FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

US Planes Pound Taliban Troops

by Patrick Cockburn In Panjshir Valley The Independent

Taliban troop concentrations in northern Afghanistan became a target of American air strikes for the first time yesterday in what appeared to signal a shift in strategy towards the Northern Alliance.

Washington and London continued to insist the Alliance would not be allowed to capture Kabul and form the next Afghan government, but the air attacks paved the way for the opposition fighters to launch a fierce assault on the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

 

Last night Alliance forces appeared to be closing in on the town. Diplomatic and intelligence sources say America and Britain are preparing to let the Alliance take it and the surrounding area with the proviso that its military airport will be turned over to the Allies for a secure base if requested.

Taliban forces defending Mazar-i-Sharif face infantry assaults from the east and the west. The attacks are being led by Commander Ato Mukham- med and General Rashid Dostum. If the city does fall the Taliban’s position in Afghanistan north of the Hindu Kush mountains could rapidly unravel.

Abdul Vadud, the Afghan military attach? in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, said yesterday the Alliance forces were three miles from Mazar-i-Sharif and were shelling its outskirts. He said Ato Mukham-med had seized the military airport. Earlier reports said the Alliance had taken the civil airport but had been driven back. Mohajeddin Mehdi, an Afghan diplomat in Dushanbe, claimed the Taliban had concentrated tens of thousands of fighters in the Mazar-i-Sharif area.

The advance is the first serious military move by the Northern Alliance since the start of the crisis. It is also a critical test of the Taliban ability to resist in a region where they have never been popular.

A senior defence source in London said yesterday: “It does not follow that the United Front [Northern Alliance] taking Mazar-i-Sharif means they will go on to take Kabul. That is something we are totally against and they have assured us they that is something they will not do. We do not believe they have the military capability and co-ordination necessary, at present, to capture the capital without significant outside help.”

The allies believe Northern Alliance forces are unfit to govern because of their record, and because of vehement Pakistani objections. Mazar-i-Sharif appears to be the compromise. Access to a secure base inside Afghanistan would give strategists in Washington and London a lot more options. The alternative would be to operate almost entirely from former Russian bases in Uzbekistan and ones in Pakistan.

Allied strategists also believe a secure base inside Afghanistan would help them to avert the impending humanitarian catastrophe. With many roads becoming impassable with the coming winter, airlift appears to be the only way to bring in aid. Food, medicine and clothing can then be distributed by helicopter.

Ideally, the Allies would have preferred to operate from another former Soviet airbase, Bagram. The all-weather airfield could be used by a variety of allied aircraft with comparatively little building work. But Bagram’s natural hill defences make it difficult to wrest from the Taliban, and its capture is thought to be beyond the present capacity of opposition forces.

On the Kabul front, the Alliance was making greater use of its artillery and rocket launchers. But there is no sign yet of it making a full-scale military assault.

Local commanders say they have been ready to attack for a week but have no orders. Many of the fighters near the front are, in effect, militia from the villages, varying in age from teenagers to old men. If fighting does not start in the next few weeks on the Kabul front many of these men will probably start to drift back to their homes.

The low military casualties reported by the opposition are in keeping with the history of warfare in Afghanistan over the past decade. Civilian casualties from mines and shellfire have been heavy, but the small armies on both sides have seldom fought serious battles. Kabul fell to the Taliban in 1996 without a fight after Jalalabad was betrayed, opening the capital to assault from the west.

In 1997, after the Taliban first held Mazar-i-Sharif, an uprising in the city left 3,000 of their men dead killed and 3,600 taken prisoner. Many prisoners were later packed into containers and left to suffocate or were thrown into deep wells.

In 1998, the Taliban took Mazar-i-Sharif again and went on a rampage against the Hazara minority, shooting people in the streets and packing others in containers to die. The atrocities and counter-atrocities manifest the bitterness of the animosity between Pashtun and non-Pashtun minorities.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail