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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.