The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 14, 2001
In a ground war, rebel
says, do not go it alone
War With Terror
Afghanistan - Mohammed Shari Tawasali stood on a hillside, watching his
soldiers shooting live ammunition as they charged a pile of rocks in a
demonstration of the military might of the Northern Alliance.
foot soldiers with old rifles and shabby clothes are the primary weapon
against the Taliban in the grinding war the Northern Alliance has been
waging here for seven years. They are the type of rugged, ill-equipped
warriors that American forces will fight with - and against - as the
United States moves from an air war to a ground war on the unforgiving
terrain of Afghanistan.
think it would be difficult for the Americans to win," said Tawasali,
the commander of a Northern Alliance base here. "The best way for the
Americans to defeat the Taliban is to use the Northern Alliance. They
can't defeat the Taliban alone."
23 years of fighting, Afghanistan's civil war has been conducted largely
as an infantry campaign. The Northern Alliance, the coalition of ethnic
and political groups opposed to the Taliban, has some artillery, tanks and
rockets to support the troops entrenched on the front lines. But its chief
weapon is the young foot soldier.
Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic movement that controls most of
Afghanistan, also relies upon waves of soldiers armed primarily with
Kalashnikov rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.
It had a small air force of aging Russian jets before U.S. planes attacked
the aircraft last week in the start of the allied bombing campaign.
American special forces are expected to be on the ground, too - to root
out the cells of Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. Armed with the
latest high-tech weaponry, the Americans are likely to encounter a foe
equipped for mid-20th-century battle.
the meager equipment of the Taliban's forces does not mean they will be
pushovers, said Tawasali, 38, a veteran of two decades of war in
Afghanistan against Soviet invaders and the Taliban.
argues that if Americans commit ground forces - even small special-forces
operations that stay on the ground only a short time - it could trigger an
anti-invader backlash among Afghans and give the Taliban a powerful tool
to rally support in the Muslim world.
the Soviets discovered in their decade of occupation that ended in 1989,
the Afghans are likely to regard any prolonged intervention by a Western
power as a threat to their culture and religion.
said the well-equipped Russians were easier foes than some of the Afghan
contingents he has fought, because the Russians were seen as foreign
was easier to fight against the Russians," said Tawasali.
"People knew the Russians wanted to occupy the country, so they
rallied against them. The Taliban came in the name of Islam, so it is more
Taliban will fight against the Americans until the death," said
Tawasali. "The Taliban will use this propaganda to motivate people.
We also used this propaganda against the Russians, knowing that Afghans
will fight foreign invaders with more vigor."
daunting terrain could also pose a challenge for the U.S. military, even
if the Americans are able to resupply their troops by air, avoiding the
nation's notorious roads.
can't negotiate these mountains," said Tawasali, an ethnic Hazara,
whose Shiite Muslim religion is regarded with contempt by the Sunni Muslim
extremists who lead the Taliban. "The Taliban know the area. They've
filled caves with ammunition. The Taliban are well armed. They've hidden a
lot of weapons."
of Afghanistan does not lend itself to conventional warfare.
of Afghanistan's north is accessible only by roads that cling to sheer
sides of narrow canyons, where the Soviets discovered they were easy
targets as they lumbered along in single-file columns. Air support is
difficult in such terrain, where cliffs hide deep crevices that provide
comfortable hiding places for Afghan guerrillas accustomed to living in
this time of year, when the land is dry and farmers are tilling their
fields with ox-drawn plows to sow winter wheat, a fine dust fills the air,
playing havoc with electronic gear of modern warfare. In the winter, the
dust turns to slush and then to glutinous muck with the spring rains.
few miles from here, the Panjshir River spills out of the mountains into a
fertile plain about 40 miles north of Kabul.
plain, divided by the front line separating the Northern Alliance
stronghold from the Taliban troops guarding the capital, is already
littered with wrecked tanks and armored vehicles. The flatland could well
become the crucial battlefield in the alliance's quest to retake the
capital from which its members were ousted in 1996.
the American air assault continues, alliance commanders have been
instructed not to move on Kabul until political leaders can work out an
endgame for a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Pakistan, a big regional power
that is the Taliban's chief sponsor, is worried that the Northern Alliance
will move into power.
said the alliance is trying to devise a civilian police administration
that can govern Kabul and protect the population against feuding warlords.
the meantime, the alliance troops wait for the word to advance and
continue to drill.
conquering the pile of rocks in their recent exercise, Tawasali's troops
marched off to engage in a pleasure forbidden under the ultra-religious
Taliban. They began a robust game of volleyball, the national