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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Aired September 10, 2006 - 11:00   ET

BLITZER: All right. Up next, NATO wants more troops in Afghanistan. I'll speak with Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, and ask him why the Taliban is still such a dangerous foe and is the Taliban making a major comeback.

Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including an earthquake that's rattled parts of the southeastern United States of all places. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Many in and out of the administration believe that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

BLITZER: But why can't he be found and captured? Joining us now here in Washington is Said Jawad. He's Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming in.

SAID JAWAD, AFGHANISTAN'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you.

BLITZER: Well, what's the answer? Why can't Osama bin Laden be found?

JAWAD: I think the reason is political constraint in the region. I think there is enough military power, intelligence gathering in the region, but from the very beginning, from the days of Tora Bora, Pakistan have not allowed hot pursuit of terrorists into their territory.

BLITZER: You think he's in Pakistan, Osama bin Laden?

JAWAD: I think by having more than 30,000 international forces in Afghanistan and increasingly building the capability of Afghan intelligence forces, we are certain that he is spending most of his time in Pakistan, yes.

BLITZER: When you say most of his time, is there other places he might be spending other parts of his time?

JAWAD: He might be able to slip into Afghanistan here and there but he is mainly spending most of his time in Pakistan.

BLITZER: The Pakistanis, as you well know, from President Musharraf on down, they believe he's in Afghanistan someplace

JAWAD: If he were in Afghanistan, there's no constraint whatsoever, political, military or intelligence-wise, to go after him, to find him and to bring him to justice.

BLITZER: It's not just Osama bin Laden. It's his number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, it's Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former leader of the Taliban. Where do you think those other two guys are?

JAWAD: There's been very recent reports about the fact that Mullah Omar is in Queta, Pakistan. Zawahiri, I really don't know exactly, but he is spending a lot of time in close area with Osama bin Laden.

BLITZER: Because he makes very frequent appearances on videotape.

JAWAD: Right. And a lot of these people require connectivity to the outside world, which is not available in a cave in Afghanistan. And we also should consider the fact that a lot of the friends and associates of Osama bin Laden were found in major metropolitan centers, not necessary in caves or in the tribal areas, so the search should be expanded.

BLITZER: Here, Mr. Ambassador, is what a lot are concerned about Afghanistan right now, that the Taliban and other insurgents, for that matter, seem to be making a major comeback, and it could endanger the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzai.

JAWAD: They are making a serious comeback. They are a serious security challenge for us right now. But the political process, the reconstruction process in Afghanistan is way advanced by now, and there is a commitment of the Afghan people, the engagement of the international community, more than 60 countries, that will ensure that we, Afghanistan, will never go back to the days where, when it was a danger for itself, for the region, and for global security.

BLITZER: Here's what The Washington Post wrote on Wednesday: "More than 1,500 people have been killed in combat and terrorist attacks this year as violence in Afghanistan swelled to its highest level since 2001, when U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power. Suicide bombings, once unheard of, are now almost daily occurrences. Schools have been burned across the region, and dozens of community leaders have been assassinated," including a major political figure today killed in Afghanistan.

JAWAD: Right.

BLITZER: Anything you can dispute The Washington Post with that assessment on? JAWAD: No. This is true. And this is -- there are two reason for this increased terrorist activity in the south of Afghanistan. The first reason is that in the past five years in most of these area, there were never a strong permanent presence of either the international forces or the Afghan security forces. We lacked the resources to be present there. The international community conducted sweeping operations and then retreated back to their military installation. That's one reason. And then the other reason is that the basis of the support outside the border is still operating.

BLITZER: The U.S. NATO -- the U.S. general who is the NATO supreme allied commander, General James Jones, he said this on Thursday. He said, "Let me simply say that what's going on in Afghanistan is, while not a complete surprise, certainly the tenacity of the resistance is a bit of a surprise. A certain amount of it in the southern region has turned out to be more than we expected."

He wants reinforcements. He says NATO does not have enough troops inside Afghanistan right now.

JAWAD: He is right. I think it's a matter of increasing by small numbers. What he is asking is a limited reinforcement, but more importantly, build up capability for these forces to have mobility to move around, and to establish in small group permanent prisons in difficult areas of Afghanistan, because it's important to conduct the sweep operation but we have to be able to hold them after the terrorists are gone. Otherwise, they will just go to the next province, or they go to the neighboring country and come back.

BLITZER: They used to say of President Hamid Karzai that instead of being the president of Afghanistan, he is really the mayor of Kabul, which is the capital city, because his authority outside of Kabul is limited. Do you dispute that?

JAWAD: He has been elected by the vote of Afghanistan. Eighty- six percent of eligible voters participated, and he is the man who symbolized the future of Afghanistan. Yet the ability of the Afghan government, which is symbolized by President Karzai, to deliver services, to be present in every corner of Afghanistan, is limited due to lack of resources.

So if, for instance, if the capacity of the Afghan national police force is built further, there will be less need for foreign soldiers. And our prisons will be permanent in many districts and areas which is prone to terrorist activities.

BLITZER: I want to get to the other sense -- very sensitive issue in Afghanistan, because it's becoming the world's major exporter of opium and heroin. I'll read to you what the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said September 2nd: "The news is very bad. On the opium front today in some of the provinces of Afghanistan, we face a state of emergency. In the southern provinces, the situation is out of control. This year's harvest will be around 6,100 metric tons of opium, a staggering 92 percent of total world supply." When Americans hear that in Afghanistan, close ally of the United States, that more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply is coming from your country, what do you say?

JAWAD: Well, it is a global threat. It's a serious threat for Afghanistan security and for the regional stability. The proceeds of narcotics feed into terrorism, but yet as I mentioned, it's a global threat that requires international cooperation.

We have been successful in some areas in certain provinces of Afghanistan, but overall we have to look back and see if the approaches we have taken in cooperation with the international community has been successful or not and adopt the mullahs that have been successful to other areas. Specifically cultivating narcotics, as mentioned in the report, is mostly in the south, areas where they are facing security challenges. And where we face security challenges, there's no development, and people fear -- there's no alternative for a lot of these farmers and in the narco traffickers, the terrorists are actively pushing the farmers to grow more poppy.

BLITZER: And make a lot of money on it because --and it becomes a source of, that money becomes a source for weapons and other sorts of attacks, potential attacks against your government, NATO troops, U.S. troops. We have to leave it there, Mr. Ambassador. You got a full plate on your agenda. Good luck to you.

JAWAD: You thank you very much.

BLITZER: Ambassador from Afghanistan, Said Jawad, thanks very much.

And coming up, five years after the 9/11 terror attacks, are we safer? We'll get insight on where things stand in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and more from a panel of terrorism experts. We'll be right back.

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