Afghanistan: November 15, 2001


France has deployed military assets to the Afghanistan War. These include four Mirage-IVP strategic recon fighters, one C-160 Gabriel electronic-intelligence aircraft, several tanker aircraft, and the intelligence ship Bougainville. French aircraft operate from Qatar. The Mirage-IVP was originally built as a nuclear bomber, and some were modified into recon planes a decade ago. These fly at extremely low altitudes, and are now flying down Afghan valleys only 30 meters (10-12 stories) above the terrain taking lateral photographs of the mountainsides looking for cave entrances. French commandoes have been sent to Djibouti and some may already be on the ground in Afghanistan.--Stephen V Cole

As expected, the Taliban's "foreign legion" of Pakistani volunteers and bin Laden terrorists are putting up the stiffest resistance. In Kandahar, several hundred of these men took refuge in a school complex and refused to surrender. After three days, and several Northern Alliance negotiators being killed by the Taliban fanatics, the group was wiped out. The bulk of the Taliban troops who fled Mazar-I-Sharif last week have been trapped in the northern town of Kunduz. Again, the group of largely non-Afghan troops have used treachery and ambush when approached by Northern Alliance negotiators. American bombers are now pounding Kunduz while Northern Alliance troops surround the town. Taking the foreign fighters prisoner is dangerous in other ways. There have been cases where surrendering foreigners set off grenades as their Northern Alliance captors approached. When fanatical Japanese soldiers did the same thing in the Pacific during World War II, American troops became reluctant to take prisoners. The Northern Alliance troops are behaving the same way, often insisting that Taliban prisoners shout at them first, to prove they are Afghans, and not foreigners. 

Over a hundred U.S. special forces troops are moving around in southern Afghanistan, checking out leads on where bin Laden and his close associates might be hidden. The special forces troops are also collecting information, arranging landing areas for U.S. helicopters and negotiating with local Afghan leaders. Other special forces are still working with Northern Alliance troops in the north. Some of the Northern Alliance units are operating on horseback and their special forces advisors are riding with them, hauling the laser bomb spotting equipment on packhorses. The Northern Alliance troops don't mount cavalry charges on Taliban tanks and machine-guns, but do move around on horseback to block Taliban movement and induce the Taliban to retreat. The Northern Alliance horsemen will also charge up to Taliban units that appear to wavering and induce them to surrender. 

Since several dozen Pushtun tribes have risen up against the Taliban, the chance that Afghans will nab bin Laden has increased. U.S. propaganda has gotten the word out that bin Laden and key aides have millions of dollars of rewards on their heads. Already, one Taliban leader is said to have put the word out that he would turn over bin Laden for the reward. In addition to the $5 million the U.S. government offers for bin Laden, there is another $20 million offered for bin Laden from other sources. In addition to these rewards, America is offering substantial humanitarian and economic aid for Afghanistan once all the terrorists are gone. 

Bin Laden has received a dispensation (in the form of a Fatwa) from a Kandahar cleric, to commit suicide (normally forbidden for Moslems) in case he is about to be captured. The logic of this is that, if captured, he might make statements harmful to the radical Islamic cause. In any event, he's safer dead than alive, as if he were sentenced to life, there would always be the risk of hostage taking by his followers to get him freed. This would probably get a lot of people killed. The Taliban leadership have also vowed not to be taken alive. Most Afghans appear willing to honor that request. 

Fighting continues in Kandahar and Jalalabad, two Pushtun cities where the local tribes have turned against the Taliban. The U.S. effort to get the Pushtun tribes to turn against the unpopular Taliban appears to be succeeding. But at the moment the two dozen or so tribes that have switched appear to have formed a "Southern Alliance" that does not share all the same goals as the Northern Alliance. The next obstacle is to get the Northern Alliance and Pushtuns to work together. 

The air war continues. With more special forces teams on the ground to spot targets, there is still a lot for the bombers to do. 

With the country up in arms against them, where can the Taliban go? For the Afghan Taliban, they can just chuck their AK-47 and go home. Thousands of Afghans are doing that right now, with everyone feeling that the Taliban are finished and soon the fighting will be as well. What if some Taliban decide to fight on? Well, they then become a local problem for Afghans' American troops won't be needed to root these diehards out of the mountains. The U.S. could still provide air, transportation and logistical aid. But the best weapon against Afghan guerillas is other Afghans. Any Taliban last stand will have problems getting food and ammunition. Having lost control of the country, getting help in from supporters in Pakistan will be difficult (but not impossible, if you still have cash, anything is possible in Afghanistan).

The UN is proposing to send in peacekeepers from Moslem countries. Perhaps someone at the UN isn't paying attention, and hasn't noticed that the Afghans are having a very hard time with foreign Moslems. The Afghans might not appreciate more coming in, even if they are wearing blue helmets and arrive with good intentions. 

Pakistan has further tightened up control of it's to Afghan border to prevent bin Laden from getting across. The largest number of armed bin Laden supporters are in northern Afghanistan (among the Pushtun tribes there.) The Pakistani Pushtuns and Afghan refugee camps there have received billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia (both the government and individuals) for the establishment and maintenance of religious schools. Here, young men (usually from poor families, grateful for the free education and free room and board) learned scripture and Taliban beliefs. The Pakistani army prevented a Taliban take over in northern Pakistan, but thousands of there religious school students crossed into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. Pakistan may be forced to confront the pro-Taliban elements in northern Pakistan if the Afghani Taliban retreat here and try to set up a government in exile. 

Eight foreign aid workers held in Kabul by the Taliban for preaching Christianity, were rescued 80 kilometers south of Kabul. When the Taliban began to flee Kabul, the Taliban took the eight aid workers with them. The Taliban stopped in a small town and put the aid workers in a local jail. But then the town rebelled against the Taliban, the Taliban fled, and when the Northern Alliance showed up a little later, the aid workers were freed.

A Hazara force is moving towards Kabul. So far, only Tajik Northern Alliance troops are in Kabul. The Hazara comprise some 20 percent of the population. The Hazara have long endured tense relations with the Pushtuns (40 percent of the population) and Tajiks (25 percent) because the Hazara are Shiite and the descendents of the 13th century Mongols. Afghanistan was torn up big time when the Mongols came through and memories are long in this part of the world. The three main factions of the Northern Alliance (Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek) have not yet shown exactly how they plan to run the country until elections can be held. One thing indicating that the three groups will come to some sort of agreement is the fact that most Afghans appear fed up with over twenty years of fighting. In the past, when there was such a long period of violence, things did calm down for a generation or so when everyone just got tired of all the strife.


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