Tales of the ongoing retreat of Taliban forces from the major
strategic sites and cities within Afghanistan has Americans
understandably optimistic over the direction of the war on
terrorism. President Bush is slowly but surely vindicated in
many segments of America’s lefty pundit class, as accelerated
and increased bombing campaigns and a surprisingly svelte
Northern Alliance warrior force greatly curtail Taliban fighting
capabilities. Yours truly is even eating a portion of crow
because the situation now looks to be manageable without the
introduction of large-scale ground forces. And for that I am
thankful, even if my two most recent columns now appear wholly
But although the goon Mullah Omar and his diabolical sidekick
Usama bin Laden seem ripe for the kill and might be rounded up
before this column is posted, methinks the Taliban retreat is
more calculated than anything else. For a number of reasons, the
least of which is not merciless American bombing of Taliban
positions the past ten days, the apparent Taliban implosion has
a more sinister, purposeful motive than the knee-jerk
explanation that "the Taliban defenses are buckling."
No, the sudden retreat and apparent defeat of Taliban fighters
is not the beginning of the end, but really just the beginning.
For weeks President Bush and others have warned of the
intricacies involved in installing a new government in Kabul.
Ethnic considerations and tribal animosity meant Northern
Alliance entry into and command of Kabul was discouraged, if not
tacitly prohibited. American policy makers repeatedly warned the
Northern Alliance against occupation during the buildup to the
eventual Taliban-abandonment of Kabul, to be sure!
Washington correctly presumed the capital city takeover by
opposition forces would only stir up ethnic angst between
Northern Alliance conquerors and other tribes comprising the
vast majority of Afghani peoples, especially those situated in
the south. We’re already seeing some of this, as southern
tribes warn the Northern Alliance to stay away from Kandahar,
while the exiled Afghani king recently declared himself ruler of
the country, even though few recognize his authority.
No doubt Mullah Omar and Usama were fully aware of the
problems inherent in the assumption of control of Kabul by the
Northern Alliance. With the Taliban abandoning the city, the
U.S. would be faced with the gigantic problem of brokering a
reasonable agreement between Northern Alliance forces and the
tribes they represent, and the Pashtun and other clans hostile
to Northern Alliance rule. This sort of ethnic entanglement is
not something the United States intended to involve itself in,
and such sentiment emanated from conservatives in the
Administration from the outset.
But everyone, including Mullah and Usama, knows that nature
and even politics abhor a vacuum, and to expect the Northern
Alliance to stop at the city limits as the President wanted, was
unrealistic. And as it turns out, the fall of Kabul bodes well
for the fortunes of the Taliban.
I think it donned on the one-eyed Mullah and the lanky Usama
that American injection into power politics inside of
Afghanistan could do more harm for American interests than
anything Taliban forces could inflict in a fight. Now the world
and domesticated left-wing utopians will demand the U.S. cleanup
a situation we engendered, and invariably, we’ll send
diplomats and state department nation-builders into the fray to
hammer out terms satisfactory to all sides…a task that might
prove impossible. And while the West fumbles about, expect
Muslim coalition members to lament about American imperialists
dictating regime types to sovereign Afghanistan.
In these "darned if you do and darned if you don’t"
instances, domestic pressure always wins out, especially if
sensationalist democrats apply it.
While the United Nations and United States claim we’re
importing freedom and democracy to the peoples of Afghanistan,
Taliban and Al Qaeda forces will have scurried to the mountains
to ensconce themselves in some of the world’s most foreboding
terrain. Using the mountains as a platform, Taliban forces will
resort to the guerilla tactics they’re so well versed in, in a
game of cat and mouse with American forces willing to give
Early indications are that we’ll wait the Taliban out,
hoping to cut off supplies and food in an attempt to starve them
into surrender. But as anyone with even a casual knowledge of
the enemy knows, these terrorists wouldn’t have retreated to
the mountains unless they had some supply route already worked
out with neighboring accomplices. Say what we will about them,
but these murderers are shrewd, not impulsive.
I think it’s probable, as well, that the Taliban finally
wised up and realized they couldn’t survive even a few more hours
under attack from such aptly named American bombs as
"daisy-cutters," murderous machine gun fire from A-130
aircraft and other lethal Yankee toys. Best to cut their losses
and run! And so the decision was made to abandon the stratagem
that prescribed occupying the entire country, and instead
pullout of major cities and withdraw to more remote locales
where Taliban forces could stage more concerted, more
concentrated forays into enemy territory. And this can be done
from the relative safety of the mountains.
To expound a bit more on this topic, the reality is that the
balance of Taliban officials and troops are illiterate thugs,
roguish terrorists unfit and unable to rule a nation, especially
one the size of Afghanistan. What we’re seeing currently, is
the Mullah realizing his training is more suited for terrorizing
portions of states rather than governing whole nations.
It simply wasn’t feasible or smart to have Taliban forces
stretched across such a vast region; it’s much easier for the
United States to cut off supplies and rearmament attempts when
Taliban troop installations are so easily cut-off from each
another. Taliban entrenchments were separated by hundreds of
miles of treacherous landscape that isn’t easy to cross,
especially in tattered armored personnel trucks or battered
transport helicopters that may or may not be operable on a given
day. Most roads are only seasonally accessible, anyway.
And so the Afghani experience is far from over, and the
sooner we realize this the better. I don’t know why we didn’t
annihilate fleeing Taliban fighters leaving Kabul, but now the
Taliban is regrouping in the mountains to face us in a different
theatre of war, one that is much more manageable for them.
Regardless of the dangers ahead, we must continue to seek out
and kill every member of Taliban and Al Qaeda, even if pursuing
this objective in rugged terrain takes time, effort and shed
blood. Alternatively, if we allow American soldiers to serve as
occupational forces rather than using our military to hunt down
the "evil ones," the Taliban has the ability to make
us bleed and frustrate us to the point we give up the goal of
slaughtering terrorists and go home.
We must seize the moment and rout the incorrigible foe!
by David McCullough
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