14A - The Michigan Daily - Friday, September 21, 2001
The Washington Post
SLAMABAD, Pakistan - In a war against
Afghanistan, the world's only superpower would be
algningthe most sophisticated, high-tech military
weaponry ever developed against mud barracks,
mountain caves, a few hundred artillery pieces and a
savvy foe able to melt into the khaki folds of an already
In all the war-gaming of military academies and Pentagon
planners, the U.S. armed forces would be hard-pressed to
have invented a more intractable military scenario than
waging combat operations in this impoverished, bedraggled
land against a radicalized uerrilla force and its most
infamous resident --Saudi fugitive and accused terrorist
mastermind Osama bin Laden. U.S. officials have pointed
to bin Laden as the chief suspect in last week's terror
attacks in New York and Washington.
Afghanistan is an ethnically fragmented coun-
try with some of the most rugged and isolated
terrain the world, an infrastructure that has been
almost completely devastated by two decades of
continuous war, and a population struggling to
survive in the face of drought, famine and end-
less cycles of violence and bloodshed.
Unlike the multinational coalition attacks on
Belgrade and Baghdad over the last decade,
fought with high-precision weapons aimed at
selected targets, there are few major command
and control networks to be hit in Afghanistan,
where guerrilla battles are usually fought with
artillery barrages and mortar fire. Neither
require the sophisticated orchestration of First
The militant Islamic Taliban. movement,
which controls 90 percent to 95 percent of the
country, has amassed an eclectic arsenal of
aging tanks and other equipment left over from
the Soviet Union's failed occupation. It also
nabbed some overused aircraft from various
warring Afghan factions defeated since the
Taliban began its takeover of Afghanistan in
1994. More recently, new weapons, mostly
automatic rifles, machine guns and mortars,
have been supplied by bin Laden and other
wealthy Saudi benefactors.
The U.S. military learned during the Persian
Gulf War that months of bombing destroy
only a fraction of the Iraqi military hardw
arrayed across a flat desert, a lesson that co
apply to Afghanistan as well. "Carryingc
large-scale bombing of Afghanistan would b
mistake," Nikolai Kovalyov, former head oft
Russian Federal Security Service, a succes
agency to the KGB, said in an interview
Moscow. "We must learn from the lessons
history - we have not been able to solvet
problems of terrorism by large-scale bombin
There are enormous logistical hurdles to
attack on the Taliban and bin Laden.
In Afghanistan, U.S. surveillance satell
will see no sizable power grids, no vast m
tary bases, no major bridges and highwayn
works as targets: There are none. Spec
forces would land in a war zone that h
changed little from the desert country
nomadic tribes and medieval-looking villa
British troops invaded more than two centur
ago. Land forces, with virtually no access
local supplies, would be treading througho
of the most densely mined countries ont
globe amid a hostile population.
While Pakistan has given the United Sta
permission to use its airspace for miss
assaults and aerial bombardment
Afghanistan, the easiest military targ
ABOVE: Taliban soldiers on patrol in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in this May 27, 1997, file photo. According to the zealous Taliban, who have ruled in
Afghanistan since 1996, fidelity to Islam requires unprecedented harshness.
BELOW: Vendors work at a roadside market which emerged recently to fulfill the demand of Kabul's residents to stockpile food yesterday. People are
fearing strikes by the United States forces on Afghanistan in retaliation for terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11.
"For every train ful o explosives, perhaps threem _
guerrillas at most wil die. The country is filled '
with caves and crevices in which to hide.
- Nikolai Kovalyov, former Russian security chief
Focus on Afghanistan
Afghanistan is mountainous and filled with many places to hide. Osama bin Laden, the prime
suspect in last week's attacks, is thought to be harbored there by the Taliban regime. As a result,
the country fears reprisals.
Training camps/militia bases ATaliban army bases )C Military and/or civilian airfields ) Intl. Airpo
to already have disappeared, according to Pak-
one istan intelligence reports.
the The Taliban has emptied its training bases,
arms depots, command and government head-
ates quarters and has scattered its military hard-
ile ware. Bin Laden has gone into even deeper
of hiding than usual and has dispatched his family
ets members to a variety of locations, Pakistani
intelligence sources said.
