Tuesday, September 25, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

USA may pit Northern Alliance against Taliban
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 24
There are strong indications in the strategic circles here that the USA may not use its own troops when the stage comes for launching ground assaults in Afghanistan.

Instead, the US-led multinational forces are planning to prop up the rebel Northern Alliance in a big way and prepare them to take on the Taliban when the time comes for ground assault, well-placed sources said today.

Senior leaders of the Northern Alliance — like the Uzbek leader General Dostum and former Herat Governor Ismail Khan, who were out of Afghanistan for quite some time — have returned to the Northern Alliance-controlled territory just recently. This is sure to boost the morale of the rebels which received a setback after the assassination of Commander Ahmad Shah Masood earlier this month.

Moreover, General Fahim, who has already taken over as Masood’s replacement, is known to be very close to General Dostum and good personal chemistry between them is likely to produce positive results.

Sources said the above-mentioned likely strategy of the USA did not mean that there would be no direct American involvement in the Afghanistan theatre. The Americans are likely to orchestrate their strategies in such a manner that they tighten the noose on Afghanistan through a massive mobilisation of their air and sea fleets.

After having softened the targeted areas — most likely through aerial bombings and ship-launched missiles — the USA has to go for the final offensive which has to be a ground assault. In a treacherous terrain like Afghanistan’s, the ground offensive is bound to be a long haul and fraught with danger. The advent of winter in the next six weeks can further complicate matters for the Americans.

The argument is that by getting the Northern Alliance to do to the Taliban what they did to President Burhanuddin Rabbani in the mid-nineties — claiming territory inch by inch — the Americans will make sure that by the time they quit the Afghan theatre, they do so with an acceptable number of body bags.

Despite public opinion polls in the USA which say that an overwhelmingly large number of Americans want military action against Osama bin Laden even though it may entail American casualties, US-watchers believe that Americans start getting concerned once the body bags start arriving.

The West, led by the USA and the United Kingdom, is being painstakingly methodical this time when it comes to taking on a State (Afghanistan) which is known to have humbled two superpowers of the day — first the UK in the 19th century and then the Soviet Union in the 20th century. The West has been using international diplomacy deftly.

The ongoing visit of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to Iran should be seen as part of the Western efforts to tighten the diplomatic noose around the Taliban, sources said. Mr Straw, who reached Teheran today, is the first top-ranking British envoy to reach Iran since the Iranian revolution of 1979.Back

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