very frustrated that they were not able to reinforce the North as they thought they could. And yes, as they retreat, we are looking for Taliban on the move, either east or west out of Mazar-e Sharif, or south out of Kabul, or, for that matter, east out of Kabul. The trick is trying to differentiate between Taliban and other forces and other peoples that may be leaving those locations.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, there have been reports from the ground that the Northern Alliance have made atrocities in Mazar-e Sharif. Do you give those reports credibility?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I don’t know that it’s really useful to repeat unsubstantiated and sensational charges that I can’t validate, that you can’t validate, and that have not been checked.
REPORTER: If there were atrocities that were being committed by the Northern Alliance, are there personnel or troops on the ground who are monitoring the situation?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Okay, let me comment. I’ll try to explain what’s happening. First of all, the Northern Alliance is not an alliance. There are elements within it that are… It’s a loose grouping of different leaders and commanders. My understanding is– and I could be wrong on this– but originally they had intended to threaten the city and not go in, and that they changed their mind when they saw that the Taliban were fleeing and that looting was taking place. Now, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But there are a very small number of U.S. forces in the city of Kabul. There are not sufficient forces to monitor or police the entire city. They are a sufficient number that they can give advice and counsel to the people who are in the city, the leadership, and that they can report back that which they see, and we have not received reports back to that effect.
JIM LEHRER: The fall of Kabul and the war on terrorism were on the agenda as President Bush and Russian President Putin began their summit meetings today. Here’s what they said at their joint White House news conference.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush: The challenge of terrorism makes our close cooperation on all issues even more urgent. Russia and America share the same threat and the same resolve. We will fight and defeat terrorist networks wherever they exist. Our highest priority is to keep terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Today we agreed that Russian and American experts will work together to share information and expertise to counter the threat from bioterrorism. We agree that it is urgent that we improve the physical protection and accounting of nuclear materials, and prevent illicit nuclear trafficking.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): We consider this threat as a global threat indeed, and the terrorists and those who help them should know that the justice is inescapable, and it will reach them wherever they try to hide. Also, post-crisis political settlement in Afghanistan was discussed. The most important thing for today is to return peace and the life in order to Afghanistan.
REPORTER: Mr. President, the Northern Alliance forces took over Kabul, and there are reports of executions of POW’s and other violent reprisals. Can the alliance be trusted to form a broad-based government?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush: I… We listened very carefully to the comments coming out of the Northern Alliance today, and they made it very clear they had no intention of occupying Kabul. That’s what they said. I have seen reports of– which you refer to– and I also saw a report that said on their way out of town, the Taliban was wreaking havoc on the citizenry of Kabul. And if that be the case– I haven’t had it verified one way or the other– but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. After all, the Taliban have been wreaking havoc on the entire country for over a decade.
REPORTER: What specifically can be done in the next several days to ensure the safety of the citizens of Kabul?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): Well, the thing is that Northern Alliance did not take Kabul by storm. The Northern Alliance has been looming over Kabul for a long time. Suddenly, they discovered all of a sudden that Kabul had been abandoned, and they had to insert there certain security elements to prevent looting and robberies and murders. There was complete lawlessness in that city, and the situation must be put under control and it was very difficult.