--- "Alex F. Bokov" <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> -----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
> How the US might be doing exactly what Pig Latin
> wants us to do, and
> what his big picture plan might be.
The above article seems to come from a source which--I
haven't checked their curriculum vitae, and remain
skeptical--would like to be seen as possessing the
powers and abilities (and therefor deserving of the
credibility and prestige)of an "intelligence"
organization. Another "analysis" of the situation,
from the spook community at stratfor.com, can be found
I read "Part 1", but failed to copy it, and now it is
unavailable except to "subscribers". To avoid the
access problem in the case of "Part 2", I have
included it, full test, below.
Ground War: The Northern Alliance Offensive
2355 GMT, 011107
The Pentagon is planning ground operations in
Afghanistan because an air campaign alone will not
defeat the Taliban. A strategic offensive by the
Northern Alliance, with extensive U.S. air support,
appears the most desirable option. But with opposition
troops unlikely to capture Kabul before winter falls,
the United States must prepare ground forces to launch
attacks in Afghanistan next spring.
It is increasingly clear that the U.S. air campaign
alone will not break up the Taliban's resistance in
Afghanistan. With the harsh Afghan winter fast
approaching the Taliban as defiant as ever, there is
no hope that the war in Afghanistan will be over soon.
The Pentagon must explore ground war options in the
Any ground force assembled from abroad would not be
able to launch before spring. Only forces already in
Afghanistan have a chance to defeat the Taliban before
winter. The U.S. command appears to be pinning its
hopes on the Northern Alliance, the only organized
military force opposing the Taliban on the ground.
However, the Northern Alliance lacks the manpower,
skills and equipment necessary to defeat the Taliban
in combat near Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.
The Northern Alliance -- a loose coalition of Tajiks,
Uzbeks and Hazaras -- has been fighting the Taliban
for seven years with little success. When the United
States launched air strikes a month ago, it did not
immediately try to help the Northern Alliance by
bombing the Taliban frontline positions.
The Bush administration did this for two reasons.
First, it was mindful that crucial coalition supporter
Pakistan is a foe of Northern Alliance. Second, the
administration hoped that an air campaign and covert
attempts to turn Pushtun tribes in the country against
the Taliban would do much to achieve its goals.
Washington believed that the Pushtuns themselves would
overthrow the hard-line regime of Taliban leader
Mullah Mohammed Omar. But attempts by prominent
Pushtun leaders, including recently executed
opposition leader Abdul Haq, have failed so far.
A week ago, Washington switched its strategy to heavy
bombing of Taliban forces opposing Northern Alliance
troops in positions north of Kabul, south of the
northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and close to the
Afghan-Tajik border in the northeast. The Bush
administration apparently believes that its massive
support to the Northern Alliance will not alienate
Pakistan, since even with the fall of Kabul the war
would be far from over and a role for pro-Pakistani
Pushtuns in a future government could still be
The United States hopes the bombing will encourage the
Northern Alliance to launch a major offensive. So far,
the opposition has not undertaken an attack against
Kabul. Minor attacks at Mazar-e-Sharif have been
repulsed, although some tactical success was reported
40 miles south of the city on Nov. 6.
With the U.S. bombing campaign intensifying in recent
days, the Pentagon expects the Northern Alliance to
launch a major assault before winter. U.S. Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seems to have finalized the
coordinated support for such an offensive during his
recent visits to Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and
India. A spokesman for the Northern Alliance said Nov.
5 that the group is preparing to launch a major
offensive in about a week.
The plan is likely to include almost simultaneous
attacks on Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. Taking Kabul
would mean a major military defeat for the Taliban and
would cut off its forces in the north from
Pushtun-populated areas in eastern and southern
Taliban strongholds. The United States would then be
able to establish a ground and air force presence in
the capital area and would be in a better position to
launch fresh attacks on the Taliban.
As important as Kabul is, taking Mazar-e-Sharif is
even more important. It would establish for the first
time a land corridor from abroad into Afghanistan, and
it could be used as an invasion route for U.S. ground
forces from Uzbekistan next spring.