The U.S. military failed to kill bin Laden on
a previous attempt in 1998 when it launched
missile attacks on his training bases and sus-
pected hideouts in Afghanistan in the aftermath
rt of two U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.
Even if the military destroys the Taliban's
empty training centers - most of which are
tA relatively unsophisticated complexes of con-
crete or baked-mud buildings that accommo-
date a few hundred men at a time - they could
be rebuilt with relative ease and would do little
damage to the movement's military apparatus,
which is accustomed to training under Spartan
The problems of locating useful targets and
destroying them in air assaults would pale
when compared with the complexity of trying
to land special forces or send ground troops
into the country, according to U.S. and Pak-
istani military planners.
"The first mistake would be a large-scale
land operation," said former Russian security
chief Kovalyov. "In the mountains there, it is
impossible to determine where or what to
destroy. For every trainful of explosives, per-
haps three guerrillas at most will die. The
country is filled with caves and crevices in
which to hide."
The Taliban is estimated to have no more
than 45,000 troops, including up to 12,000 for-
AP eign troops - Pakistanis, Arabs, Uzbeks and
others, according to most estimates. Pakistani
military officials said they are uncertain how
large an arsenal the Taliban has assembled but
said the militia is armed with Soviet T-59 and
T-55 tanks left-over from the 1980s, as well as
artillery guns, rocket-propelled grenade
launchers, antiaircraft and antitank missiles,
aging Soviet MIG and Sukoi fighter planes and
thousands of small arms and mortars.
But it is the guerrilla tactics of the Taliban
that make the militia more formidable than its
numbers might indicate. Those tactics were
instilled in what is now Taliban leadership by
Pakistan, with CIA backing during the rebels'
successful attempt to oust the Soviets, and more
recently honed by bin Laden's Arab soldiers.
Senior Pakistani military and intelligence
officials - whose officers have have advised,
coordinated and in many cases participated in
combat in Afghanistan with various factions
over the past 20 years - said they are warning
U.S. war planners of the daunting challenges.
"You yourself (the United States) trained
them to be the best guerrilla force in the world,"
said a former Pakistani intelligence official who
said he advised Islamic freedom fighters under
CIA-sponsored programs during the rebels' war
with Soviet forces in the 1980s. "Some of these
Taliban were the CIA's superstars."
Invading forces have been attempting to con-
quer Afghanistan and tame its feuding tribes
for centuries. And in every instance, it was the
politically charged ethnic divisions that under-
mined efforts to unify the country. It is a legacy
that may not only govern how the U.S. military
would plot attacks, but also the problems it
would generate to fill the void created if the
military objective is to dismantle the Taliban
Afghanistan's population, estimated to be
about 25 million; is a volatile mixture of ethnic
groups: about 38 percent Pashtun, 25 percent
Tajik, 6 percent Uzbek, 19 percent Hazara,
along with small numbers of Aimaks, Turkmen
and Baloch. Most of the population speaks an
Afghan form of Persian called Dari, Pashtun,
or one of more than 30 other minor languages.
The language barriers alone offer a vivid
example of problems land forces or follow-up
efforts at rehabilitation of the country would
pose, according to military planners.
While the warlords and military commanders
who controlled each of these groups were united
in their effort to dislodge Soviet forces. But when
Moscow withdrew its troops in 1989, a power-
sharing government composed of the former
rebel leaders quickly disintegrated into civil war,
with the defense minister and president assem-
bling their own army to fight the prime minister.
It was the brutality and destruction of those
wars that led to the formation of the Taliban in
1994, though the movement's rise can also be
traced to ethnic and religious animosities going
back three centuries.
SOURCES ESRI Jane's;GlobalSecuty org compiled from AP wire reports
is trained to
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - After five years of mili-
tary losses to the Taliban, Afghanistan's opposition has
found a powerful new ally in the United States, which is
threatening to attack Afghanistan to flush out Osama bin
The opposition controls barely 5 percent of Afghanistan,
but is deeply familiar with the rugged terrain and would
have invaluable intelligence for the United States. Many of
its fighters were warriors in the U.S.-backed insurgency
against the former Soviet Union.
