Tags: Taliban | Opposition | Confident | 'Major | Offensive'

Taliban Opposition Confident in 'Major Offensive'

Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM

Opposition sources said that after initial victories in northeastern Afghanistan, where the opposition Northern Alliance claimed the capture of several key Taliban positions, they feel confident to launch a major offensive.

"With a little support from the United States, we can push the Taliban out of Afghanistan," said an opposition spokesman Abdullah Abdullah.

Vastly outnumbered and ill equipped, the rebels have been fighting the Taliban for the last five years.

They received a major jolt earlier this month when assassins hired by the Taliban killed their legendary leader, Ahmad Shah Masoud who played a key role in keeping the militia out of the north.

Appearing on the scene in late 1994, the Taliban captured Kabul in less than two years and quickly expanded their rule to more than 90 percent of the country.

In 1998, they also captured Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan's second largest city and a symbol of opposition's strength in the north. But Masoud kept them at bay, fighting from his native Panjshir valley near Kabul.

Masoud's death could have ended the Northern Alliance's armed resistance to the advancing Taliban but the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington changed the entire scenario.

As investigations showed that a Taliban-backed Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, was behind the attacks, the United States began to form an international coalition to attack Afghanistan and flush out bin Laden and other suspected terrorists.

Hiding in Afghanistan since 1996, bin Laden was already wanted in the United States for the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa in which more than 220 people were killed.

However, the United States never showed a real interest in a military offensive against Afghanistan despite appeals by the Northern Alliance and human rights activists to help remove the extremist Taliban regime who had imposed a ruthless religious doctrine on the Afghans.

But the Sept. 11 tragedy changed attitudes in Washington. While contemplating various options for flushing out bin Laden and his followers, policy makers in Washington apparently also agreed to replace the Taliban regime for its continued refusal to expel bin Laden and for his allowing international terrorist groups to operate from Afghanistan.

The new U.S. objective suddenly raised the importance of the Northern Alliance. Amid reports of expected U.S. military supplies, the Alliance took a group of American journalists to its forward positions on Monday to show them how it was using weapons snatched from the Taliban to fight the religious militia.

However, there are doubts in Washington about the Alliance's capability to re-take Afghanistan and establish a stable government in Kabul, which it lost to the Taliban in 1996.

The Alliance is dominated by ethnic minorities like Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara, with very little representation to Afghanistan's dominant majority of ethnic Pashtoons. It had achieved some acceptability among the Pashtoons when a prominent Pashtoon commander, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, joined the Alliance as the prime minister of the former government in Kabul.

But the government fell soon after Hekmatyar joined it and the Taliban captured Kabul. This gave little time to Hekmatyar to increase Pashtoon participation in the Alliance.

Yet, if Hekmatyar remains within the Alliance and joins the fight against Taliban, he can bring some Pashtoons with him. But fearing a Pashtoon backlash, Hekmatyar has already distanced himself from any offensive against the Taliban.

However, this can change if the Alliance captures Mazar-i-Sharif. Like the Taliban's initial victories in early 1994, it can open the gate to more victories for the Alliance and could bring more allies, particularly from among the Pashtoons disgruntled with the Taliban.

The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif will also convince the United States and its Western allies that the Alliance is capable of re-taking Afghanistan even without Masoud and encourage them to grossly increase their economic and military assistance to the rebels, which has already started after the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Opposition sources said that after initial victories in northeastern Afghanistan, where the opposition Northern Alliance claimed the capture of several key Taliban positions, they feel confident to launch a major offensive. With a little support from the United States, we...
Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM
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