Transcript

Taliban Country

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FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A soldier from Fort Bragg was killed after an explosion in Afghanistan—

MALE NEWSREADER:

In another deadly attack, a car bomb exploded in a crowded street. Ninety-five people are dead.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—people have been killed in eastern Afghanistan in an airstrike carried out by government and U.S. forces.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Two Americans were killed during a military operation early today, casualties of the longest war in American history.

NARRATOR:

November 2019, Afghanistan.

Journalist Najibullah Quraishi is making a dangerous journey into Taliban territory.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI, Correspondent:

We just left Kabul. Our driver was worrying, saying there are going to be Taliban, it’s going to be a problem for you.

Those big holes are all from the IED explosions.

NARRATOR:

Najibullah has been covering the war here for almost 20 years.

He was here in 2001 when the U.S. and its allies invaded and drove the Taliban from power.

In the decade that followed, he filmed many times with the Taliban as they fought back and regained territory across the country.

And in 2015 he met with ISIS fighters when the group was first emerging here.

Now Najibullah has returned to his home country at a critical moment. President Trump has committed to end America’s longest war and has even been negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. But the situation on the ground remains violent and unpredictable.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

The driver was telling me the day before yesterday there was three explosions; they put an IED, mainly for the government vehicles.

NARRATOR:

Najibullah is heading into a Taliban stronghold near the city of Ghazni, less than a hundred miles from the capital, Kabul.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

This is Ghazni town. It’s under control of the government, but they control just the government compound.

Last night was fighting from behind these shops. The Taliban, they were attacking on the government. It means they’re everywhere.

NARRATOR:

He’s had to make a complicated plan to get into the Taliban-controlled territory.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

We must go with the drivers from the same area because the car is known for the Taliban.

This is the car they suggested to be there.

This was the last checkpoint we just crossed. From here onwards, the Taliban, they’re in power.

NARRATOR:

U.S. and Afghan forces had driven the Taliban from this strategic mountain valley. But now, this is Taliban country.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

We are in the town where we’re supposed to be.

There is a Talib with a walkie-talkie. Maybe he’s going to direct us. I don’t know.

NARRATOR:

Najibullah and his team are met by a local commander. They are joined by more and more armed fighters.

They head to the group’s base, which flies the white flag of the Taliban.

Najibullah is concerned that such a large group could be the target of an airstrike.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

We want to do the interviews very fast because of the drone.

NARRATOR:

The Taliban leaders here claim they now control more territory than at any point since the U.S. invaded in 2001.

MAWLAWI NASRAT:

[Speaking Dari] My name is Mawlawi Nasrat. I'm the military head of Nawur district. There are 200 mujahedeen with us.

The district I'm in charge of is very populous and big.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] What percentage of Afghanistan is under control of the Taliban?

MAWLAWI NASRAT:

[Speaking Dari] About 80% of the land is solely under Taliban control.

NARRATOR:

The Afghan government disputes this and claims it controls 94% of the population.

But to show the extent of their territory, the Taliban here let Najibullah and his team fly a drone over the valley. They perform military drills out in the open.

MALE MUJAHED:

[Speaking Dari] There is no fear of the puppet government forces now. This district has been fully conquered. We have groups to conduct jihad in central Ghazni.

NARRATOR:

The fighters gather around Najibullah’s colleague, Karim Shah, who’s been operating the drone camera.

MALE TALIBAN FIGHTER:

[Speaking Dari] We want to know how it works. The mujahedeen are smart and curious.

NARRATOR:

Another commander leads them to one of the villages under Taliban control. There are few people on the streets. But after the Taliban escort leaves, one resident approaches them.

MALE RESIDENT:

[Speaking Dari] I'm headmaster at a school, and my job is inside the center of Ghazni.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Generally speaking, how is life in the areas controlled by the Taliban?

MALE RESIDENT:

[Speaking Dari] If an area is controlled by the Taliban, the people are happy. If an area is controlled by government, the people are happy, too. At the moment, people are happy because there’s no fighting and their lives are not at risk.

NARRATOR:

The Taliban is seeking ultimate control of the country and refuses to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it regards as a U.S. puppet.

Najibullah asks the commanders here what it would take to end the fighting.

TALIBAN COMMANDER:

[Speaking Dari] The war is with foreigners, with the Americans and NATO.

Once they’re gone, there'll be no fighting in Afghanistan.

