Taliban resilience may surprise U.S.

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Hyperlink: http://www.guardian.co.uk/waronterror/story/0,1361,576914,00.html

Attack on key city repelled by Taliban

Resilience of regime may surprise US

Luke Harding in Islamabad, Friday October 19, 2001

The Guardian Unlimited (United Kingdom)

Guardian Newspapers Ltd., Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

Taliban fighters yesterday continued to defy attempts by the opposition to seize the key northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, as sources in Pakistan warned that the west had so far badly underestimated the Taliban's military strength.

Opposition commanders last night said their troops had advanced to within three miles of Mazar-i-Sharif's huge Soviet-built airport - but admitted that they had been unable to take it. The Pentagon has hinted that the airport could be used in future by allied forces, currently stationed in neighbouring Uzbekistan.

Intense fighting around Mazar-i-Sharif has raged all week, according to opposition general Ustad Attah. Speaking from the frontline, he said: "On Wednesday evening, the Taliban tried to attack us six times in order to gain back the positions they lost to us three days ago, but they could not break through."

Reports from the battlefield offer a confusing picture. But it seems unlikely that Mazar-i-Sharif will fall in the next few days to a Northern Alliance advance, despite 12 days of American bombardment against Taliban positions.

The Taliban dismissed opposition reports of territorial gains as "totally wrong" and claimed they had launched a successful counter-offensive. Northern Alliance forces had fled in disarray, leaving behind the corpses of 25 soldiers and several wounded, the pro-Taliban Afghan Islamic Press Agency reported.

Mazar-i-Sharif was the last major Afghan city to fall to the Taliban in 1997 - and was then briefly recaptured by opposition forces. If the city falls, the opposition could be expected to recapture completely the northern provinces of Balkh, Samangan and Faryab. These are traditionally Uzbek areas, where the Pashtun Taliban are regarded as hated foreign invaders. The Northern Alliance might also be able to split the Taliban's army in two and prevent its tactical retreat to Kabul.

But most analysts believe that this is an optimistic scenario, and say the Taliban have so far demonstrated more resilience than the US and British-led coalition has given them credit for.

"They can blast away at Taliban targets for as long as they like," retired General Mirza Aslam Beg, a former Pakistan army chief-of-staff, said. "But ultimately they are going to have to engage on the ground. I don't think they'll get Bin Laden from the air."

American jets have wiped out the Taliban's airports, as well as military installations and fuel dumps. But the Taliban's 45,000-strong army, much of it made up of committed Arab and foreign fighters, is essentially intact. As is the Taliban's fleet of pick-up trucks, which their commanders will deploy ruthlessly in any future land battle.

Informed western sources in Pakistan say the Taliban still have nearly 1,000 pick-up trucks, allowing them to move as many as 6,000 fighters at a time. The pick-ups, smuggled in from the Gulf, are fitted with sophisticated communications equipment. They can move in battle formation at high speeds across the mountainous terrain.

"The Americans have not even brought the pick-ups into the equation," Lt Gen Talat Masood, a friend of Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and a former minister, said last night. "They might get a nasty surprise if they try to land [special forces] in Afghanistan."

Some observers last night suggested that the Taliban could still have MiG aircraft at their disposal. The Americans seem confident that the Taliban's small fleet of ageing Soviet jets has been wiped out during repeated offensives. There has, meanwhile, been little solid evidence so far of large-scale Taliban defections to the opposition.

Another problem US military planners face is that the continuing bombing campaign appears to have consolidated support for the Taliban in areas where they were previously weak. Reports suggest that the Taliban are now distributing arms to civilians in Kabul. In Jalalabad, which has suffered intense bombardment, anti-US sentiment is now rampant.

-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), October 19, 2001



The Taliban are not dealing with an army that is unmotivated, underpayed and have never seen mass civilian casualties inflicted on their own people. Sounds like the Soviet Union doesn't it?



-- Steve McClendon (ke6bjd@yahoo.com), October 19, 2001.

"have never seen mass civilian" sould read: "have not recently seen"

-- Steve McClendon (ke6bjd@yahoo.com), October 19, 2001.

I don't think Robert really believes what the title says.

I bet it's just wishful thinking.


-- Jackson Brown (Jackson_Brown@deja.com), October 19, 2001.

The most dangerous factor for US forces is the remaining Stinger and H.E.A.T. missiles that the taliban and binladen have left over from the $800 million stock given to them by the CIA. It was the possibility of Stingers that kept the Apache helicopters grounded in Kosovo.

Without air supply lines the US can't support a large force on the ground... just as the Russians couldn't.

-- Mark Blaine (ytokca@yahoo.com), October 20, 2001.

The Guardian is so far left wing, and full of hatred for the U.S., that I don't believe a word they say.

-- R2D2 (r2d2@earthend.net), October 20, 2001.

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