October 2001: When America went to war against the
Taliban on Sunday, 7 October, no one believed that it would end soon.
Historians spoke of British defeats in the Afghan wars in the years of the
Empire. Soviet veterans who had fought and lost against the mujahideen between
1979-89 said that the US had little chance of winning the war.
Associated Press quoted one of them, Lieutenant-General (retired) Ruslan
Aushev, as saying, “You can occupy (Afghanistan), you can put troops there
and keep bombing, but you cannot win.” Aushev was also scathing about
American chances of grabbing Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 11
September terror attacks against America.
as easy to lose yourself in the mountains as in the jungles,” Aushev said.
US forces, he continued, would find Bin Laden “only if they’re ready to go
over 500,000 square kilometres rock by rock.”
yet, the main argument against a likely US defeat, apart from its superpower
status, was that America was not alone in fighting the Taliban. All the
neighbours of Afghanistan, except Pakistan, were with the US against the
Pakistan had been railroaded into supporting the anti-Taliban alliance of the
has the war since 7 October gone the US way? Is the Taliban’s resistance
over? If the American public were to seek a cost-benefit analysis of the US
war in the past 12 days, what could the Bush administration say?
the US close to winning?
in a while.
the military campaign. The US has spearheaded some of the heaviest bombardment
against Afghanistan from four carrier task forces against two deployed in the
Gulf war against Iraq. It has also deployed two nuclear submarines from the
Guam base in case the Taliban attack US ground troops with chemical and
biological weapons. Nine missile frigates and eight guided-missile destroyers
are part of the US force apart from the British armada anchored off the Gulf.
US has fired 240 cruise missiles against Afghanistan since 7 October. Such US
warplanes as B-1, B-2, B-52, F-117, F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18 and F-18 Eagle have
conducted 750 sorties and dropped 2500 bombs and other weapons including
bunker busters on Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharief, Khost, Herat,
Shiberghan, Shindabad, and Kunduz.
missiles and bombs killed civilians, UN workers and deminers in Kabul, off
Jalalabad, and in Kandahar. Their numbers are in dispute but the Taliban put
them over 300.
was the damage to the Taliban?
US military claimed to have blasted the Taliban’s military and command
headquarters in Jalalabad and Kandahar and military airfields across
Afghanistan, flattened Osama Bin Laden’s chemical weapons factory in
Kandahar and Al-Qaeda training camps, considerably degraded the Taliban air
defence and communication systems, and destroyed a considerable part of the
Taliban’s small airforce of MiG-21 and Su-22 fighters. It was also put out
that several of the Taliban’s underground bunkers in southern and
southeastern Afghanistan were destroyed by 5000-pound bunker busters.
how has it been really?
soldiers were dancing on the streets of Jalalabad after a cruise missile hit
their headquarters. Why were they dancing? Insiders have told this magazine
that the headquarters had been emptied earlier on Pakistani advice. The US
claim that Taliban command bunkers were exploded by bunker busters is
exaggerated. Information coming out of Afghanistan suggests that a
considerable majority of the 650 to 700 seven-12-kilometre-long bunkers hiding
the Taliban hierarchy in southern and southeastern Afghanistan are intact.
in Delhi say that the Taliban has also constructed huge sangers of
boulders held up by logs and covered by sand in northwestern Afghanistan and
hidden most of their airforce in them. The claimed degradation of Taliban’s
air-defence system is also doubtful: Taliban has been firing surface-to-air
missiles besides surface-to-surface missiles at the Northern Alliance and also
military specialists say that the sunflower sparks lighting up Al-Jazeera’s
cameras that the US claims to have neutralised could be no more than towed
anti-aircraft gunfire or shoulder-fired Iglas. “The Taliban have taken most
of their fixed air defence systems underground,” said a military specialist.
“And no radar station was hit with anti-radiation missiles. So I doubt if
all their communications are down.”
US pilots admit that they have run out of targets. They are returning to base
after expending only 20 per cent of their ammunitions because of a lack of
targets. The British military realised this possibility after the first day of
joint action with US forces and restricted itself to giving logistical and
communications support to them thereafter. “The British were not sure of the
air intelligence provided by Pakistan and withdrew from active campaign,”
said a diplomat.
the clinching failure related to US special forces dropped into Afghanistan
from 13 September, two days after the World Trade Center and Pentagon
bombings, to locate and destroy Osama Bin Laden and key Al-Qaeda terrorists.