Taking the city would also mean cutting the Taliban
forces in the north into two isolated groups, one in
western Afghanistan and another in the northeast. That
would make it easier for the opposition to defeat
significant Taliban formations and clear all of
northern Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance would also
establish direct communication and supply lines via
Mazar-e-Sharif between its forces in northwestern and
The ground attacks by the Northern Alliance will
likely be supported by close U.S. air support,
including AC-130s and helicopter gunships. Air strikes
will be coordinated by U.S. Special Forces on the
ground, which will identify targets and the immediate
needs of the opposition units on the ground.
A major offensive on Mazar-e-Sharif would have to
start a few days before an attack on Kabul. The
Northern Alliance would want some forces, after they
have captured the city, to advance south along a major
highway to Pol-e-Khomri. Taking this city would cut
off a strong Kunduz grouping of the Taliban in the
north. Allied forces would then proceed further south
through the strategic Salang pass to secure the
heights around the Bagram air base and eventually join
the fight in Kabul.
Though the Northern Alliance command envisions heavy
fighting at each stage, especially around Kabul, it is
counting on a focused and severe U.S. bombing to make
Taliban frontline resistance impossible. The
opposition hopes to take Mazar-e-Sharif in three days
after the beginning of a major attack there and then
capture Kabul by the end of the month.
Impact of geography and terrain
The Northern Alliance offensive will take place on
very complex terrain, mostly high-altitude mountains.
The Hindu Kush mountains to the north of Kabul range
from 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) to 6,000 meters
(19,686 feet). The altitude descends in the direction
of Kabul to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet)and lower. The
Alliance forces near Kabul will use the mouth of the
Panjshir Valley as their staging ground. As it nears
Kabul, the fight will be concentrated on a narrow
front. On the one hand, this means the opposition will
have to use mostly frontal attacks that typically lead
to heavy losses. On the other hand, the concentration
of Taliban defenders in a small area means that they
are also likely to suffer major casualties from the
U.S. bombardment. The key to taking Kabul is securing
control over several strategic heights where the
Taliban forces have fortified their positions for
The hardest part for the Alliance would be if some
Taliban forces decide to fight within the city limits.
Urban fighting in Kabul -- a large city with myriad,
partly ruined low buildings and hundreds of narrow
streets and dead ends - would represent a nightmare
for any attacking force.
The Alliance reinforcements that intend to join the
fight for the capital after taking Mazar-e-Sharif
would have to move slowly because the only highway
from there to Kabul is barely usable, due to numerous
bombings and mine explosions in recent years. The main
obstacle would be getting through the strategic Salang
Pass, which has an altitude of 3,878 meters (12,723
feet). The pass previously served the opposition well;
Alliance fighters exploded the south entry in order to
stop the Taliban offensive to the north. Now the
Taliban can use the same or similar techniques to stop
Alliance forces from advancing south.
As to Mazar-e-Sharif, the city is located in the
steppes. Like any large city, it could potentially bog
down an attacking force. But it will be even more
difficult for Alliance forces to overcome stiff
Taliban resistance in the rogue foothills of the
Bozarak mountain range, where heavy fighting with no
decisive changes has been reported for the last
several days. Unfortunately for the opposition, it
does not control the plains to the north of the city.
However, this northern route from the Uzbek border
city of Termez can be used by Uzbekistan's government
forces if President Islam Karimov decides to send
troops camouflaged as Northern Alliance fighters to
the battle for Mazar-e-Sharif. Uzbek military sources
say Karimov is keen on the idea but hesitates because
he fears political repercussions at home and reprisals
from the Taliban.
A poor network of airfields in the regions around
Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif make close air support for a
ground offensive very difficult. The only airstrip the
United States can try to use for both logistics and
fire support has just been built with advice from U.S.
instructors in Gulbohar. The airstrip is located at
the mouth of the Panjshir Valley, 50 miles to the
north of the capital. Using it will be risky due to
its proximity to the frontline. The Taliban are
threatening to destroy the airstrip by firing tactical
missiles and long-range howitzers, Pakistan's Nation
reported Nov. 7.
It would appear that the task of providing close air
support to Northern Alliance troops in the forthcoming
offensive will fall almost entirely to the U.S. Air
Force and Navy located outside the country. In this
regard, getting three air bases just to the north of
the war theater, in Tajikistan -- as was announced
during Rumsfeld's visit to the country -- may help.
