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Taliban fight now looks long, slow
CS Monitor ^ | October 26, 2001 | Scott Peterson

Posted on 10/26/2001 6:21:10 AM PDT by 74dodgedart

Taliban fight now looks long, slow Rebel alliance admits misjudging a key attack, while the US says it underestimated Taliban resilience.

By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor


Any illusion that this would be a quick war in Afghanistan is being dashed by events on the ground this week. There are signs here - and in Washington - that this is a battle that will go beyond the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and into the fast-approaching Central Asian winter.

Just a week ago, the Pentagon and Northern Alliance strategy seemed to be in place. Officials predicted the likely fall of the strategic northern city of Mazar-e Sharif within days. A victory there would provide an important psychological boost for the rebels that might trigger more Taliban defections, and it could provide US forces with an airport on Afghan soil.

Next, the Salang Pass - the main north-south mountain artery that connects Mazar-e Sharif with Kabul - and could provide an all-season resupply route from rebel allies - would be opened. And finally, rebel fighters would advance and seize control of the capital, Kabul, from the Taliban.

But that order is already stalling at the first stage, as rebel officials admit to serious "mistakes" - that could take weeks to reverse - in their battle to capture Mazar-e Sharif. And the Pentagon made an unusual admission Wednesday about its surprise at Taliban resilience. The Taliban are "proving to be formidable opponents," said Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I'm a bit surprised at how doggedly they're hanging onto power."

The rubble that seals this strategic tunnel through the Salang Pass serves as a symbol of how the illusion of quick victory has not materialized, and of the challenges ahead.

While potentially critical to the war effort - especially as the approaching winter makes other resupply routes less tenable - not one stone has yet been moved to open this mile-long tunnel since one end was blown up by explosive charges four years ago.

"The problem is a disconnect between the big brush strokes of American strategy, and what the Northern Alliance is capable of doing," says Anthony Davis, an Afghanistan analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly who has visited repeatedly for two decades. "If the Taliban are seen to be defending heroically, it allows them to assume the mantle of fighting for Islam. It's a real danger."

Besides the risk of a drawn-out campaign - which over time may turn current Muslim allies of the US against the bombing - the root is a deeper miscalculation.

The result so far is that alliance commanders - spurred on by a promise of US military help - launched headlong into an offensive against Mazar-e Sharif last week. With "no planning," Mr. Davis says, they "fell flat on their face."

"If B-52s took out the front line north of Kabul, and the alliance went floundering in, they risk the same problem," Davis says. "They're not ready."

Though White House and military officials have publicly paved the way for a long conflict, Wednesday's comments were the first indication that the campaign in Afghanistan was not going according to plan. It also suggests a Pentagon miscalculation - despite examples in Iraq and Serbia, in which stubborn leaders outlasted far fiercer US air campaigns - that air power alone might have been enough to push the Taliban from power.

The alliance foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, says he does not agree with the Pentagon assessment, noting that at peak times during the Afghan civil war 2,000 rockets a day landed on Kabul. "So far, the level of pressure on the Taliban is not such to expect them to lay down their arms and run away," he says.

Still, there has been some US help on the ground. Rebel chiefs report that more than 15 Americans in civilian clothes have helped call in targets to US planes on the Mazar-e Sharif front. Gen. Abdulrashid Dostum on Tuesday told Reuters news agency that "American planes are attacking exactly where we request."

Other reports spoke of 35 Taliban soldiers dead and 140 captured during an alliance "advance." But the price has been high - 400 dead rebels, by one estimate - as one district was taken. The rebels operate in a difficult-to-resupply pocket, and complain of ammunition, food, and gas shortages.

And all the positive spin can't burnish the strategic problem that has emerged in Mazar-e Sharif. "Militarily, our mujahideen made a mistake," says Yunas Qanoni, one of the top three civilian leaders of the alliance. "While one unit launched an attack on the city, the other three were not serious. They told themselves the Taliban were weak. They didn't coordinate or negotiate with each other, and the Taliban counter-attacked."

Analysts say it may take weeks for the alliance to regroup on that front.

"America is in a real, invidious dilemma. There is no simple winning strategy," says Davis, of Jane's Defense Weekly. "The Americans failed to think this one through. They didn't do their homework on alliance capabilities as a military and political force."

