Afghanistan: October 23, 2001

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The most important aspect of the campaign in Afghanistan has little to do with bombs. Food drops are now accompanied by portable radios and leaflets. The printed material shows things like Taliban religious police beating Afghan women. The radios enable isolated villagers to hear the American radio broadcasts from overhead Commando Solo aircraft. Negotiations with Pushtun chiefs in southern Afghanistan continue, with more of the chiefs becoming convinced that it's time to switch sides. Food and other aid is becoming increasingly attractive as Winter approaches. 

The American propaganda points out that the Taliban have done nothing for the economy or drought relief since they have been in power. Also repeated constantly is the presence of "the Arabs" (bin Laden's people) and their complicity in Afghanistan's woes. The diplomacy and propaganda are not as spectacular as the bombing, but will, in the end, be the more decisive weapon.

Northern Alliance forces resumed their battle for Mazar-I-Sharif. Unlike the situation outside Kabul, the Taliban forces are not as well supplied with bomb proof bunkers and are taking a beating from US air attacks. Afghan battles are more a matter of morale than one of getting close. The two sides talk to each other over their off-the-shelf hand held radios and these conversations indicate that Taliban morale is weakening. The US has not been using it's heavy bombers (B-52 and B-1s) lately. If serious damage were to be done to the Taliban fortifications north of Kabut, there bomber would do it. Flying out of the island base of Diego Garcia, each bomber can carry up to 40 tons of bombs. This kind of carpet bombing attack is devastating to ground troops, no matter how well entrenched they are. 

More information on Taliban morale, and future plans, is being obtained from US recon aircraft and spy satellites. The loss of the telephone network and the danger of moving along the roads has forced the Taliban to use radio, talking in the open to stay in touch with their widespread units. The major bottleneck with this data collection is getting it translated. There is a shortage of Pushtun linguists, even though hundreds of Pushtuns in America have volunteered. Before they can be put to work, the volunteers must obtain a security clearance, a process that can take months.  

American aircraft have also been moving up and down the roads looking for  shipments of fuel and ammunition to hit. Damage has been done with this tactic, and it's forcing the Taliban to keep their stuff where it is (and where the bombers will eventually find it and bomb it.) 

The aircraft watching the roads also make it difficult for the Taliban to move troops. The bombing of Taliban forces outside Kabul will tempt the Taliban to try and move some of their more reliable units from Mazar-i-Sharif. For the Taliban, Kabul is seen as more valuable than Mazar-i-Sharif. But using the roads for a troops convoy now would be very dangerous.

A defecting Taliban air force officer says the Taliban have five Su-22 light bombers hidden in a village and could roll them out and use them to bomb Northern Alliance or American forces. 


 

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