Afghanistan: November 17, 2001

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Local tribal leaders are negotiating with Taliban leaders to arrange for Taliban troops to leave Kandahar. The local tribes have turned against the Taliban and the Taliban must either take on the tribesmen, or leave for the mountains north of the city. But the Taliban governor of the province insists that the Taliban has no intention of abandoning the area. This is probably a wise strategy, as the Taliban no longer have many sources of supplies. Hiding in the mountains can be fatal, as that's where many Afghans have died over the last 22 years from starvation, cold or disease. The Pushtun tribes are not only determined to get rid of the Taliban, but have also warned the Northern Alliance to stay out as well. But the Pushtun tribes have not managed to form a "Southern Alliance." The tribes are operating either on their own or in loose alliance with neighboring tribes. But the Northern Alliance factions appear reluctant to move further south. So, for the moment, no one has control of the entire country. 

Northern Alliance leaders in Kabul are unhappy with U.S. and British commandos taking over Bagram airport north of the city and have insisted that all but 15 of the 160 troops leave. Journalists report that civilians in Kabul would like to see more foreign troops. The Northern Alliance soldiers in Kabul have not been looting or abusing the locals, but they have not been preventing criminal acts either. It's up to American, British and UN diplomats to negotiate the presence of foreign troops. Failure to succeed at this will lead to armed to resistance from some Afghans. Britain has alerted several troops to get ready for peacekeeping duty in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance has said that they do not want any peacekeepers. The UN is waiting for the Northern Alliance to decide when to meet with the UN and decide what the future government will be. More of the Northern Alliance factions are arriving in Kabul and apparently the Northern Alliance is going to try to set up a government without a lot of outside interference. 

Northern Alliance and anti-Taliban Pushtuns are taking over local government throughout Afghanistan. The Taliban may not have been liked, but they were feared, and crime was way down during the Taliban rule. But with the Taliban gone and less strict Northern Alliance or tribal authorities in charge, law and order is fraying. Men with guns and bad intentions are committing crimes, often no worse than looting or robbery, but the populations fears it will get a lot worse. Whether or not this will provide enough popular support for foreign peacekeepers to work is unknown. Disarming the existing Afghan fighters would be unprecedented. Afghan has a feudal military and political structure. Every village or neighborhood has a chief who oversees everyone's welfare in peacetime, and leads his armed followers in time of war. While negotiation is always preferred to violence, most adult Afghan males have a weapon and will use it if they feel they are getting a bad deal, especially from foreigners. 

One major Afghan faction not heard from is the drug gangs. Although the Taliban banned poppy growing last year, the gangs were able to keep shipping opium from stockpiles. But with the collapse of the Taliban government (which heavily taxed the gangs), many drug outfits are dumping their opium and heroin in neighboring nations, rather than risk losing it to some renegade group of soldiers. The price of heroin on the Pakistan border is now down to $70 an ounce, ten percent less than it was before the war began. The drug business in Afghanistan generates over a billion dollars a year for everyone involved (farmers, manufacturers, smugglers.) While these lads are not in the news, they are out there, as are their guns, drugs and money. Pakistan already has four million drug addicts and would like to cut down on the drug production in Afghanistan.

In the north, U.S. warplanes continue to bomb Taliban positions around Kunduz. Apparently, most (over 10,000, maybe as many as 30,000) of the remaining Taliban troops, including many of the foreigners, are trapped in Kunduz. Many of the Taliban troops in the south have fled back to their villages or, if they are Pakistani, back into Pakistan. But there are still thousands of Taliban fighters remaining around Kandahar. 

An increasing number of American commandos are operating on the ground. These troops are there for reconnaissance, but also to kill Taliban and bin Laden troops who won't surrender. American and British commandos have excellent communications equipment, which allows them to stay in touch with aircraft and satellites overhead as well as U.S. bases in the area. No American commandos have been killed or wounded in action so far.

Red Cross relief operations have resumed in Mazar-I-Sharif. Supplies continue to cross over from Uzbekistan. But truckers are reluctant to move through southern Afghanistan because of the continuing fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance troops. 

Northern Alliance forces in Kabul have discovered that some of bin Laden's senior aids were killed during the weeks of bombing. The most prominent of these, killed just before Kabul fell, was Mohammad Atef. He was a former Egyptian policeman and bin Laden's chief of security and designated successor. Elsewhere, Northern Alliance troops have captured some senior Taliban and bin Laden organization leaders. The U.S. negotiated to obtain access to these men for interrogation. American intelligence is gathering a growing amount of information on the Taliban and bin Laden's organization, using both aerial reconnaissance, electronic eavesdropping and interrogation of prisoners. 


 

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