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A Kabul resident has a barber shave off his beard after Taliban forces vacated the Afghan capital Nov. 13, 2001.
(Sayed Salahuddin/REUTERS)
The Fall of Kabul
Nov. 13, 2001


Author Sebastian Junger and ABCNEWS producer Bert Rudman entered the Afghan capital of Kabul shortly after the city's fall to Northern Alliance troops. Junger spoke about the situation there with ABCNEWS.com's Erik Olsen.

ABCNEWS.com:   Can you describe the situation in Kabul right now?

Sebastian Junger:    We're in Kabul in a house in one of the neighborhoods. Right now there is a curfew so it's very quiet. The house we're in lost its windows when neighborhood people bombed a nearby house that had Taliban in it. This morning when we came in very early, there was a huge celebration: people shouting, soldiers hugging each other, screaming "America, America!"?

There was surprisingly little retribution. There were dead Taliban soldiers on the road outside of Kabul. They had clearly been executed. There were some instances of that and beatings inside of Kabul. But the Northern Alliance police intervened where they could, and I think the death toll in revenge killings was minimal.

ABCNEWS.com:    How many bodies did you actually see?

Junger:    We saw five a little bit outside of Kabul. Eight were killed in a city park during a firefight. These were Taliban soldiers who had been left behind and tried to fight their way out, but were killed by the Northern Alliance. And then there were scattered reports of journalists who had seen a body here or a body there. But fairly minimal. I don't know exactly what the death toll was.

ABCNEWS.com:    How did you actually enter the city?

Junger:    They weren't letting cars through, so we started walking. It would have been a five-mile walk, but people were streaming out of Kabul to meet the soldiers who had liberated their city, and along with them were taxis not a regular taxi, but a guy with a car and we just took a taxi and drove into town.

ABCNEWS.com:   What is the condition of the city?

Junger:   It's fine. There's life in the city. The American bombing didn't do any damage to the city as a whole. The Taliban military headquarters is crushed flat. In one or two other places I saw bomb impacts. But keep in mind this is a city that was absolutely destroyed during the civil war, so there's plenty of wreckage around, but it's old. The U.S. bombing had minimal impact on the city as a whole. The people were shouting "America, America" when we came in, so clearly they weren't holding a grudge for bombs that went astray.

ABCNEWS.com:   Was there any evidence of fighting at all when you came in?

Junger:    No, there was no fighting over the city. The Taliban fled the night before. They were routed much further north and then they fled all the way back to Kabul and then kept going.

ABCNEWS.com:    Did you see personally any reprisals against the Taliban?

Junger:    No, we didn't. We drove around the city and there was a truck filled by Taliban fighters that was presumably struck by an American helicopter that hit it with a rocket, and those people were scattered all over the road.

ABCNEWS.com:   What else have you seen to suggest that the people there feel liberated?

Junger:    I saw a woman looking out a window without her burqa. There were women walking alone and people flying kites kites were not allowed under the Taliban kites everywhere. There were several places with people playing music in the streets and dancing. One guy said he was going to the barber shop and shave his beard, but the barber shop was closed today so he said he'll go tomorrow. People are returning to what we'd consider a more normal life.

ABCNEWS.com:   Have you had any personal dealings with anyone there? What was the response to you as Americans?

Junger:   Well, that was what prompted them to shout "America, America." And while they were saying that, there were B-52s circling Kabul. They were clearly thrilled with the whole thing.

ABCNEWS.com:   Do the people there generally feel that it was the U.S. forces' efforts that led to the overthrow?

Junger:    Yes. The Northern Alliance soldiers and the people in Kabul both realize that without heavy bombing the Taliban front lines would have held. They are very aware that the Taliban had massive assistance from other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and I think they saw the U.S. bombing as kind of making it a more even fight.

ABCNEWS.com:   There have been some stories saying that many people in various cities are taking credit for overthrowing the Taliban themselves and therefore downplaying the U.S. effort. Have you heard anything like this?

Junger:    Apparently, in Kabul and other cities, in smaller towns, there were spontaneous uprisings and the Taliban pulled out. People wouldn't have dared to have those uprisings if they didn't feel that the Taliban were already on their way out. They are a totalitarian regime, and they had the population under rigid control, so the population, I think, was encouraged by the beating the Taliban were taking by the U.S. air forces and by the Northern Alliance forces on the ground. The combination, I think, emboldened people to rise up and throw off the Taliban regime.

ABCNEWS.com:   How significant is this capture of Kabul, strategically and psychologically?

Junger:    Psychologically it is everything. This is the capital. The Northern Alliance, which was then the government of Afghanistan, was kicked out in September 1996, and they can finally come home. Many of the soldiers are from Kabul and they're now home. Many soldiers entered Kabul prematurely and were punished by the Northern Alliance. I think they went in there this is just a guess because they were so anxious to go home. I think these were probably soldiers who were from Kabul and just couldn't resist the temptation of entering the city.

Strategically, beyond Kabul is an area of Afghanistan that is primarily Pashtun, and the Northern Alliance is primarily Uzbek and Tajik. They have taken the parts of Afghanistan that they feel are absolutely essential, which is the entire north, and Herat in the east. Beyond that, they're going to proceed very carefully, probably with the guidance and supervision of the international community, because they're getting into an ethnically complicated situation if they continue farther south.

ABCNEWS.com:   What are your plans?

Junger:    The story is going to move to Pakistan very quickly. There are reports that [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar has fled to Pakistan. I think it's not too unreasonable to assume that Osama bin Laden might also be trying to seek refuge in Pakistan. That, in many ways, is a more thorny problem than Afghanistan. Obviously the U.S. cannot invade Pakistan, the Northern Alliance can't go in there for them, and the Pakistan military itself is extremely divided over their cooperation with the West. So the story will soon be a very intense political one that will shift to Pakistan very soon.









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