NARRATOR:

For over a year, as part of the U.S. effort to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Trump administration has been conducting on-and-off negotiations with the Taliban leadership. But the fighters here were frustrated that President Trump had recently suspended the talks after an American soldier was killed.

TALIBAN COMMANDER 2:

[Speaking Dari] If he was honest, peace would have already come. Everything was prepared, with all the details written and awaiting only his signature. But when the time came, Trump suspended it.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Personally, what do you think of the president of the U.S.?

TALIBAN COMMANDER 2:

[Speaking Dari] Trump looks illiterate to me. He looks like an ordinary person. He's not a man of politics nor can his words be trusted.

He's a hedonist. A man who worships wealth and fun. He is not a man to lead a government.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] What do you think—if the peace process is finalized, will all the U.S. troops leave Afghanistan?

TALIBAN COMMANDER 3:

[Speaking Dari] God willing, the foreigners will go. They have admitted that they've lost the Afghan war. They're just looking for an excuse to get out of Afghanistan.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] But they say that they'll leave some troops behind to train the Afghan forces. People like advisers.

TALIBAN COMMANDER 3:

[Speaking Dari] As long as one American stays in Afghanistan, whether he's an adviser or provides training, that’ll indicate that the invasion hasn't ended.

NARRATOR:

Najibullah and his team are escorted out of the valley. They take the battle-scarred road back to Kabul.

He‘s surprised by what he’s seen and heard from the Taliban.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

This specific group I met, they were completely different than previous groups I’ve met before. Normally when I was embedding with a group of the Taliban, they were preparing for fighting, to block the road, but this group was completely different. They didn’t have anything to make them worried because the entire area was belong to them.

NARRATOR:

But beyond the Taliban’s gains, the fate of Afghanistan is also tied to the threat from ISIS. While the group has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria, its militants are still active here. They claim to have thousands of fighters and have been responsible for major attacks in Kabul.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

My next plan is to meet a group of ISIS in Afghanistan. I already send a request to different regions of

Afghanistan. Currently I’m on standby and I’m waiting for the phone calls.

NARRATOR:

As he is waiting, the Afghan government makes a major announcement. They claim that more than 600 ISIS fighters and their families have surrendered. In an interview, the Afghan national security adviser insists that ISIS, or Daesh, no longer poses a threat.

HAMDULLAH MOHIB, National security adviser:

Daesh has been a threat in Afghanistan. They committed a lot of brutal acts against our people, but we are glad to report that we have managed to eliminate their sanctuaries in Afghanistan. I can’t say that their ideology is completely eliminated, but they don’t have territorial control in any part of the country anymore.

NARRATOR:

But the next day, Najibullah gets word that an ISIS cell is willing to meet him.

He is told to head north. He flies into the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. A go-between will take him to ISIS.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

When you go somewhere, you’re in the hand of somebody else. They can do whatever they want to.

KARIM SHAH:

Why do it, then?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

Well, it’s very important to find out, because the government always denies. Sometimes they say, "Yeah, ISIS is a big threat," in another hand they say, "No, ISIS, is gone from Afghanistan." I really want to know either they're really gone from Afghanistan or they're really here.

This evening, basically, a guy came from inside them to take me tomorrow down there, so he is going to go with me. He’s very positive; he says, "Don’t be scared; nothing will happen." But still, when I go there I say, "OK. Oh, God, this is the end of my life. Just forgive me if I did anything wrong." [Laughs]

NARRATOR:

Najibullah leaves his team behind and heads off before dawn with the go-between. He films the journey into the Baghlan province, in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains.

He has to change cars three times for security reasons.

Eventually he is joined by two armed ISIS fighters. They arrive at the rendezvous point.

After an hour, figures begin to emerge from the mountains.

ISIS COMMANDER:

[Speaking Dari] Our mujahedeen brothers contacted us and told us a journalist is coming. From our bases we walked 10 hours to get here.

These mujahedeen brothers here are small in number. But out there are hundreds and thousands of them with guns.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] The Afghan government says that ISIS has been defeated in Afghanistan and that you don’t exist anymore.

ISIS COMMANDER:

[Speaking Dari] The government says it and the infidel media repeats it. They don’t show their apostate soldiers who've been killed.

NARRATOR:

The ISIS commander is eager to show off the weapons his men are using as well as their close combat drills.

ISIS COMMANDER:

[Speaking Dari] This weapon is called an 82. This is a PK. Lots of mujahedeen have given us these weapons.

