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 mistaken.
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 chase.
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!
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