Afghanistan: December 1, 2001

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: The 1998 Massacre At Mazar-i Sharif - Massacre, betrayal and innocent deaths of long been a part of Afghanistan's history. On August 8, 1998, Taliban militia forces captured the city of Mazar-i Sharif in northwest Afghanistan, the only major city controlled by the United Front, the coalition of forces opposed to the Taliban. The fall of Mazar was part of a successful offensive that gave the Taliban control of almost every major city and important significant territory in northern and central Afghanistan. Within the first few hours of seizing control of the city, Taliban troops killed scores of civilians in indiscriminate attacks, shooting noncombatants and suspected combatants alike in residential areas, city street sand markets. 

Human Rights Watch has produced an extremely detailed report on the massacre (http://www.hrw.org/reports98/afghan/), which gives readers a better idea of the mentality we are at war against. - Adam Geibel

The battle for Kandahar continues. But there are fewer targets for U.S. warplanes, many returning to their carriers with unused bombs. The Taliban have vowed to fight to the death, but increasingly the "do or die" crowd is comprised mainly of foreigners. Most of these are followers of bin Laden or believers in the harsh religious rule of the Taliban. The number of Afghan Taliban shrinks daily. But the foreigners have fewer options. To flee cross country puts them at risk of being caught, identified and quickly killed (or worse) by Afghans up in arms against "the foreigners." Apparently there are some negotiations going on with the foreigners, but the most common demand by the foreigners is "free passage out of Afghanistan." Afghans are unwilling to provide this, mainly because the United States is very much against it. There is also the possibility that among the foreign supporters of the Taliban are terrorists America is offering a large reward for. More Afghans are aware of the rewards and, thanks to millions of leaflets dropped all over the country, know who to look for. 

The Russian embassy is up and running in a small collection of tents on the site of the former (now largely wrecked) 1980s era Soviet embassy. The Russian diplomats are working on humanitarian aid, political and military relationships. 

American military bases, except for those in large cities like Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, are expected to move periodically to avoid becoming a target for attacks. This was a tactic used successfully by the Russians during their war in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Russians also had great success using attack and transport helicopters and commandos. The Russians also used bribes to keep some tribes neutral and others to fight against the rebels. Russians were most vulnerable with their bases and truck convoys bringing in supplies. The U.S. will have few, if any, fixed bases and fewer truck convoys. What killed the Russians during their Afghan war was the United States giving the rebels hundreds of Stinger shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. Afghan rebels fired 340 these, bringing down 269 Russian aircraft. After that, the Russians, lacking smart bombs, had to operate a lot more cautiously. So cautiously that they decided winning the war was going to cost more than it was worth. So the Russians left, leaving 15,000 Russians and 1.5 million Afghans dead. 

Who Are These Guys? The tribesmen of Afghanistan are a unique bunch, but not totally alien. In our terms, they are libertarians. They don't like a lot of laws or taxes. They believe every man has the right to carry a gun. They believe elders should be listened to and respected (if not always obeyed.) Since the most common form of government is tribal, this means that there is a democracy based on consensus, not casting ballots. The other two elements which heavily influence the Afghan character; poverty and honor. Afghanistan is the poorest nation in Asia, with an average lifespan in the 40s. So you're generally dealing with young people. The tradition of personal honor sort of goes with the preponderance of young people. In such an environment, much time is spent discussing things, for the alternative is often a gun battle. This kind of atmosphere makes central government unstable or impossible. If a tribal chief decides to go into the drug business, there's no one around to stop him. If tribes can't settle disputes by discussion, they will fight. But not to the death. Afghans believe in honor, not suicide. After a while, discussions will start again, framed by who got an advantage during the fighting. Being an Afghan is tough. You get smart early or you die very young. Never underestimate an Afghan, for they have seen, and survived, more life and death situations than their counterparts in the developed world. 


 

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