A key problem, he says, is that the US reliance on Pakistan - as a staging ground for operations in Afghanistan, and intelligence about the Taliban, which Pakistan nurtured and backed - cuts into its ability to give the rebels a free hand.

That job may be left to Russia, whose president, Vladimir Putin, has vowed to beef up its support of the alliance. Afghan sources say that a team of Russian engineers with "analytical maps" and high-grade optics arrived Monday. They visited a new resupply airstrip being built near Golbahar, 40 miles north of Kabul, as well as the collapsed entrance of the Salang Pass tunnel.

But there will be a "high price" exacted of the US by the Russians, Davis says, in terms of Moscow's influence over the future government of Afghanistan. Russia wants to keep all Taliban elements out of it. Pakistan is lobbying for "moderate" Taliban members of the dominant Pashtun tribe to play a major role.

Seeking middle ground, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House Foreign Relations committee on Wednesday: "It won't work if any one country dictates what the future of the government will look like."

Still, all sides are pushing for the end of the current hard-line regime in Kabul. But Kabul itself may be dropping on the list of priorities, despite four days this week of US pinprick bombing of Taliban front-line positions north of Kabul.

Dismissed by rebel commanders as only a taste of what will be required to open the front line to an alliance advance, the fact that several American targeters are rumored to be working from the control tower of the rebel-held Bagram airbase implies more.

"Presumably, if they are laser-painting targets, they are not aiming at farmhouses," says Davis. "The question is: Is it cosmetic, or will it increase in intensity?"

Rebel officials now take a longer view on Kabul, though on the eve of the start of the air campaign, they predicted a military advance "within days."

"We are not in a hurry to capture Kabul," says Mr. Qanoni, the alliance interior minister. "We should capture the northern provinces first," he adds. Before that, "agreements must be reached by political actors" to create an interim government.

Such strategic considerations weigh little at the Salang Pass. One end of the tunnel was blown up on orders given by the late alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Masood, to trap the Taliban in the north of the country as he retreated in 1997.

"This way is very important for us to get ammunition and arms from Uzbekistan, and Russia, and America," says Cmdr. Delagha Solangi, an alliance veteran fighter, speaking at a post on the approach road. "Yes, this is the best way for us to get to Kabul."

Today the broad tunnel, built by Soviet engineers in the early 1960s, presents an eerie hole in a rugged mountain side. Mounds of rubble block most of the entrance, and a cold wind from the far side, more than a mile away, sweeps through, past concrete work hanging from the ceiling by reinforcement rods, and black dank pools of dripping water.

Until the tunnel is reopened, traffic must negotiate a series of sharp, dirt switchbacks. The pass itself is more than 11,000 feet high - the tallest tunnel in the world - a 12-foot gap carved through immaculate granite, that is snowed in over the winter.

Three alliance tanks moved through there in the past two weeks - normal traffic to sight in on a Taliban tent high on a distant mountain, says Yar Mohamed, the sole alliance guard at his windswept post. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs
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To: Common Tator
The Soviets waited 10 years before they gave up, how long do you think we'll have to wait ?

Do you think the American people have the patience for a protracted siege ?

How about when terrorists attack the US again, is GW going to stand up in front of everyone and say "just give us another year or two, we'll get them".

21 posted on 10/26/2001 9:01:23 AM PDT by 74dodgedart
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To: gcraig; Magician
Good for You gcraig!

I was going to flame Magician myself but you said it better than I ever could.

People like magician have no appreciation for the fact that people have fought and died to defend their basic rights. Therefore Magician, like the panty waste students who stage protests between lattes and Susan Sarandon films, sits around finding fault with people who actually get off their ass and take up arms to rain hell on the bastards who killed over 6,000 Americans.

This war is not illconceived. I would rather have Rumsfeld and Cheney running this show than Cohen and AlGore. The very thought gives me the shivers. I thank God daily for our President and for his cabinet. I thank God for the men and women of our armed forces who are fighting far away from home and family and I thank God for our National Guard and Reserves, who, like you, fly over my house at night and defend those of us who are blessed to be alive and at home with the people we love after 9-11.

