Afghanistan: November 16, 2001


Italy has announced that it will send "personnel and resources" to the Afghan theater when the US requests them. On offer are six Tornado recon planes, and a Boeing-707 tanker and a C-130 to provide support for them. Italy is sending a destroyer, and will shortly send the carrier Garibaldi and two frigates. Ground units made available include two companies of Centauro armored cars, a company of infantry, a company of engineers, four A129 Mangusta helicopters, a chemical defense company, a logistics battalion, and a parachute company of Carabinieri.--Stephen V Cole

Failure is an orphan, while success has many fathers. And the rapid defeat of the Taliban was the result of many factors. Most important was that the Taliban had gone from a wildly popular bunch of law and order army of devout Moslems to a dictatorship that sought to control everyone's personal life. The extreme form of Islam imposed by the Taliban angered all Afghans, even their fellow Pushtuns. This was made worse by the alliance with bin Laden and his terrorist army. As fewer Afghans volunteered for the Taliban army, the Taliban relied on religious fanatics from Pakistan. These men, and bin Laden's "Arabs" were resented by most Afghans. The foreigners also lived better than most Afghans, and did not hide their disdain for the locals. And then there was the Northern Alliance, which spotlighted the ethnic animosities that had always existed. The Taliban managed to make this worse by allowing their soldiers to massacre conquered non-Pushtun populations, and then move Pushtuns into the depopulated areas. This only made the non-Pushtun tribes resist even more strenuously. Another unpopular policy was forbidding the growing of poppies (which produced opium and a lot of money for the farmers.) Having weakened their popular support, the Taliban were not in very good shape militarily when the U.S. attacked. The Taliban, remembering the kind of bombing the Russians did in the 1980s, they were not ready for the carpet bombing of the B-52s and the super heavy daisy cutter weapons (which the Russians never used.) The Taliban dug in outside of towns and cities and got clobbered by the big bombs. The Russians also lacked the new weapons like guided bombs, UAVs and high performance satellites and aircraft reconnaissance. Then Pakistan withdrew its support, cutting off supplies of weapons and military equipment. Then the Americans played it smart by not sending in a lot of ground troops. Instead, the U.S. began talking to the tribes about a new government. The Taliban found their past catching up with them just as the U.S. bombers crippled their military might. The result; collapse. 

About a hundred British Royal Marine commandos have arrived at Bagram airbase, just north of Kabul. Bagram has the longest runway in the country. The Royal Marines will get the base ready to receive aircraft. America's largest transports can land here, bringing in military equipment and relief supplies. 

Meanwhile, several hundred more American special forces began operating in southern Afghanistan, looking for bin Laden and his followers. But the Iranian media has reported that bin Laden has fled to Pakistan. This would not be difficult to do, as most of the Pakistani border is unguarded. It's also known that not all Taliban helicopters were accounted for by the U.S. bombing attacks. 

If bin Laden gets into northern Pakistan, where he still has support from Pushtuns and Afghan refugees, getting him out becomes a Pakistani problem. The Pakistani government began cracking down on religious fundamentalists last Summer. But the Pushtuns are another matter. While the Pushtuns comprise only about ten percent of the 150 million population, they are the most heavily armed and resistant to government control. It has long been a cardinal rule of Pakistani government's to avoid open rebellion in the Pushtun territories. Because Pakistan has signed on to the War on Terror, they will be under pressure to send in the troops to get bin Laden. Most Pakistanis don't like the Pushtuns, who for centuries have raided south, and have even invaded the Punjab lands to the south. A war with the Pushtuns will be unpopular in Pakistan. Then again, every Pakistani leader has dreamed about imposing government rule in the "Northeast Tribal Territories." Its tough to call which way this one will go. 

The Tajik faction of the Northern Alliance is taking over government offices in Kabul. The officials who led the unelected government thrown out by the Taliban in 1996 are returning. The other tribes are not happy with this. But, so far, the various ethnic factions are not fighting each other. Not yet. The Tajiks have invited other groups to Kabul, but the Uzbeks, Pushtuns and Hazara who have taken over various parts of Afghanistan have told the Tajiks to stay out. Looks like another ethnic civil war. Various warlords are running areas they control, and the law and order the Taliban imposed is beginning to fray. The Taliban are saying they will make a comeback. Maybe not, but if things don't settle down soon, people will start yearning for the good old days. The Northern Alliance is trying to disarm people, or at least forbid men from openly carrying weapons in Kabul. Aware that a heavy hand will just stir up resistance, the Northern Alliance also knows that bloodshed will simply make it more difficult to get foreign aid into the country. Everyone in Afghanistan is tried of war after 22 years of violence. Ten years of fighting the Russians and twelve years of civil war have most Afghans willing to talk instead of fight. At least for a while. 

Turkey said it was willing to lead a peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan and are getting 3,000 soldiers ready for such duty. For such a peacekeeping operation, the Turks are essential. Aside from having some of the best soldiers in the world, their reputation for honesty and ferocity extends even to Afghanistan. Since the Ottoman empire was replaced by the Turkish republic in the 1920s, the Turkish officer corps has prided itself on being corruption free and thoroughly professional. The Turks are also accustomed to operating in mountains, and dealing with a sometimes hostile population (this from the war against Kurdish separatists.) No other Moslem nation can provide troops nearly as suitable as the Turks. This is especially true when you realize that none of Afghanistan's Moslem neighbors can provide peacekeepers (as these will be seen, rightly or wrongly, as favoring one Afghan faction or another.) Moreover, Moslem troops from tropical nations will have a hard time with the Afghan Winter. Arabs are also unwelcome, because of the ill will caused by bin Laden's "Arab" army. Looks like the Turks may be the only peacekeepers. 

U.S. bombers continued hitting targets in Kandahar, which is being surrounded by anti-Taliban Pushtuns, and Kunduz, where thousands of the Taliban's foreign troops are under siege by the Northern Alliance. U.S. bombers are also being called in to hit whatever targets the hundreds of U.S. special forces find. Pushtun tribal leaders are trying to negotiate a Taliban surrender of Kandahar. Meanwhile, thousands of Taliban troops (Afghans and foreigners) are fleeing to Pakistan. Although the border is closed, there are many places off the roads where you can cross on foot or horseback. 


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