The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 31, 2001
bring in elite units
elite troops ready for fight
War With Terror
SARAJ, Afghanistan - Anti-Taliban forces yesterday began moving elite
attack units closer to frontline positions north of Kabul, setting the
stage for a possible assault on the capital's heavily fortified defenses.
are now working on the mobilization of troops, but the exact timing of an
attack is not clear," said Gen. Abdul Rahman, commander of several
frontline units on the Shamali Plain 25 miles north of Kabul.
least 500 attack troops, dressed in new camouflaged winter uniforms from
Iran, were put on public display at military bases to the rear of the
Kabul front line. Rahman said the troops would be held in reserve until
the opposition United Front defense ministry ordered an attack.
at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United
States now was regularly devoting half of its bombing effort to helping
the United Front gear up for advances on the Taliban.
also acknowledged yesterday that U.S. ground troops were in Afghanistan,
"for liaison purposes."
said the defense ministry ordered the United Front's heightened
preparedness 10 days ago. "We have been given an order to be ready to
attack," he said. "That's why we called up these troops."
there was little air of urgency that might suggest an attack is coming
soon. Many of the elite troops called Zarbati, who were driven to the
Shamali Plain from bases near the Tajikistan border, were focusing more on
organizing winter accommodations at rear military bases than preparing
their gear for an infantry assault.
were new artillery or tanks being moved into position behind the front
line, the type of deployment necessary to provide heavy bombardments that
would presage an infantry attack.
the presence of the Zarbati, better equipped and more disciplined than the
ragtag local militiamen who defend the front line day to day, sends a
signal that the United Front, also known as the Northern Alliance, is
moving closer to taking the offensive four weeks after the U.S. military
began its air assaults against the Taliban.
are well-trained troops, ready to fight," said Capt. Habib, who uses
only one name. He is the leader of several hundred soldiers who were lined
up in irregular ranks at a base outside Jabal Saraj that looked more like
a junkyard of broken and rusted armor than a military installation. The
troops carried assault rifles, heavy machine guns, and rocket-propelled
the American military assault began Oct. 7, Northern Alliance military
commanders have taken no action on the Kabul front line other than
occasional exchanges of cannon fire with the enemy that are more like
Afghan greeting cards than fighting. Guerrilla officials say there has
been more activity at fronts around cities such as Mazar-e Sharif and
Taloqan, where Taliban defenses are less formidable.
Alliance commanders have complained that the American aerial assaults have
failed to inflict much damage on the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic
movement that controls most of Afghanistan. Its forces are buttressed by
Muslim militants from several countries in the region. The Taliban is
shielding Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in last month's terrorist attacks
American bombing was not effective at the front lines until two days
ago," Rahman said. He said a barrage of bombing Saturday virtually
wiped out an encampment of more than 100 "Arabs" loyal to bin
Laden and damaged two tanks and two pickup trucks. His claims could not be
30, echoed the sentiment of other commanders and urged the Americans to
step up the bombing and to coordinate the attacks more closely with the
Northern Alliance ground troops. "It will be more effective if they
used huge planes, dropping 60, 70 bombs at a time," he said.
long after he expressed his desires, a thunderous series of explosions
similar to a multiple bomb drop from a single B-52 sent up a towering gray
cloud that appeared like a half-mile-high exclamation point on the Taliban
side of the front. Other than that impressive display, there was no
sustained bombing of positions north of Kabul by the occasional jets that
Northern Alliance previously has made exaggerated claims about its
conquests and imminent victories. Two weeks ago, a day after anti-Taliban
commanders announced they were on the verge of capturing the key northern
city Mazar-e Sharif, Taliban fighters easily repulsed their attacks when
rival alliance commanders failed to coordinate their attacks.
the brave assertions that their fighting force is well-motivated and
equipped to take Kabul, opposition commanders acknowledge that overrunning
the Taliban front lines would be a daunting task.
keep asking us, 'Why hasn't the Northern Alliance gone to Kabul?' "
said Hoji Qadir, an ethnic Pashtun leader whose forces are scattered in
eastern Afghanistan. "Capturing Kabul is not so easy."
Taliban forces are believed to outnumber the Northern Alliance troops
along the Kabul front line. They are thought to be burrowed into deep
entrenchments and hidden among the thousands of mud-brick buildings and
10-foot walls that would turn the undulating fields and villages of the
Shamali Plain into a labyrinth of deadly sniper positions.
the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and President Burhanuddin Rabbani's
government retreated into the ethnic Tajik stronghold of the Panjshir
River valley, the battlefront has moved back and forth across the Shamali
Plain like incoming and outgoing tides. The current position has been
maintained for more than two years.
sides have buried thousands of mines around their entrenchments, and they
have positioned dozens of Russian-built mobile rocket launchers, mortars
and howitzers several miles behind the front. Both would inhibit any
advance of troops.
the daytime, the frontline guerrilla trenches are lightly defended by
local militiamen, who wear an assortment of mismatched uniforms and
civilian clothes. Working in 10-day shifts on the front, the soldiers are
often armed with their own AK-47 assault rifles and have undergone little
formal military training.
the equipment and earthworks resemble a World War I battlefield, the front
lines rarely shift in fierce set-piece battles in which infantry and armor
face off in a horrendous fusillade.
rival commanders sometimes capture opposing posts in rapid hit-and-run
raids designed mostly to take weapons and ammunition, followed by quick
retreats to avoid being overextended.
kind of like an exercise for us," said Muhammed Gul, the commander of
a unit of about 100 Zarbati troops.
previous engagements dating back six years, anti-Taliban forces have often
chosen to retreat and give up ground rather than engage the enemy in a
debilitating battle. Clashes often turn on mass defections of entire
units, with few shots fired.
Alliance commanders say Taliban troops, motivated by the zeal of their
religious leaders, are more likely to stand their ground until they die.
current talk among opposition political leaders is not to capture Kabul
straightaway, but to advance only to the Khair Khana in suburban Kabul, to
put pressure on the combatants for a political solution.
said the Northern Alliance had been planning to attack the Taliban when
their famed military commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was assassinated on
Sept. 9, two days before the terrorist attacks in the United States. Those
events put plans to attack on hold.
plans were frustrated," said Rahman. "Now we're anxious to