"We have 15,000 people ready to fight. They are trained
to fight the Taliban," A.G. Ravan Farhadi, the opposition's
envoy in the United Nations, said earlier this week.
The United States has told the Taliban it must hand over
bin Laden, whom they blame for last week's suicide attacks
in New York and Washington, or face military retaliation.
The opposition could provide U.S. forces with informa-
tion on locations and geography inside Afghanistan, and a
U.S. special forces team could use opposition-held territory
as a staging ground for any assault, analysts say.
According to diplomatic sources in Pakistan, the United
States has already begun meeting with opposition leaders. It
wasn't clear where the meetings were being held.
There were also reports that U.S. personnel were in north-
Explaining the Taliban
The Islamic militia that controls Afghanistan has called on all
Muslims to wage a holy war on the United States if attacked.
The Taliban (or "students")
emerged in 1994 with many
followers who had attended
conservative Muslim schools
in Pakistan. They rose to power
on promises of peace in a
country ravaged by a decade-
long war with the Soviet Union
and subsequent fighting Taliban men at a Sept. 15 press
between Islamic factions. In conferencein Islamabad, Pakistan
1996, the Taliban took the capital Kabul, and now control 95
percent of Afghanistan.
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive leader, is supported by
a circle of eight to 10 colleagues. Veterans of the war against the
Soviets fill their fighting ranks. Rules are enforced by the Ministry
of Virtue and Vice, a religious police force.
"No other Islamic country comes close," says Afghan Scholar Amin
Tarzi, to the Taliban's extreme variant of Islam. Many of the rules
which they base on their interpretation of the Quran, including an
end to schooling for girls past the age of 8, have alienated them
from Muslims outside Afghanistan.
Support and opposition
The Organization of the Islamic Conference refused to admit the
regime and only three of the 56 member nations (Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia, United Arab Emirates) have granted it full diplomatic
SOURCES: AP wire reports; Federation of American Scientists AP
ing stuffed with explosives blew up, killing Massood's
spokesman and eventually Massood.
No one has been able to link the assassination and the ter-
ror attacks, but some opponents of the Taliban say it was
intended to weaken the opposition ahead of an expected
retaliatory assault by Washington against Afghanistan.
Taliban has weaknesses
that could be exploited
Los Angeles Times
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - To get their hands on Saudi mili-
tant Osama bin Laden, U.S.-led forces likely would have to
first deal with his hosts, Afghanistan's Taliban fighters. And as
military planners probe for weak spots, they would find sever-
al to exploit.
Compared to the modern armies that the United States and
its allies defeated in Iraq and Yugoslavia over the past decade,
say experts here, the Taliban's weapons, training and organiza-
tion are almost as poor as the country that the fundamentalist
Islamic movement controls.
Although the Afghans are tough opponents in combat, as
British and Soviet occupiers discovered in the past, the U.S.
and allied forces could knock the Taliban government off-bal-
ance by going after its key leaders rather than launching heavy
airstrikes. Then the Afghan people might well finish the job
by rising against the unpopular regime, Afghan and Pakistani
"In the Taliban, you have a force which is a ragtag army of
the defeated late 19th-century type" said Rasul Bakhsh Rais,
a political science professor at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam
University, who has studied Afghanistan's wars for 20 years.
"Frankly speaking, they literally are in a hopeless situation,"
added Rais, who is convinced the Taliban's days are numbered
even if the regime turns over bin Laden, viewed by U.S. offi-
cials as a prime suspect in last week's attacks-on New York
and the Pentagon. "In no way are they going to save their
Family members sit around a newly constructed bomb
shelter in the courtyard of a house In the southern parts of
the city of Kabul Wednesday. Taliban leaders, warning of a
possible U.S. attack, urged them to prepare for a holy war.
protection of bin Laden turned American officials away.
The Bush administration faces risks of its own. The United
States was badly stung before by underestimating its enemies,
most recently during a 1993 debacle in Somalia, when the
death of 18 American soldiers in one street fight brought criti-
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