Afghanistan: November 13, 2001


The war in Afghanistan is unique for the US Air Force and Navy; they have no bases in surrounding countries for attack aircraft, only (in Pakistan and Uzbekistan) for tankers and other support types. Calling in an air strike takes two or three hours from the time the planes launch from carriers, many more for heavy bombers coming from Diego Garcia. The heavy bombers, however, have conducted under 10% of the missions but have dropped 50% of the bombs. The sequence of attacks follows a pattern. Targets are detected by Rivet Joint, infra-red satellites, or EA-6Bs (using their passive intel capabilities). Data is combined on an EC-130 or E-3. If the target is to be followed for a while rather than attacked immediately, it is tracked by JSTARS or another aircraft. When it is time to attack, the mission is handed off to a tactical fighter with whatever weapons (Maverick, Hellfire, guided bombs, or anti-radiation missiles). If a moving vehicle leads the US to a concentration of Taliban forces, these might be attacked by cruise missiles or heavy bombers. Predator drones using Hellfire missiles have recorded 100% hits on "several dozen" targets. And the attacks have destroyed more than Taliban soldiers and equipment. US attacks have severely disrupted the Taliban forces. They are used to working with a lot of "control from the top" and this is no longer happening due to disruptions of radio and vehicle (for delivering supplies and troops) networks. --Stephen V Cole

The Taliban's unpopularity with the Afghanistan people is catching up with them, as Northern Alliance forces entered Kabul and immediately moved south towards Kandahar. Even Pushtun tribes are turning against the Taliban. This has enabled Northern Alliance troops to take control of the border areas next to Pakistan. Civilians cheered as Northern Alliance vehicles entered the city. There was some looting, and some of bin Laden's foreign troops were caught in the city and, after a brief gun battle, killed. The looting is being done by locals, demonstrating that the biggest problem the Northern Alliance will have in Kabul is policing the place. The Northern Alliance anticipated this and the first Northern Alliance units into the city were police. In Mazar-I-Sharif, several hundred foreign troops have been killed. American bombers hit several targets in Kabul hours before Northern Alliance troops entered the city.

The speed of the Taliban defeat has calmed down many of the pro-Taliban groups in Pakistan. The Pakistani government condemned the fall of Kabul and asked for a UN peacekeeping force to control the city.

If the Northern Alliance is unable to get a working government going in the newly conquered areas, the country risks falling back into pre-Taliban anarchy. Terrorist groups can survive in that kind of environment.

The rapid retreat of Taliban forces from northern Afghanistan has wrecked Northern Alliance supply arrangements. But not because advancing Northern Alliance troops are moving too fast for their supply trucks, but because most of their supplies came from Taliban territory. The Taliban allowed this because they collected a tax on all goods transported into Northern Alliance territory. Most of the people affected by the three year drought in Afghanistan were in the north, so a lot of food had to be brought up from the south, along with clothing, medicine and consumer goods. Much of this was imported from Pakistan, lesser amounts came through Iran. The Taliban retreat will disrupt this trade for a while, and this will create shortages in the newly conquered Northern Alliance territory. Anticipating this, traders from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been stockpiling supplies on their side of the border. A day after Mazar-i-Sharif fell and the Taliban were forced away from the Uzbek and Tajik borders, these supplies began moving south.

The main source of revenue for the Taliban, aside from multi-million dollar "gifts" from the bin Laden organization, was the fees collected to allow goods to enter the country, and then (again) for moving into Northern Alliance territory. Last year, the Taliban had forbidden the growing of poppies (processed into opium and heroin), which was also taxed. Taxing the movement of this stuff was another major source of income. But there was so much drugs produced, and not yet shipped, in the past few years, that the Taliban were still able to collect heft "transportation" fees. The Taliban also collected fees for the movement of UN and Red Cross relief supplies. This was not unreasonable, as the Taliban were able to eliminate the earlier, more expensive, custom of numerous local warlords imposing their own taxes on shipments passing through their territory.

This custom of not letting wars get in the way of commerce is an ancient one in Afghanistan. But this doesn't mean that business towers above all else. Honor does that, and rival traders battle each other if they feel they are being cheated.




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