Afghanistan: November 7, 2001


US Special Forces and western reporters with the Northern Alliance have noted a curious thing. Almost all of the Taliban radio communications are in Arabic, not Pashtun. It seems that "the Arabs" (foreign faithful warriors who work for al Qaeda rather than the Taliban) control the limited number of radios.--Stephen V Cole

Northern Alliance forces continued to attack Taliban outposts 60 kilometers southwest of Mazar-I-Sharif, continuing their encirclement of the city. Although the Taliban have more troops in the  Mazar-I-Sharif area, their inability to organize a better defense or a counterattack indicates the damage the bombing has done (many vehicles destroyed, troops morale hurt.) Most battles between Afghans are small affairs, with each side trying to surround the other or otherwise force the other side to retreat. A lot like a game of "Go" (Chinese Checkers). The side with more people generally wins, especially in flat terrain. If there are a lot of mountains, holding a key pass is a pretty impregnable position. Unless the other side has artillery, tanks and air power. Increasingly, the Northern Alliance has all three and, in a reversal of the situation over the last five years, the Taliban does not. 

The bombing continued, with the daily sorties up to 120 a day (with the addition of Marine Harriers from amphibious ships that have joined the carrier task forces). Compare this with the 1999 Kosovo campaign, where there were 700 sorties a day (over a much smaller area) and the over 2,000 sorties a day during the 1991 Gulf War. Two more 15,000 pound bombs were dropped (these are probably be flown in from Oman.) 

Learning from the capture and death of anti-Taliban Pushtun leader Abdul Haq, another anti-Taliban Pushtun leader was rescued by US helicopters in southern Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai and his companions were traveling around the area meeting with Pushtun chiefs and discussing what it would take for these tribes to drop their support for the Taliban. The Taliban are obviously concerned about the activities of men like Haq, Karzai and others, and send out troops to hunt down these men as quickly as possible. The anti-Taliban leaders will travel using a variety of means (foot, horseback, truck) and will often get help from tribes friendly to them (if not ready to switch sides.) After the loss of Haq, the CIA has worked much more closely with the anti-Taliban leaders (giving them radios and satellite phones) and arranged for US army or air force rescue helicopters ready for an emergency rescue. 

Up north, more US special forces troops are joining the Northern Alliance. The special forces are trained to work with outfits like the Northern Alliance, to provide training and build good relations. Supplies are beginning to come in (food, uniforms and winter clothing made in nearby countries, ammunition and the like.) Another vital function of the special forces is working out better relations between the various tribes and factions in the Northern Alliance. The Tajiks (ethnically similar to the Pushtuns) traditionally don't get on well with the Uzbeks (who are Turks) or the northern Pushtun tribes. And no one gets on well with the Hazara (a largely Mongolian people). The special forces have a tradition for this kind of diplomacy, having spent a decade doing that sort of thing among the tribes of the central highlands in Vietnam. The special forces will have a tough time of it, especially when it comes time to distribute the goodies (weapons, humanitarian aid, cash). The special forces will be involved with this, and the various tribes can quickly get in a snit if they feel they did not get the amount of booty they feel they deserve.


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