I would love to know where Magician was on 9-11...I can assure you that he was not running for his life like I was. I still have nightmares about that day and wouldn't wish that horror on anyone...not even Magician!

As for his "kiss the boys goodbye" snipe. I can't imagine the sadness of sending someone I love to war but I would be thankful for the opportunity to "kiss them goodbye" before they left and tell them how much they are loved. That's a helluva lot more than the families of the victims of 9-11 got to do. I bet they would give just about anything for the opportunity to "kiss their lovedone goodbye" just one more time.


22 posted on 10/26/2001 9:09:03 AM PDT by ReaganGirl
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To: 74dodgedart
You write: The Soviets waited 10 years before they gave up, how long do you think we'll have to wait ?

We are the United States of America, not the USSR. We are smarter, better equipped and have the advantage of being MAD AS HELL on our side. We will not give up!

You write:

Do you think the American people have the patience for a protracted siege ?

This American DOES! I grew up listenting to stories from my Grandmother about ration stamps and rolling bandages for a war that virtually never came to our own shores. I can do at least that much if not more to support My President and our troops who fight to protect the freedoms you and I enjoy.

You write:

How about when terrorists attack the US again, is GW going to stand up in front of everyone and say "just give us another year or two, we'll get them".

Your smugness speaks loudly. I came back to work on 9-12 and have done so every day since, I fly, I travel abroad and I go about my life as best I can knowing that if the terrorists had gotten their way on 9-11 I WOULD BE DEAD.

I DON'T CARE HOW LONG IT TAKES and President Bush doesn't have to as my permission or yours to continue with this war and if you think that he should have to I will send you a free AAA map with a trip tic from wherever you live to Canada.

23 posted on 10/26/2001 9:21:34 AM PDT by ReaganGirl
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Comment #24 Removed by Moderator

Comment #25 Removed by Moderator

Comment #26 Removed by Moderator

Comment #27 Removed by Moderator

To: Common Tator
You pointed out that "This story is typical media analysis done by people whose total military expertise came from not paying attention in history class."

So true. They must have ignored even recent history. The Russians lost around 300 aircraft a year pre-Stinger. After the rebels got Stingers, the toll went up to 500-1000. With that in mind, I think our folks are doing a GREAT job. As far as the bombing taking a while, I can think of a couple of very good reasons for the current pace of the bombing.

Doesn't it seem like there is starting to be "mission-expectation-creep" on the part of the media? We aren't trying to "take Kabul by winter", resupply the NA from Bagram airport, etc.. As I recall, the reason for our effort is to put the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan out of business, then move on to other chores in other countries.
28 posted on 10/26/2001 9:47:52 AM PDT by PETAMember
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To: Common Tator
When they have starved for 20 days, they will have little energy to fight. When they have not eaten for 40 days they will not be able to fight. Some may not have the strength to surrender.

I know you have been offering this siege analysis without wavering almost since the day the war started. But its success hinges on food really being scarce for soldiers, doesn't it? If 9/11 was planned for years the hard core of the Afghan-based jihadists might have stored quite a bit of food. In addition, some of these borders are extremely porous.

30 posted on 10/26/2001 9:55:46 AM PDT by untenured
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To: Common Tator
Our very first act was to seal off the west,north, east and south of Afghanistan from the air and the ground.

If the country is sealed in every direction, how is the opium getting out? And if opium can get out, why can't other things get in?

31 posted on 10/26/2001 10:04:27 AM PDT by The Truth Will Make You Free
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To: Tauzero
"True, the next election is a couple of years away.

And if you truly believe that John Edwards, Al Gore or Tom Daschle will do a better job than President Bush then I encourage you to exercise your right to vote.

but I think that it's very telling that many highly placed figures from the Gore campaign are telling me that they are thankful that the outcome of the election went for Bush because they know that Gore could never rise to this level of leadership.

32 posted on 10/26/2001 10:11:19 AM PDT by ReaganGirl
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To: PETAMember
"starting to be "mission-expectation-creep" on the part of the media? "

On September 13: "President Bush yesterday firmly denounced Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington as "acts of war" and braced the nation for a long fight against those who orchestrated them."

