Afghanistan: November 8, 2001


Any mention that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership are "hiding in caves" conjures images of dejected men sitting on dirt floors staring at blank rock walls. This isn't the case. These caves have been used for a decade, and some have been refitted with generators, cisterns, vehicle garages, offices, and living quarters with heat and indoor plumbing.--Stephen V Cole

The Taliban said they have arrested 15 people on suspicion of spying for America.

More special forces teams are being assigned to Northern Alliance commanders. The traditional Afghan military organization is feudal. At the village level, the most prominent man gathers the able bodied men for war. Not all are armed. and many that are use bolt action rifles. Wealthier individuals in the area gather the village bands (platoon strength units of a dozen to 30-40 men) into a larger unit, and so on until you have some commanders with several thousand men. But these units vary from a few hundred to a few thousand men. The commanders are local notables, and many have no real military experience. Their main objective is to defend everyone's honor (ie, not get embarrassed during a fight) and bring most of his men home alive. US special forces troops train on how to advise these commanders. You have to do it carefully. First, you have to show that you are worthy of giving advice, and you only offer it when asked. The special forces troops must live with the troops they are advising and prove that they are worthy of an Afghan warrior's respect. Another asset the special forces have is the material goodies for their local troops. Food, ammo, weapons, clothing and other gear are usually given to the commander for distribution. This makes the special forces guys look better and advice on how to use new gear is offered as well. The special forces also have the equipment (radios, laser designators, GPS and so on) that allow them to direct the bombing. This impresses the Afghans and makes the special forces appear more valuable. The special forces also impress by discussing what effect different types of bombs have and how to exploit it. Purely military advice, such as how to fight, has to be offered carefully. Afghan honor includes the idea that Afghan warriors know how to fight and don't need advice from foreigners. But gaining the respect of the Afghans makes it easier to raise the subject, and get the Afghans to use better tactics. Some Afghan commanders are natural tacticians, and their fighters battle experienced. But many are not and these are the ones the special forces can do the most to help.

While the US is now admitting that special forces are operating with Northern Alliance forces, but little is said about helicopters seen going into Afghanistan from Uzbek and Pakistani bases. There are apparently a lot of deep patrols inside of Afghanistan, as well as support for anti-Taliban Afghans. 

Speaking of tactics, while US bombing near Mazar-i-Sharif has remained heavy, forcing the Taliban to keep a lot of troops in the city in case the Northern Alliance makes an attack after one of the heavy bombing raids. This allows Northern Alliance units south of the city to clear out villages occupied by the Taliban, villages which guard the Taliban supply line to the south. The Taliban announced that they have sent another 500 men north to reinforce Mazar-i-Sharif. These are needed as over a thousand Taliban troops have switched sides or surrendered in the fighting south of Mazar-i-Sharif. 

Relief workers inside Afghanistan report that Taliban troops are moving into refugee camps to avoid American bombers.

One advantage the Northern Alliance will have this Winter is the fact that many Northern Alliance troops come from villages in the Hindu Kush mountains which cut through the center of Afghanistan. The Taliban come from south of the Hindu Kush, where it is always warmer no matter what the season. The northerners are more accustomed to the cold, although they also prefer to stay inside most of the time during Winter. But the US is providing cold weather clothing and more food, which makes it possible for the hardier northerners to operate through the cold season. 

Once the US JSTARS aircraft arrive, the Taliban will have a harder time using the roads. The JSTARS can see vehicles moving in any weather, night or day. US warplanes can then be directed to where the vehicles are and destroy them. One reason for getting airbases in northern Afghanistan or nearby countries is so helicopter gunships or warplanes can be stationed closer to these Taliban roads, and be able to hit targets more quickly respond to a call from a JSTARS aircraft. 


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