Afghanistan: October 4, 2001

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So far, the War in Afghanistan has largely been a war of nerves. Both sides have fought this battle differently. The Afghan Taliban have used the delay in starting combat to disperse their forces, moving their troops into populated areas. This protects them from American bombs, the US being known as reluctant to cause civilian casualties. The bin Laden people have also dispersed, many leaving Afghanistan. On the positive side, the dispersal of Taliban forces has made them less able to fight the Northern Alliance, and the Northern Alliance has thus captured a lot more territory. There is also more help for the millions in southern Afghanistan suffering from a three year drought. Before the "War on Terrorism", donors were reluctant to give food and other aid to Afghanistan. Aside from the logistical problems, the Taliban sometimes made life difficult for relief staff. But the US realizes that more clearly marked food and other aid entering the country at this time will assist later military operations. The American military strategy in Afghanistan appears to include a lot of civil affairs (providing services for local civilians.) Many nations that have signed on to the War on Terrorism (like Germany and Japan) will also be involved in these non-combat activities. Not that there will not be violence, as pro-Taliban Afghans will attempt to control the foreign aid even after the Taliban itself has been destroyed. A war in Afghanistan will probably involve the delivery of more bread than bombs, as much of the population faces starvation this Winter. Already, relief convoys with grain clearly marked as from the USA is reaching Afghan refugees on the Pakistan border. The idea is that the word of where this relief is coming from will spread into Afghanistan and further weaken Taliban control.

Another dangerous element the civil affairs troops will have to face is non-bin Laden terrorists trained in Afghanistan. Most of these are Pakistanis training for the battles in Kashmir. Pakistan has been shifting these camps from Pakistan to get the fanatics out of the country and make it easier to deny that they are supporting terrorists. If these Pakistani radicals do not resist along with the Taliban, it's going to be tricky dealing with these citizens of an ally in the War on Terrorism. 

The Northern Alliance has been getting a lot of assistance from America and Russia. New weapons are coming in and American special forces and CIA staff are gathering information on the Afghan situation and the Taliban. There is growing resistance within Taliban territory to fighting the Northern Alliance. The Taliban has had to forcibly conscript young men to take up arms and many of these are deserting at the first opportunity. The Northern Alliance say that some 10,000 of the organized (under the leadership of tribal chiefs) 50,000 Taliban fighters are ready to switch sides. The Northern Alliance now has some 12,000 men under arms. Increasingly, the only troops the Taliban can rely on are the 10-15,000 units that contain large numbers of bin Laden men (known in Afghanistan as "the Arabs"). Many Taliban leaders are reported to be leaving Afghanistan, making the longevity of the Taliban government even more dubious. 

In addition to the Northern Alliance (consisting mainly of Tajiks, Uzbeks and other Turkish tribes), the Shiite Hazaras and other Pushtun and non-Pushtun tribes  in the west are also being contacted. These tribes also have resistance movements that are loosely allied with the Northern Alliance. Many of the resistance groups in the west are supported by Iran. 

The movement to get the deposed 86 year old Afghan king (Zahir Shah) to return and call the Loya Jirga (Great Council of the Tribal Chiefs). This will only work if most of the Pushtun chiefs under Taliban control can join the meeting. The king is a Pushtun who is widely respected by non-Pushtuns, but until the Taliban is weakened enough to allow most chiefs to attend, the Loya Jirga would not work. In the past, the king called the Loya Jirga whenever any of his decisions required the assent of the vast majority of the tribes. A successful Loya Jirga would put in place a non-Taliban government that would actually control nearly all of Afghanistan. The Loya Jirga would be a tumultuous affair, with many ethnic, tribal, political and religious issues to be resolved. The former king has renounced his claim to the throne, leaving the Loya Jirga to decide what the new form of government would be. Before he was deposed (by a corrupt cousin), we was pushing for a constitutional monarchy. Pakistan has gotten behind the king's effort, asking that an emissary from the king come to Pakistan to help Pakistan coordinate the effort.

The US has reportedly targeted 23 of the  55 bin Laden camps for destruction. If troops on the ground could confirm that these camps are empty of civilians, the camps could be taken out by heavy bombers flying from the island of Diego Garcia. 

 

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