But getting the bases ready to host the U.S. ground
attack aircraft will take time. It is unlikely this
job will be finished by the time the Northern Alliance
launches its offensive.
The balance of military forces near the frontlines at
Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif will determine the success of
the Northern Alliance offensive. The opposition lacks
the necessary minimum manpower and equipment ratio of
3:1 to defeat the Taliban.
On the Kabul front, the Taliban -- with 15,000
soldiers deployed in three brigade-size formations --
outnumbers the alliance despite the U.S. bombing
campaign. A 4,000-strong brigade of Pakistani
volunteers is also moving into position near Kabul. Of
about 8,000 more Pakistani volunteers that crossed the
border to join the fight, about 2,000 traveled to the
Kabul front. Some 5,000 Arab militants were based in
Afghanistan before U.S. strikes began Oct. 7, and a
majority of them are still in the Kabul area. With
nothing to lose, they will prove among the city's
staunchest defenders -- unless the Taliban and al
Qaeda commanders disperse them and other forces in the
countryside to prepare for guerrilla attacks. Since
Oct. 7, hundreds of other Arabs and other militants
have entered Afghanistan, potentially bringing the
Taliban's manpower at Kabul to 25,000.
Most are light infantry armed with Kalashnikov
submachine-guns, other small arms and grenade
launchers. About 60 tanks, 80 infantry combat vehicles
(ICVs) and armed personnel carriers (APCs), 60 various
field guns and howitzers (from 76- to 152-mm caliber),
70 multiple rocket launching systems, hundreds of
mortars, anti-tank weapons and recoilless rifles -
almost all Soviet-made - are still operational at
Kabul. There may be about 10 operational SS-1A/B SCUD
surface-to-surface tactical missiles. Taliban air
defenses there include more than 100 low-range
anti-aircraft guns and a few dozen Stingers. What is
left after the U.S. bombing is unlikely to be used in
the battle for Kabul.
Tajik forces, the strongest part of the anti-Taliban
coalition, will launch the offensive on Kabul. About
12,000 fighters are gathered on the front. Until
recently the Alliance had about 40 tanks there and
roughly the same number of ICVs and APCs, about 50
various artillery pieces, about 15 SCUD and FROG-7
missiles and dozens of other heavy weapons, all
In October, Russia decided to provide extensive,
urgent deliveries to the Tajik force. These included
about 40 T-55 tanks, 100 other armored vehicles, six
batteries of 122-mm D-30 howitzers, two batteries of
100-mm MT-12 anti-tank guns, four batteries of 120-mm
mortars, three batteries of 82-mm automatic mortars,
10 122-mm Grad multiple rocket launchers, 100
anti-tank missile launchers, 200 grenade launchers and
thousands of small arms, as well as four to six Mi-24
helicopter gunships and the same number of transport
helicopters, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Oct. 10,
citing military sources. Almost all the arms - paid
for by Britain -- were designated for the Kabul front.
STRATFOR believes that only a minor portion of this
arsenal has reached the frontline, for two reasons: a
majority was sent by train, and Uzbekistan - which
supports only Uzbek factions of the Northern Alliance
-- has not allowed Russian trains with arms to cross
the Uzbek-Tajik border. The arms have had to follow a
longer route via Kyrgyzstan.
On the Mazar-e-Sharif front, the Taliban has deployed
two 2,500-strong battalions. About 3,000 militants
from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and
roughly 1,000 Chechen fighters also defend the mostly
Uzbek-populated city. In addition, pro-Taliban forces
may receive some reinforcements from larger
contingents located to the east in the area of Kunduz:
2,500 Taliban soldiers and about 5,000 IMU militants.
Mazar-e-Sharif defenders are armed with 20 tanks, 30
ICVs and APCs, 25 various field guns and howitzers, 15
multiple rocket launching systems, several dozen
mortars, anti-tank weapons and recoilless rifles.
Taliban air defenses there include about 40 low-range
anti-aircraft guns and about 10 Stingers.
