Afghanistan: November 12, 2001


Taliban troops are fleeing south towards Pushtun territory. Most local commanders in the north, who had previously supported the Taliban, are switching sides. Thus has allowed the Northern Alliance to take territory as rapidly as their trucks and armored vehicles can roll into towns and cities formerly held by the Taliban. Herat, the major city in the west has fallen, as has Taloquan, a key city in the northeast. Herat is important because it opens the road across the southern plains to the Taliban capital of Kandahar. 

At this point, the major problem is not military, but political. The Pushtun tribes do not get along with the other ethnic groups in Afghanistan. But one compelling argument that might bring the Pushtuns around is the prospect of an end to twenty years of war, and the influx of billions of dollars in American aid. The current deal proposed is the return of the former king to call the Loya Jirga (the grand council of tribal chiefs and elders). Only the king has the authority to call this council, and the king traditionally called it when he needed the assent of the entire nation for some important change. The proposal here would be a new national government (most likely a democratically elected president and legislature) and how to divide up all the money coming in from America and other nations. All of this will be complicated by another factor; disunity in the Northern Alliance. Aside from the obvious differences between Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara, there is also disagreement at the top. The political leadership of the Northern Alliance is full of older men who led the pre-Taliban government. These men are religious conservatives (although not as extreme as the Taliban) and have a lot of enemies. Many Pushtuns blame these men for the civil war and lawlessness that followed the departure of the Russians in 1989. Younger men in the Northern Alliance leadership also want a less rigorous attitude towards religion and more efficient application of foreign aid. In the past, foreign aid was seen as loot, to be distributed among the strongest factions. The money never found it's way into useful things like roads, schools and medical facilities. It may take the application of many millions to pay off some of the old timers just to get them out of the way. But that may not do it, since many of these old foxes are into power and not keen on retiring just yet, no matter how large the retirement fund it. 

Bowing to American requests, the Northern Alliance say they will surround Kabul, but will not enter the city just yet. So American bombing of Taliban troops entrenched outside the city continues. Northern Alliance troops are now advancing on these positions and the ground fighting is becoming intense.

The Northern Alliance knows that Pakistan does not want the Northern Alliance in Kabul until there is a deal for a new national government. The Pakistanis do not want the Afghan Pushtuns left out of any new government, for that would enrage the Pakistani Pushtuns. There are twice as many Pushtuns in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan.

Relief supplies have started to move across the Uzbek border into Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance estimates that the defections and battle losses of the last week have reduced the Taliban fighting force to some 15,000 troops, mostly foreigners. This may be true, but it could change quickly if many Pushtun tribes see the Northern Alliance advance as a threat and go join the Taliban. 

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld continues to feud with the generals. Rumsfeld does not want to put American combat units on the ground in Afghanistan. He feels that with logistical and bombing assistance, the Afghans (Northern Alliance) can do all the fighting. This would include bringing in bin Laden and his people. Since this lot has rewards totaling over $30 million on their heads, So there are incentives as well. Then again, the generals make the point that the Afghans would probably appreciate the assistance on the ground when it came time to go after bin Laden and his diehard bodyguards. 

Three European journalists were killed when the Northern Alliance vehicle they were traveling on was ambushed by some Taliban.




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