The 21st Century went to war against the 11th Century in Afghanistan last week. The 11th Century won.
US warplanes cluster-bombed the usual natives, but the intensive air attacks failed to dislodge Taliban tribal warriors from positions north of Kabul.
Osama bin Laden was not found. Hundreds of Afghan civilians were killed by off-target American bombs. The Red Cross in Kabul was hit for a second time. US aircraft attempted to assassinate Mullah Omar, Talibans leader, but failed and killed his young son and two brothers. A major, 100-man US commando raid was a failure. Taliban very likely shot down a US helicopter.
Mass defections from Taliban predicted by Washingtons `experts, didnt happen. Afghans flocked to join Taliban. Thousands of Pushtun tribesmen from Pakistan crossed into Afghanistan over the fabled Malakand Pass to fight the American invaders.
In this same region during the early 20th Century, British colonial troops battled two notorious Islamic devils, the Osama bin Ladens of their day: the ferocious but elusive Fakir of Ipi, and that scourge of Victorian Imperialism, the `Mad Mullah, who led 20,000 wild Pashtun holy warriors down the Malakand to drive the infidel `farangi from Peshawar and the lands of Islam. Peshawar was only saved by British warplanes and artillery.
Americas new Afghan allies, the Northern Alliance, a motley, Russian-created force of former communists, opium dealers, bandits, and unwarlike tribesmen, struck ferocious poses for gullible western TV teams, but failed to advance an inch. Meanwhile, the US bombing of Afghanistans main cities created many thousands more refugees at a time when 4 million Afghans are starving.
Not exactly a proud week for American arms. Operation Ultimate Hubris was off to a poor start.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem admitted with exasperation that Taliban `are proving to be tough warriors. Arrogance and ignorance are a deadly combination. Unfortunately, they are often hallmarks of US foreign policy. The Pentagon brass and President George Bush should have read a book about Afghanistan before launching a war against a fierce nation about which few in Washington know anything.
Blinded by rage and the need to avenge the frightful crimes committed on 11 September, the US charged into Afghanistan with no plan of action, and no exit strategy. Washington has every right to bring terrorists to justice through police and intelligence operations. But not to launch a general war against Afghans who had nothing to do with attacks on America.
Who will replace Taliban? The Northern Alliances Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras are feuding. When Tajik forces last ruled Kabul, they battled Uzbeks and Pushtuns, killed tens of thousands of civilians, and left the city in ruins. The late Tajik warlord, dashing Ahmad Massoud, assassinated on 9 Sept., was fawned on by the western media and hailed as `the lion of Panjsher. If he was the Lion of Panjsher, then Im the Lion of Kabul. Massoud was hated by most non-Tajik Afghans as a traitor and long-time collaborator with the Soviets, Russians, and KGB. I recall vividly when he abandoned the jihad and went over to the Soviets.
The Uzbek leader, Rashid Dostam, a former communist warlord, is a bloodthirsty criminal, mass murderer, and Washingtons new best friend. Dostam unleashed his feared Uzbek-Mongol `jawzjani militia against Kabul in an orgy of slaughter, pillage and mass rape. Washington main Pushtun ally, Abdul Haq, was captured by Taliban last week.
To end the rapine and chaos, Pakistani intelligence helped create a force of religious seminarians, or Talibs, many of them orphans left from the struggle against Soviet occupation that killed 1.5 million Afghans. Taliban defeated the Northern Alliance and brought order albeit a harsh, medieval order, to Afghanistan but a traditional tribal order no different from the rest of Afghanistan, and many parts of Iran, Pakistan, and rural India.
Taliban will probably be driven from Kabul. But Taliban represents Pushtuns, half the nations population. The Talibs vow to fight from the mountains, and I certainly believe them. Who will keep a pro-US/pro-Russian regime in power in Kabul? American troops will likely be required. How will the American garrison be supplied? Just like the Imperial British invaders, who were twice defeated by the Afghans, US forces will have to rely on vulnerable land supply lines at great distances from their depots that cross narrow mountain passes.
The other alternative, air supply of an American garrison in Kabul, is a recipe for a Dienbienphu-like disaster. The Soviet Red Army tried everything from carpet bombing to poison gas and biological warfare to break the Afghans, but failed. Soviet garrisons were isolated and chewed up, one by one. I was in the field with Pushtun warriors who were so poor they could not afford shoes. These mujihadin climbed barefooted ten miles through deep mountain snow with 100 lbs of mortar shells on their backs, fired them at a Soviet base, and treked back under air attack.
I suggest the good Adm. Stuffelbeam go read Kiplings warning to British troops trying to fight their way through ferocious Afridi tribesmen guarding the Khyber Pass: `save your last bullet for yourself.
As it becomes increasingly evident the 11 Sept attacks were planned in Egypt and Germany, and delivered by Saudis, Americas laying of fire and sword on Afghanistan makes less and less sense. The US should declare victory and decamp from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia before it gets stuck in an aimless, endless war.
Copyright eric s. margolis 2001
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