Afghanistan: November 23, 2001


The Taliban are getting over their near collapse when their forces fled Mazar-I-Sharif, Kabul and most of the northern and western Afghanistan. Taliban forces continue to hold out in the northern town of Kunduz, their capital in the south, Kandahar, on a ridge line 20 kilometers southwest of Kabul and in several other places. The fighting south of Kabul is particularly bitter, as the Taliban commander has a particularly nasty reputation and the Northern Alliance troops are out for blood. Also, the Taliban force contains a number of foreigners. 

Resistance may ultimately be futile, but this shows that the Taliban don't consider themselves out of business. The Taliban are encouraged by the growing infighting between various Northern Alliance factions. Often, the different groups of Northern Alliance troops are fighting over loot, particularly trucks and weapons left behind by fleeing Taliban. Moreover, the Taliban know that once the Northern Alliance advances south of Kabul they are entering Pushtun territory. At that point, it doesn't become a war between Afghans and Taliban, but one between Pushtun and non-Pushtun. Surrenders and switching sides becomes less frequent and the fighting more brutal. Even the Taliban force in Kunduz has been negotiating seriously. The current deal is to surrender the city on Sunday (November 25th) and put the foreigner Taliban in camps until some sort of legal process can sort out the status of each of them. But the foreigners have to agree to this. If they don't, the fighting will go on.

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations like the Red Cross and aid groups) are again playing a major role in military operations. The NGOs are demanding the use of foreign peacekeepers to provide safe road routes for aid convoys. Britain, France and other nations have thousands of troops ready to go in, but America has warned that bringing in foreign troops to disarm and confront armed Afghans could trigger violent resistance. Afghanistan has a long history of hostile reaction to armed foreigners. But the NGOs have tended to ignore history or military realities and instead make strident pleas to the media for military intervention. Some NGOs are also complaining about Northern Alliance atrocities (dead Taliban troops with bullet wounds to the head). This becomes part of the campaign to get foreign troops into the country. This led to disaster in Somalia, where foreign troops also entered a nation with a heavily armed population historically hostile to foreign troops. What's going on in Afghanistan is a civil war, and whenever a foreign force enters the war, the other side can gain a lot of support by calling for a united effort to oust the foreigners and their traitorous local supporters. The Northern Alliance is aware of this, as is the Taliban. So far, the Northern Alliance have been able to make much of the large number of foreigners fighting for the Taliban. American propaganda also pushes this line successfully. But many journalists accept these pleas from the NGOs uncritically and report the story as if the NGOs know what they are talking about. This leads to public pressure on governments to make disastrous military decisions. This proves once more that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

There are now some 4,000 U.S. marines on ships off the Pakistan coast, while 6,000 British troops (soldiers and marines) stand ready for Afghanistan duty. These troops are intended for use in southern Afghanistan. If bin Laden is found, the terrorist leader will probably be guarded by several hundred determined bodyguards. This will require several thousand troops to deal with. It's also possible that the U.S. and British troops may be used to finish off the Taliban in the south. This, however, is tricky. The Pushtuns who currently oppose the Taliban may decide to fight the foreigners instead. The foreign troops could only enter after a deal had been negotiated to provide assistance with anti-Taliban Pushtuns. This deal would probably also involve an agreement to get the foreign troops out of Afghanistan quickly once the Taliban had been crushed. 

So far, the Northern Alliance has captured at least 500 foreigners fighting for bin Laden (Al Qaida) brigades. Several hundred others have been apparently been killed in the fighting. A much larger number of Taliban Pakistani volunteers have been captured and killed. An unknown number of Pakistani and foreign Taliban troops have fled to Pakistan. The Taliban apparently sent a lot of it's foreign troops north to defend Mazar-I-Sharif, but some remained in Kabul, Kandahar and other places in the south. As always, there is more support for the Taliban among Pakistani Pushtuns and religious fundamentalists

Examination of destroyed terrorist camps indicates that the bin Laden organization was developing chemical and nuclear weapons. Interviews with local civilians revealed that dogs were taken and used as test subjects for chemical weapons. 

Britain and India have set up diplomatic missions in Kabul. This is not diplomatic recognition of the slowly forming new government, but a first step in that direction. Peace will come to Afghanistan through negotiation more than fighting. Most Afghans are worn down after 22 years of war. You can see this in the cities, where armed men obey new rules to not carry guns. Those Northern Alliance appointed as police are able to disarm those who don't obey without a lot of gun battles. Tribes that a few years ago would have fought first and maybe talked later, are now talking first, and keep talking even when the negotiations are difficult. 

The U.S. Navy is patrolling the Pakistan coast looking for ships that might be carrying fleeing terrorists, particularly senior people like Osama bin Laden and his key aides. 

The U.S. Air Force is moving A-10 ground attack aircraft, AC-130 gunships and F-15E fighter-bombers into Central Asian air bases (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.)

U.S. B-52s are using new tactics in this war. Instead of just the carpet bombing that was so successful during Vietnam, the heavy bombers are carrying fewer, heavier (1000 and 2000 pound) smart bombs. They now often circle above the target area (like Kinduz) and wait for special forces troops on the ground to spot targets and identify them with their lasers. Then the B-52 drops one large bomb that tears up a specific trench or bunker. This is similar to what was done during World War II when spotters on shore would spot targets for the large (and quite accurate) big guns of offshore battleships. Many of the battleship shells weighed over 2,000 pounds. Smaller fighter bombers have always been able to deliver this kind of support, but they have to come in low, and risk getting hit by ground fire. In Afghanistan, smaller aircraft can only carry one or two large bombs, the B-52s can carry two dozen or more and have enough fuel to circle the battlefield for an hour or more. . 


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