Some one thousand U.S. Marines have landed in southern Afghanistan, seizing a private airport 120 kilometers from Kandahar. Apparently U.S. contacts with local Pushtun tribes indicated that some American muscle on the ground would be needed and appreciated (or at least tolerated) to overthrow the last Taliban stronghold in the country; Kandahar. The 1500 ground combat troops of one of the two marine MEUs in the area are being landed. The marines are trained for special operations (calling in air strikes and working with local allies), but they will probably be used to assist in the search for bin Laden and his associates. With a helicopter base in southern Afghanistan, the marines can quickly send troops to anywhere in the nearby mountains where bin Laden is thought to be hiding. There are some 9,000 marines on amphibious assault ships, a thousand kilometers to the south of Kandahar, off the coast of Pakistan. The marines have large helicopters and AV-8, vertical takeoff bombers, on board.
Bin Laden was reported in a fortified camp 56 kilometers southwest of Jalalabad. Bin Laden is said to be moving by horseback each night to a new location. Many local Afghans are reporting on bin Laden's movements, possibly motivated by the $25 million reward. Bin Laden travels with several hundred non-Afghan bodyguards.
Peace talks among Afghan factions have begun in Bonn, Germany. The talks are expected to go on for 7-10 days. American diplomats are trying to get Northern Alliance leaders to go along with whatever these negotiations come up with. The Northern Alliance has announced that it will go along with the "will of the people." But there not yet any agreed upon way to determine what the "will of the people" is. Fearing open warfare with the non-Pushtun Northern Alliance, Pushtun leaders have called for peacekeepers to establish a demilitarized zone in Pushtun territory (and keep the Northern Alliance out.)
American commandos helped a local Pushtun warlord seize Kandahar airport. The local Pushtun tribes have been fighting Taliban troops for control of small towns and villages throughout southern Afghanistan. American efforts at winning support of local Pushtun tribes seems to be paying off. The recently arrived marines were welcomed by local Afghans. This may change. While local Pushtuns continue to surround Kandahar, non-Pushtun Northern Alliance forces are advancing from the northwest. This could get ugly, as the Pushtuns generally don't tolerate non-Pushtuns in their territory.
In Kabul, most Afghans say they would tolerate foreign peacekeepers if these foreign troops indeed kept the peace. Efforts continue to get the Northern Alliance leaders and tribes in the countryside to accept peacekeepers. The city folk are more accepting of foreigners, but the majority of Afghans come from the rural areas, where foreigners are rarely seen and generally disliked if they come armed. The United States is spreading a lot of cash around to buy cooperation, at least temporarily. Transport problems prevent rushing in economic aid which would generate more popular support for American efforts.
When some 800 foreign Taliban surrendered outside Kunduz, Northern Alliance troops took them to a nearby fortress (Qala-e-Jangi, ten kilometers west of Mazar-I-Sharif). These foreign Taliban were disarmed, but not searched, as the Northern Alliance feared some of them might be concealing grenades and looking for an opportunity to do a suicide attack. This proved to be the case. The foreign Taliban were to be held in a fortress that was the headquarters of general Dostun, one of the Northern Alliance faction leaders. One American journalist witnessed one of these suicide attacks (she was slightly wounded.) There were only about a hundred Northern Alliance troops guarding the prisoners when some of the prisoners attacked. Some 500 additional Northern Alliance troops rushed to the fortress. A dozen U.S. and British commandos arrived as well. The fighting went on all night, with the foreign Taliban using weapons taken from dead guards or the armory in the fortress. U.S. troops directed bombing by American warplanes overhead. One American, a CIA agent, was reported dead. When dawn came, some Taliban were still fighting in a southern wing of the fort. These foreign Taliban were the usual collection of Arabs, Chechens, various other nationalities and Pakistani Pushtuns. The prisoner rebellion appears to have been planned, as one of the attacks was begun when there were several Northern Alliance commanders in the room. American anti-terrorism experts wanted to interrogate these foreign Taliban, but it looks like few of them will survive the fighting. Some Americans have been hurt, as well as over a hundred Northern Alliance troops. Most of the fighting appears to have taken place within the fort's 30 feet high stone walls.
The Northern Alliance has taken Kunduz, the last Taliban held city in northern Afghanistan. Most of the Taliban troops surrendered, others slipped away through the mountains. Some Taliban fighters are making a stand west of Kunduz. Northern Alliance troops are negotiating with this group to try and get them to surrender.