Afghanistan: November 6, 2001


Northern Alliance forces continued to attack Taliban outposts south of Mazar-I-Sharif, continuing their encirclement of the city.

The US began dropping 15,000 pound "daisy cutter" bombs. This weapon, developed during the Vietnam war to clear jungle areas for helicopter landing areas, uses a unique method to create a huge explosion. The bomb contains ammonium nitrate and aluminum that forms a mist that is detonated. It creates an effect similar to a nuclear explosion. A powerful shockwave, and removal of most oxygen from the area, kills nearly everyone within about 500 meters. There is often a mushroom shaped cloud rising from the detonation, which will probably bring claims from the Taliban that nuclear weapons are being used. The bomb is being dropped on Taliban fortifications. This, plus the carpet bombing by B-52s, is believed to have killed hundreds of Taliban troops and, more importantly, hurt morale. This sort of thing won't win a battle by itself, but it will make it a lot easier for any future advance by Northern Alliance troops. Using C-130s frees up bombers. Unfortunately, the C-130 must come in at 6,000 feet to get the bomb on target. This is within range of some Taliban anti-aircraft guns. But most of these are either destroyed or short of ammunition.

American air and electronic reconnaissance continues to scrutinize Afghanistan for Taliban forces. While many Taliban troops are hiding in civilian populated areas, there are still some Taliban bases in use, and they are being bombed. Bombers are also hitting Taliban units along the Tajik border. 

The US has begun using Americans speaking fluent Arabic to be spokesmen to Arab language media in the Middle East. Delivering the American point of view directly in the Arab media makes for a more powerful, and believable message. The Information War also continues over Afghanistan, with American airborne radio stations replacing the destroyed Taliban radio. Graphic anti-bin Laden pamphlets are being dropped and food supply missions continue, especially in northern Afghanistan (where they can be photographed and the images incorporated into propaganda material. With Winter closing in, public opinion in Pushtun areas of Afghanistan is turning against bin Laden and the Taliban.

The U.S. has appointed a veteran American diplomat (James Dobbins) to be the unofficial ambassador to the Northern Alliance. 

Still More Myths about the War in Afghanistan;

Winter Helps the Taliban- Afghans prefer not to fight in Winter. The Winters are brutal, the roads largely impassable and Afghans never developed equipment or techniques for spending a lot of time outside in this season. With all the Taliban aircraft destroyed, the only way to move troops is by truck. Going cross country is risky and often impractical because of snow and freezing cold. Many of the roads going through high mountain passes are closed during the Winter. Meanwhile, American troops do have air transport and do regularly practice operating in the Winter. American troops can move, Taliban troops cannot. Moreover, the heat sensors on American satellites and aircraft work better in the winter. And if bin Laden and his hundreds of bodyguards are located in an isolated area, he will be easier to take. In warmer weather, additional Taliban troops can come to bin Laden's aid (despite air attacks) via roads and cross country. This is much less likely in the Winter. For the American forces, Winter is an ally.

Afghanistan is a Country- Afghanistan has, for most of it's history, been a region, not a country. Various local empires (Iranian, Indian, Mongol, Etc.) grabbed portions of Afghanistan for centuries at a time. In the last few centuries, most of the local powers lost interest in Afghanistan, except to go in and punish the Afghan tribes if the tribal raids got out of hand. Sometimes, the local empires found it cheaper just to pay protection money to the stronger tribes, to keep the Afghan's out of civilized territory. Over the last two years, the many tribes of Afghanistan worked out a deal where the leader of one of the stronger Pushtun tribes would be recognized as "king." But the king of Afghanistan's job was mainly to deal with foreigners (keep them out) and arbitrate disputes between the Afghan tribes. 

You Can See Everything That's Going On-While the bombs and bombers make great visuals, as do the Northern Alliance parades and training exercises, the most important parts of the campaign are not seen. The most important military operation is the logistics buildup. While we've called this the "FedEx War," most of the vital supplies are coming in by ship. The material is being landed in the Persian Gulf, Pakistan and the island of Diego Garcia. Trainloads of stuff is crossing Russia by rail. Large ground forces cannot enter the battle until the mountain of supplies reaches a certain point, and that could take weeks or months. Another, and more vital, part of the campaign is the diplomacy going on with Pushtun leaders in Pakistan and just across the border in Afghanistan. These discussions, more than anything else, will determine how quickly the Taliban are defeated.

Afghanistan Has Never Been Conquered- Over the centuries, Afghanistan has been conquered many times. Few conquerors bothered to subdue all of what is now Afghanistan. The region is poor, and all the great conquerors have a sense of what is worth fighting for, and what is not. The Afghan tribes were always considered formidable warriors, but they were seen as more of a nuisance than anything else. The Afghan tribes liked to raid their wealthier neighbors, and this often brought savage retribution by more numerous, and equally ferocious fighters. The invaders would kill women and children, burn villages and crops and take herds. With the Afghans more poverty stricken than before, the avenging armies would leave with their loot. Afghans don't like to dwell on this aspect of their military history. They weren't conquered because they weren't worth conquering.


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