Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 7, 2001
Alliance's elite troops return to reserve status
After a drill, nothing on one front. It's a go-slow course the U.S. favors. 

At War With Terror

RABAT, Afghanistan - A day after anti-Taliban forces put their war machine on display in a public military drill, their elite troops and armor have vaporized like a light snow on a sunny day.

There was no sign yesterday that the dozens of tanks and thousands of Zarbati "attack" troops were deployed anywhere near the battle front 25 miles north of Kabul, the capital occupied by the Taliban movement.

"The Zarbati? Those troops are being held in reserve," said Abdul Muhid, 24, a radio operator for the opposition Northern Alliance, the coalition of anti-Taliban groups that is also known as the United Front.

If the Northern Alliance militiamen who guard the front line were on alert yesterday, they were doing a splendid job of faking indifference. Muhid, dressed in sneakers and a sky-blue knee-length shirt called a kamise, smoked cigarettes and reclined on the ground behind a second-line fortification 500 yards from the enemy lines. One of his colleagues sat on top of a barrier of sandbags and said they were unworried about being in the line of fire.

In recent days, after U.S bombers intensified air strikes on Taliban positions near the front lines, Northern Alliance officials have been making more noise about launching a ground offensive against the Taliban, the rigid Islamic regime that controls most of Afghanistan. Some guerrilla commanders say an attack on Kabul is imminent. Others say the thrust may occur on another front with fewer Taliban defenders.

The troops entrenched along this battle front have heard those promises before.

"We have been here two years and they have been saying, 'Be prepared, we are going to attack,' " Muhid said.

The radio operator said he was not being impertinent. "We're always ready to attack and the attack will come for sure - today, tomorrow, the next day, the next month. We're not certain."

The guerrillas' go-slow approach seems in sync with the U.S. military. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that the United States was in no rush to deploy its own ground troops to Afghanistan and was willing to wait for the Northern Alliance to move.

"If it takes two months, that's fine," he said. "We can be very patient. One thing we are is resolute and determined."

Rabat, a village of earthen houses and vineyards shriveled from drought and neglect, straddles the main road connecting the Northern Alliance strongholds with Kabul, and therefore is likely to be the spearhead for an attack on the capital.

If an attack were to occur here, the local militiamen said they would see a movement of uniformed Zarbati who would make their way through to enemy posts under the cover of night and attack at dawn with artillery support. But there has been no sign that the Zarbati - 2,000 of whom assembled Monday for a military exercise for the Northern Alliance's top command - were deployed anywhere other than to the warmth of their barracks.

As Muhid and his comrades relaxed behind the sandbagged bunker, two U.S. warplanes circled and dropped about eight bombs on Taliban positions nearly 10 miles in the distance, sending up towering gray-and-black clouds that lingered in the clear blue sky. They were the only air strikes that occurred during daylight hours along the Kabul front yesterday, though other air strikes resumed at night.

The Northern Alliance soldiers watched the distant explosions with detachment. Asked if they were impressed with American air power, the soldiers replied promptly:




"You in the United States, you say you'll attack, but when does it come?" Muhid asked. "If we attack, we'll attack seriously, not like the United States."

He said that during the Afghanistan mujaheddin's long war in the 1980s against Soviet occupation, the bombs fell much more frequently. "I was a small child during the Russian period. I brought ammunition to my father in the front lines and I remember the Russian bombing. It was much more intense."

He was asked whether his son, now an infant, would be bringing ammunition to him in the trenches some day.

"If the war continues, why not?" he said. home page   
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