There were suggestions in the US press that the dreaded Delta force could be
in Afghanistan: except that Osama Bin Laden could not be captured. And in
northern Afghanistan, a Special Air Services team prowling for Bin Laden
skirmished with the Taliban because of misleading or outdated Pakistani
intelligence that blew their cover.
after 12 days of superpower bombing of a military pipsqueak, Bush told
reporters at a California airforce base on his way to China, “The enemy’s
air force and air defences are being demolished.” And his Afghan
adversary, the Taliban supremo, Mullah Mohammad Omar, sent a message to his
followers that he was well and the campaign against America would continue.
has the US war against Afghanistan been as ineffective?
reasons are obvious. Afghanistan had far fewer built-up military structures
than Iraq or Bosnia. It was inevitable that the Taliban would use the caves
and bunkers built from the time of Alexander and expanded in the Soviet
occupation during air attacks and secret most of their crucial military
equipment within them.
US could get at them with accurate air intelligence that the Pakistanis did
not have or did not provide. Intelligence sources said that Pakistan created
delays in the US military operations that allowed the Taliban to regroup and
safeguard its military assets. “Pakistan taught the Taliban the lessons of
the Gulf war where Saddam Hussain erected dummy structures to entice US
warplanes to bomb them,“ said an official.
is not all. Officials estimate that some 2500 Pakistani officers and soldiers
could be fighting with the Taliban and giving new ideas of resistance. They
see a Pakistani hand in the Taliban’s effective information warfare: the
shepherding of international journalists to the site of civilian killings in
Kadam village, 40 kilometres west off Jalalabad, is similar to Pakistani media
management during the May 1999 Kargil war with India.
officials also see a Pakistan design in the minimal US bombing of Kabul and
the heavy bombardment of Jalalabad. They also say that Pakistan give
intelligence of targets in Kandahar but left out the suburbs where the Al-Qaeda
had its real networks. The areas were bombarded much later after the networks
had been vacated.
said an official, “has been insincere to the US goal from the beginning.”
is giving the impression that the US cannot win the war.”
interest is to retain control over Afghanistan since it gives it strategic
depth against India. Pakistan wants to save the Taliban since the alternative,
the Burhanuddin Rabbani-led Northern Alliance, is implacably opposed to it. An
US-aided ground offensive by the Northern Alliance would put the Taliban in a
pincer against US-backed Pakistani troops in southern and southeastern
Afghanistan. But Pakistan is opposed to any US backing to the Northern
Alliance that is supported by India, Russia, Iran, and the Central Asian
the pincer is not developing in Afghanistan. The Taliban is not being
Pakistan has led up the US to a garden-path bombing of Afghanistan.
now, there is more deception coming US’s way. Pakistan says that a
“moderate” section of the Taliban will overcome Mullah Omar’s hardline
forces and deliver Osama Bin Laden dead or alive to the US. While the world is
unsure of what the term “moderate” Taliban means, the US seems to be going
along with the Pakistan line.
reported yesterday in our Intelligence section (“Interim partition of
Afghanistan soon,” 17 October 2001) that the US, Russia, India, Iran and
Pakistan had secretly agreed to the interim division of the Afghanistan into
three parts. Northwestern Afghanistan will be controlled by the Northern
Alliance, Kabul by the UN, and southeastern Afghanistan by the “moderate”
three areas have to be sanitised off the Taliban before the Loya Jirga
or Afghan grand assembly sets up an interim government there ahead of
multi-party elections. But while the Northern Alliance and the UN backed by
the US will cleanse their areas of the Taliban, what is the guarantee that the
“moderate” Taliban will do the same in its part? Pakistan will have to egg
them on against Mullah Omar’s men. But will Pakistan?
is the surety that Pakistan won’t let Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden, and the
Al-Qaeda terrorists escape? What is the guarantee that Pakistan’s
“moderate” Taliban are not the hardliners waiting for their main chance?
What is to prevent the interim government from collapsing from Pakistani
machinations like Pakistan’s sabotage of America’s war against
Clearly, America’s war against terror is threatened by Pakistan. Pakistan is gradually making the US powerless to act against the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda while reducing Afghanistan to powder. America cannot embrace a “moderate” Taliban and still claim to be avenging the death of 7000 people on 11 September.