NARRATOR:

He claims that many of the men here are former Taliban fighters, and that in the event of a peace deal with the Americans, many more Taliban will defect to ISIS.

ISIS COMMANDER:

[Speaking Dari] Lots of devoted Muslim brothers are getting in touch with us. Once this peace process comes to an end, lots of Taliban who are in touch will join us, God willing.

ISIS FIGHTERS:

[Speaking Dari] Takfir! Allahu akbar! Takfir! Allahu akbar!

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] If you had any message to the U.S. and President Trump, what would it be?

ISIS COMMANDER:

[Speaking Dari] We would tell Trump to take NATO and others out of here. Whether he uses the Mother of All Bombs or anything else, God willing, the caliphate will still succeed.

NARRATOR:

Back in Kabul, there’s more news: President Trump has made a surprise visit to Afghanistan. He’s announced that the peace talks with the Taliban will resume in the Gulf state of Qatar.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We’ve been wanting to make a deal and so have the Taliban, and we're going to stay until such time as we have a deal or we have total victory.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

It seems that peace negotiations are going to be on again, according to what he said. I hope this time it’s going to be happen some things because all the people in Afghanistan wants peace.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

If they make it, fine, if they don’t make it, that’s fine.

Qatar

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Tonight, newly released documents raise serious questions about whether the American people were lied to about the progress of the war in Afghanistan.

NARRATOR:

The peace talks are about to resume amid revelations that U.S. officials for years have been privately conceding they’ve lost the war.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

For the last 18 years, according to the government report, senior U.S. officials have been misleading the American public about the war in Afghanistan.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

It’s a war Washington is struggling to finish, and Donald Trump says peace lies in the hands of the Taliban.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

We’re here to talk with the Taliban representative about the peace negotiations, and we’re trying to find out what will happen next.

NARRATOR:

Shortly before broadcast, Najibullah secures an exclusive interview with the Taliban’s lead negotiator, Mullah Baradar.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

Mullah Baradar is a very, very big person within the Taliban rank. He was the co-founder of the Taliban, the person who has been very, very close to Mullah Omar, the main leader of the Taliban who died some years ago.

He has been in prison for eight years in Pakistan and he has been released in 2018.

MULLAH BARADAR:

[Speaking Dari] First, I say that the Americans made a huge mistake by coming to Afghanistan and starting this war in Afghanistan. Because their main target was just one person, Osama bin Laden, and he is gone now.

They still continue to to fight in Afghanistan. As for us, we are obliged, as it's our country, to defend it with our lives.

NARRATOR:

Najibullah presses him on how the Taliban will exercise power if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan and whether they’ve moderated their hard-line practices.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Has the Taliban changed since 2001? Will you allow women to study and work in offices?

NARRATOR:

His answer is ambiguous. Women will have rights, but only according to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

MULLAH BARADAR:

[Speaking Dari] There has been no change in the Taliban regarding this. We accept all the rights that God has granted to women. Absolutely, under Islamic law, if they want to live and work, of course we will allow it.

NARRATOR:

Another looming question for the Taliban is how it will handle ISIS.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] I visited an ISIS group in northern Afghanistan. They were Taliban but had joined ISIS. They said that once the peace agreement is signed, more Taliban will join ISIS. Is this true?

MULLAH BARADAR:

[Speaking Dari] This heresy has come to Afghanistan and other places like Syria and Iraq. God willing, it will not last in Afghanistan.

NARRATOR:

He insists the Taliban, not the government, have been leading the fight against ISIS in Afghanistan.

MULLAH BARADAR:

[Speaking Dari] Of course the Taliban is powerful enough to defeat ISIS. We have destroyed all their strongholds in the country.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] When will the war end in Afghanistan?

BARADAR

[Speaking Dari] The war will end when the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan. It was the U.S. that brought misery to Afghanistan. If it was just between Afghans, of course there might have been problems, but it wouldn’t have taken 18 years. Such tragedy wouldn’t have occurred nor would so many lives have been lost.

NARRATOR:

As the peace talks restart, the U.S. has asked the Taliban leadership to prove it can control its fighters on the ground by calling a ceasefire.

ISIS, meanwhile, is watching and waiting.

ISIS COMMANDER:

With this peace deal you will see the caliphate rise. Taliban fighters have promised to join us. We won’t rest until we implement the caliphate across the entire world.

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