Afghanistan: November 9, 2001


Northern Alliance troops continue to advance south of Mazar-i-Sharif, reporting that they are seven kilometers from the city. The Taliban have been resisting, sometimes forcing the Northern Alliance troops back with counterattacks. Most of the US bombing is concentrated on Taliban troops outside Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. Taliban supplies, vehicles and headquarters are also being hit in Kandahar and other towns (wherever ground or air reconnaissance can find them.) US special forces troops with the Northern Alliance combat units are calling in bombing missions for direct support of the Northern Alliance advance. This is particularly useful, as the opposing Taliban troops are definitely there and not as well dug in as they usually are. This means more casualties for the Taliban, and a more rapid advance for the Northern Alliance. 

According to reports from people inside Kabul, the US is now sending helicopter gunships at night. Armed with Hellfire missiles, the Apache helicopters are hitting specific vehicles and buildings. The AH-64 gunship can operate at night and detect and hit small targets. Israel has used AH-64s and Hellfires  to make surprise attacks on Palestinian terrorists (day and night). 

While the Taliban is not saying what it's losses are, Pakistani groups that have sent volunteers to help the Taliban have. One group admitted 35 of its members were killed last month in Kabul and recent bombings near Mazar-i-Sharif saw another Pakistani group admit that 85 of it's members had been killed. These reports could indicate that the Taliban have lost several thousand men (dead and wounded.) There have also been over a thousand Taliban troops (led by their commanders) who have switched sides. The Taliban has also announced that it is trying to send reinforcements north to Mazar-i-Sharif. This could get interesting. Predator UAVs can patrol the roads north from Kabul, and call in warplanes or Specter gunships to attack Taliban troop convoys. The US estimates that the Taliban has 40,000-50,000 armed men under their control (of which about a third are foreigners.)

General Franks, commander of US forces in the Afghan theater, said the campaign was on schedule. General Franks is responding to media criticism that the operation is moving too slowly and that, somehow, the US is "losing the war." The media show little interest in covering the most crucial aspect of the campaign; logistics. The US has been building up supplies in out of the way places like the UAE, Diego Garcia and Central Asia. Without a substantial build up of ammo and other gear, large scale ground operations, and warplane sorties from Central Asian bases, are impossible. Perhaps most reporters aren't good at math, but until the logistics numbers are large enough, you can't move a military campaign into high speed. The logistics build up during the 1991 Gulf War went on for five months before there was any significant action. Meanwhile, another aircraft carrier is being sent to the Indian ocean. The navy is able to keep its carriers supplied by sea, a technique the navy has used with great success since World War II.

American allies have pledged 13,000 troops, plus dozens of aircraft and warships. The problem is what to do with them. Without adequate supplies in Central Asia, they cannot go there. And the only ships needed in the Indian ocean are carriers with aircraft that with range to hit targets a thousand miles north in Afghanistan.  So far, only Britain has been able to supply carrier aircraft. Several nations have offered their command forces, which amount to less than a thousand troops. But these could be used from Pakistani or Uzbek bases. Pakistan is keeping it's Islamic fundamentalists under control, but only as long as there is limited US activity from Pakistani bases. Moving large quantities of US supplies, or weapons (like armored vehicles) via Pakistani roads railroads is considered dangerous. It might encourage  attacks by Islamic militants (who have been staging attacks on the government, and each other, for years.)



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