The Uzbek forces of Gen. Abdul Dostum - who is
infamous for repeatedly changing sides during the
Afghan civil war - will launch the offensive on
Mazar-e-Sharif. Dostum has about 7,000 fighters on the
front, including about 2,000 on loan from the Uzbek
army, according to sources at the Uzbek Ministry of
Defense. They are armed with about 15 tanks and 30
ICVs and APCs, about 20 various artillery pieces, 10
multiple rocket launchers and several dozen other
heavy weapons. Russia does little to supply this Uzbek
force, and Uzbekistan cannot fully substitute for
Moscow. On the eve of the offensive, U.S. transport
helicopters were actively supplying Dostum with
ammunition from Uzbekistan's caches.
Yet on both fronts, Northern Alliance troops are still
short of ammunition and fuel, and they have gone
unpaid for months. One commander on the Kabul front
said each of his tanks has been allocated 26 gallons
of fuel, "just about enough to drive to the frontline
and back," according to Agence France Presse.
Also, on both fronts, the Taliban have cleared large
areas around vital defense areas and laid tens of
thousands of mines. Many bridges and tracks in ravines
and narrow passes have been prepared for demolition
and ambush, while accumulated reserves of ammunition,
spares and fuel may last at least six months in
combat, according to AFI Research.
On both fronts, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance
lack coherent command and communications structures
typical of modern armies. But the Taliban appears to
have a larger number of combat-tested Afghan field
commanders, some command cadres from Pakistan and
experienced guerrilla leaders from Chechnya, Kashmir
and some Arab countries.
The U.S. bombing campaign has not broken the Taliban's
morale, which remains higher than the combat spirits
of the Northern Alliance. The same is true for combat
qualities and skills of the soldiers. In a war in
which light infantry plays a vital role, these
advantages are likely to help the Taliban withstand
the forthcoming Northern Alliance offensive.
A Northern Alliance offensive represents the only
chance for the United States and its allies to turn
the tide of war before winter comes. U.S. air strikes
will play a crucial role in this offensive, but a few
factors may preclude the opposition from taking full
advantage of close air support.
First, close air support cannot be effective if the
attack aircraft originate thousands of miles from the
war theater, which excludes B-52s and other strategic
bombers. Carrier-based F-18s and F-16s also lack the
range to reach Mazar-e-Sharif. That leaves the United
States with only 21 AC-130s and about 25 F-14s capable
of refueling and reaching the frontlines. Washington
could improve its position if U.S. helicopter gunships
from Uzbekistan are used, and if Russia and Uzbekistan
send their ground assault aircraft into battle.
Second, Northern Alliance commanders and soldiers lack
experience in conducting consecutive ground attacks
under close air support. The help of U.S. Special
Forces on the ground is unlikely to reduce confusion,
and some friendly bombing within the opposition units
Third, on the both fronts the ferocity of combat will
often amount to close and even hand-to-hand combat.
Providing air support in these instances will be
Fourth, even if all strategic heights around Kabul are
leveled, the battle for the city will not be over. The
Taliban is likely to engage the Northern Alliance in
street fighting, and some Kabul citizens -- half of
whom are Pushtuns who remember atrocities committed by
Tajik and Uzbek troops in 1992 to 1995 -- are likely
to join the defenders' ranks.
The most the Northern Alliance can do by winter is
capture some important heights north of Kabul under
heavy U.S. air support, allowing the city to be
shelled through winter. However, it is more likely a
Northern Alliance offensive will be bogged down and
make only minor tactical gains.
Dostum's offensive on Mazar-e-Sharif may be more
successful if a couple of Uzbek mechanized infantry
brigades move toward the city. Both sides could
encircle and gradually squeeze the defenders out of
town. But even then, the fate of the battle in
northern Afghanistan would remain far from certain.
The Taliban has a 1,500-person force on the
Afghan-Uzbek border that may delay Uzbekistan's march
southward. The difference in combat qualities of each
side is such that several hundred Chechen fighters
could also easily wear down the forces of Dostum and
Uzbekistan in urban fighting in Mazar-e-Sharif.
No air support, however devastating and timely, can
save a ground force from defeat if it is inferior to a
determined opponent on the ground. If the United
States is serious about destroying the Taliban, a
bloody war next year with numerous U.S. and allied
forces on the ground in Afghanistan is a must.
Best, Jeff Davis
"Everything's hard till you know how to do it."
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