"Bush:'"We will be patient, we will be focused and we will be steadfast in our determination. This battle will take time and resolve. But make no mistake about it, we will win." '

How stupid someone would have to be to declare that we are surprised that it's not over after 3 weeks is beyond me.
Oh wait, any Liberal would be that stupid, as they've shown over and over.

33 posted on 10/26/2001 10:12:11 AM PDT by mrsmith
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To: Tauzero
"Partly. But a real undercurrent to this is, I think, the failure thus far to get Osama in particular."

I'm with you, I think it will cheer everybody up a lot if he gets killed. But, who knows, maybe his pals killed and disposed of him already - the Legend Will Live Forever.
Main thing is to make sure that other governments become terrified to harbor any active terrorist groups. That may be happening to some degree. Syria has been making noises that it too just hates terrorists, and would like to be taken off the bad guy list. Somalia asked for UN help in sealing its borders in case BL tried to flee there. I can't imagine either of those countries acting that way prior to the bombing, etc.
34 posted on 10/26/2001 10:18:02 AM PDT by PETAMember
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To: Magician
Why don't you crawl back to your HOLE you chicken sh&t traitor.
35 posted on 10/26/2001 10:42:21 AM PDT by ohioman
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To: Common Tator
It seems to me that we cannot starve the Taliban without starving the country. We can't starve the country because of the political risk. Our strategy seems to have been to weaken the Taliban through air strikes and then let Afghan dissidents take over through a coalition government we helped put together. This outcome now looks improbable due to the dissidents' inability to come together. The Northern Alliance has no popular support outside of the Uzbeks and Tajiks in the north. Plus, they obviously can't fight their way out of a paper sack.

It looks to me like we are going to have to turn the air war way, way up and start killing lots of Taliban personnel. We have to bring them down within the next 2 or 3 weeks.

We are going to have to take and hold some ground if we are going to feed the people and not the Taliban. Even then, how do you get food to 20 million people?

I promise you that if they start starving in droves over there, we will become the bad guy in every country in the world, not just among the Arabs. The siege theory will not work.

36 posted on 10/26/2001 2:57:40 PM PDT by San Jacinto
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To: San Jacinto
Articles like this really tick me off. Other than the leftist media who ever said this would be a quick war? The main Afghan tactic is to drawn the enemy in and wait for winter. Golly just look at what's happening. Winter is coming and they are hunkering down. I'm just shocked that they followed a centuries old winning strategy.

Why would we commit massive ground resources at the worse possible time of the year? The slower we enter during the winter the better chances of surviving until spring. Just keep the bombs coming. You must fight wars on your own terms not the other guys. What ever you do don't let some point headed liberal media type ever get near the military or it's operation.

37 posted on 10/26/2001 3:07:08 PM PDT by Dutch Boy
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To: Dutch Boy
Why would we commit massive ground resources at the worse possible time of the year? The slower we enter during the winter the better chances of surviving until spring. Just keep the bombs coming. You must fight wars on your own terms not the other guys. What ever you do don't let some point headed liberal media type ever get near the military or it's operation.

Why would we commit massive ground troops at all ? The goal is to get Osama and destroy his terrorism network, not to conquer Afghanistan.

38 posted on 10/26/2001 4:04:45 PM PDT by 74dodgedart
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To: Tauzero
I think you vastly underestimate the incompetence of government in general, and a Clintonized military and State department in particular.

If that IS the case - then maybe they ought to expand the program whereby the goverment accepts suggestions from the populace on how to enhance homeland security - to include how to fight a war. My suggestion: "Get your heads out of your rears, read the 'Directions For Use' labels on those billions of dollars worth of hardware you've bought - and frikkin' use it!!"

39 posted on 10/26/2001 5:03:57 PM PDT by ctonious
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To: Common Tator
Thank you for that. I'm so upset with the media and the Americans who are already sounding like they're ready to give up! They're critiquing the performance of the administration when they don't even have access to the classified information.

We were told that this would be a long war. I don't want for us to be at war, but we have no choice. Our opponents are tough and elusive, but they will not win, no thanks to all the defeatists in our midst.

40 posted on 10/28/2001 2:07:17 PM PST by alnick
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