Afghan rebels see few
signs of help
aid now can turn the tide, one leader says. Foes of Taliban see no sign
yet of U.S. support .
War With Terror
TALOQAN, Afghanistan - A few lazy shells looped over the front line
yesterday, landing in a cloud of dust on a distant hill where Taliban
warriors were posted.
you like us to shoot some more for you?" asked Col. Nazir Mohammed,
eager to show off his anti-Taliban forces dug in along this critical front
line in northern Afghanistan.
a few days, Mohammed hopes to launch an attack on Taliban territory in
concert with an expected American retaliation against the religious
militants who have controlled much of Afghanistan for five years and are
harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Mohammed has heard nothing from his superiors or the Americans, who he
thinks should send immediate military aid to the Northern Alliance forces
to help fight their mutual enemy, the Taliban.
Americans can help us with the Taliban's air force and attack their air
bases," said Mohammed, 35, who has been a soldier for 18 years and
knows Afghanistan's terrain intimately. "It's not important that they
send in ground troops."
U.S. government has offered unspecified support to the coalition of ethnic
and political groups that is led partly by elements of Afghanistan's
Washington, the Bush administration said yesterday that it is making a
concerted new effort to strengthen forces opposed to the Taliban rulers.
are any number of people in Afghanistan, tribes in the south, the Northern
Alliance in the north, that oppose the Taliban," Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "And clearly we need to recognize the value
they bring to this antiterrorist, anti-Taliban effort - and where
appropriate, find ways to assist them."
far, though, nothing has materialized here.
movement, while it has made contact with American diplomats, has received
no specific promises of support," Burnahuddin Rabbani, the alliance
president, said in a news conference Sunday at the movement's capital in
Alliance officials are puzzled about why the United States and the rest of
the world have failed to support the anti-Taliban movement. "We've
been telling them for years the Taliban is sponsoring terrorism,"
say the West has shied from sending supplies because the Northern Alliance
has seemed like such a long shot to regain power: The alliance is so
disorganized that squabbles between several ethnic leaders allowed the
Taliban to take control of most of the country. The Northern Alliance
commanders also have been accused of allowing exports of opium from
President Rabbani is still recognized by the United Nations as
Afghanistan's head of state - only Pakistan still recognizes the Taliban -
Rabbani controls only a small sliver of northern Afghanistan. His
government and military are run on a shoestring.
look at the forces arrayed in unfortified trenches on the barren high
desert outside the regional capital of Taloqan demonstrates why the
Northern Alliance does not appear poised to assume power should the
armed with a few aging Russian weapons and tanks left behind when Soviet
forces left in 1989, the ranks of the Northern Alliance are filled with
proud soldiers who once helped bring a superpower to its knees. But they
are housed in mud-brick barracks and lack transportation - the soldiers
are forced to hitch rides from the few vehicles that venture down the
dusty dirt roads.
region hardly appears to be on high alert, though the alliance repelled
several expeditionary attacks in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks
on New York and Washington. Cattle graze lazily a few miles behind the
lines, and children play in the irrigation channels that supply rice
has two tanks, three howitzers and two mobile rocket launchers at his
command, but hardly any air support. The Northern Alliance is said to have
only eight helicopters.
have maybe 40,000 fighters in the province, but the resources only to put
a few thousand on the front line because we can't support them,"
Mohammed said. Neutral observers estimate the number of fighters in the
region at only 15,000.
personal history mirrors the misfortunes of the Northern Alliance.
1996, his left arm was permanently disabled by gunfire when Taliban forces
took Kabul, the capital. The arm now hangs useless at his side. Last year,
Mohammed was shot in the right arm the day before his troops were forced
to retreat at the end of a two-month Taliban assault on Taloqan. The bone
was set badly, and now his right forearm is bent at an odd angle.
is upset that the Taliban forces receive military and logistical support
from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya while the Northern Alliance
receives little support from its allies, Russia, India and Iran.
heard on the radio that they promised new equipment, but I haven't seen
any of it," said Mohammed, a reserved man with two wives and 15
acknowledges the alliance had its internal fights in the past, but he says
all the commanders are now unified.
all of us are together and we hope we can fight stronger against the
Taliban," Mohammed said as he squatted in the lightly manned
believes the alliance troops would fare better if the United States forced
other countries to halt clandestine support. "If they don't support
us, at least they should force Pakistan to stop assisting the Taliban."
yet, he said, the Americans should let fly with the bombs. Afterwards, he
said, Afghans could reach peace talking among themselves, unpressured by
neighboring countries seeking to exert their influence in a land that has
known only war for 23 years.