Stakes high in Afghan combat that must come before snow : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Copyright, The Sydney Morning Herald, Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

Stakes never higher in combat that must come before the snow The US will be tested in Afghanistan. It cannot be found wanting, writes Christopher Kremmer.

Diplomacy never really had a chance. From the moment New York's Twin Towers fell, vengeance was inevitable. And probably within days the world will be at war again. Hundreds of fighter jets, dozens of warships and thousands of warriors are zeroing in on mountainous, landlocked Afghanistan, primed to deliver the first in a series of lethal blows. It will be the first wave in what promises to be a long war.

Dispersed to the countryside, the Taliban's ragtag army is preparing to defend what the regime calls the world's purest Islamic state. Among them, thousands of young Pakistani men, whose own government is co-operating with what they consider to be an enemy United States.

When America strikes - as it must do soon, before winter blankets the theatre of operations in snow - many of the coffins will arrive home in Pakistan, threatening its fragile alliance with the US.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

A former Pakistani intelligence chief, General Hamid Gul, says: "If America is defeated in Afghanistan, it will be forced out of the Gulf, and Western power will crumble like the Twin Towers."

In the past week, clan councils of the dominant Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan have pledged to defend the regime. The worth of such pledges will soon be tested. Somewhere in the rugged, terrain of his adopted homeland waits Osama bin Laden, the man blamed for the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre that killed more than 5,000 people. Flying over Pakistan's border with Afghanistan makes it clear that bin Laden presents a very small target in land whose gigantic mountains and endless scorching plains landscape inspire nothing short of awe.

The first target, military analysts believe, will not be the Saudi-born millionaire radical but the military infrastructure of the Taliban militia which protects him, starting with its airbases. Likewise, fuel and ammunition dumps which sustain the Taliban's ability to bottle up their opponents will be taken out, tipping the balance in the country's long-running civil war.

The degree of precision achieved will depend largely on the quality of intelligence possessed by the attackers. As the Taliban's midwife and principal backer, the defection of Pakistan to the coalition against terror is crucial. Until this week, Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence maintained spy stations in all main cities under Taliban control. It knows the exact locations of al-Qaeda training camps in and around the Khyber Pass, Jalalabad, Kabul, Khost, Kundouz, Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif. These can also expect early hits.

But the focus of America's strategy will be to deny the terrorists safe haven by reducing the area under Taliban control. As opposition Northern Alliance forces gain ground, bin Laden's men will be flushed out. His network of several thousand international militants can run, but will find it difficult to hide. Mainly Arabs, with a sprinkling of Filipinos, Malaysians, Chinese and Africans, they have become increasingly visible in Afghanistan's towns and cities in recent years. Foreign aid staff working in remote areas of the countryside occasionally stumbled across Arab encampments, where the welcome was anything but warm. "They would often spit at Westerners, or draw a finger in a cutting motion across their throats. Once I stumbled across a group of them near Jalalabad and was given a severe beating," one UN staffer with long experience in the country told the Herald.

Now Afghan hatred burns for revenge against the Arabs for the assassination of the Northern Alliance's charismatic leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud. "I wouldn't like to be there when Massoud's men catch up with the Arabs," says an authority on Afghan politics, Associate Professor William Maley, of the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. "Rivers of blood are going to flow." Bin Laden's "Arabs", in general, are better trained than the thousands of young Pakistani volunteers who comprise the bulk of the Taliban's canon fodder. But although battle-hardened and fanatically dedicated to protecting their leader, most of them do not speak local languages and are heavily dependent on Afghan helpers to get around. With bombs and missiles raining down on them, the reaction of ordinary Afghans will be pivotal. If they blame the Taliban and the Arabs for their predicament, the isolated militants will soon be sent packing.

But if they blame the West for killing fellow Muslims, all bets are off in the new war on terror. The hoped-for result will be strikes followed by the capture of cities and airbases by the Northern Alliance and successful ground assaults on bin Laden's camps by foreign special forces. The exiled king Zahir Shah, 86, would then be flown in to hold a loya jirga, or grand council, at which the country's many ethnic and militia groups form a new government that invites US help in ridding the country of the terrorist networks. The Afghan diaspora of millions of skilled professionals returns to rebuild the country with Western financial aid.

But the worst result is horrible to contemplate. Like the Soviet Red Army that invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and occupied the country for nine years, US-led forces could easily find themselves lost in a hostile environment, their high-tech equipment chewed up by the only refined thing left in that country - the dust. A study of the Russians' operations against the Afghan guerillas is instructive.

In April 1986, Soviet special forces mounted a raid to smash guerilla base infrastructure around Zhawar near the eastern town of Khost. The mujahideen base at Zhawar comprised an intricate network of tunnels dug into the mountains boasting hospitals, courts, theatres, a radio station, mosques, garages, metal shops, guest houses and stores. The approaches were protected by minefields, and mortar and gun emplacements.

In The Bear Trap: Afghanistan's Untold Story, Mohammad Yousaf and Mark Adkin describe what could be a nightmare scenario for US, British and perhaps even Australian special forces. "In broad daylight 10 or more helicopters came in in waves to set down the 400 commandos. As they flew overhead they were met by a barrage of fire from SA-7s [surface-to-air missiles] and heavy machine-guns. Three helicopters crashed, while the others disgorged their troops under intense cross-fire from both mujahideen positions. In the open ground the commandos were badly cut up and demoralised. By nightfall there was nothing left of this battalion: all were either killed or captured." Afghanistan was Russia's Vietnam. In the real Vietnam, the US lost its nerve, and 58,000 men. Now, it is united to get the job done. It is angry and prepared for casualties. About 2,000 marines are already in the region, with, 2,000 more from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit en route, and MH-53J Pave Low helicopters are being readied for their mission. Tens, possibly hundreds of these highly trained soldiers will probably die young. Their graves will decorate the narrow valleys and ravines of Afghanistan.

Gains they will probably make, but will the gains endure? Like guerillas everywhere, the militants can choose to fight another day, retreating into the mountains and waiting there until America's fury is spent. The base at Zhawar continues to function. In August 1998, after US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, some 70 US cruise missiles slammed into the area, but according to one source "barely hit a lean-to". Bin Laden - whose mind appears to possess a macabre sense of symmetry - may well choose to make his stand at Zhawar. Gul, the former intelligence chief, believes US forces will have a tougher time even than the Soviets. As for finding bin Laden, he compares that to finding a needle in a haystack. He is not even convinced, as most observers are, that the Taliban are finished. "The Afghans may be dissatisfied with the Taliban, but their sense of honour will not allow them to accept a foreign invasion. This is a deadly country. It's easy to get in, but not so easy to extract yourself safely."

-- Robert Riggs (, October 06, 2001


This does not have to be a long war. All that is needed is that people come together on both sides of the fence and decide that the time is now to move into a positive future. And that means tolerence. Come on now; it is ever really so hard to tell who is really fucked up. In a world that would be subject to the positive spirit of man, it would be the barriers that would be tortured and held to compliance. Fury is replaced by the realization: WE CAN NOT LIVE LIKE THIS ANYMORE. Do you get that? Do you understand this. Justice was born historically in the signing of the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDANCE. We realize that you all don't quite understand that ;yet/...WE, did not die for nothing.

-- jimminee-the-weed (, October 06, 2001.

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