Another Guy Who Got it Right

November 21, 2001

Comment: #432

Discussion Thread - Comment #s - 430

Attached References:

[1] Mohamad Bazzi, "Afghan Hatred Of Arabs High," Long Island Newsday, November 20, 2001. Excerpts

[2] Frank Langfitt, "Past Conflicts In Afghanistan Offer Lessons For U.S., Allies: Factions seem to hate foreign troops more than they do each other," Baltimore Sun, November 20, 2001. Excerpts

[3] "US bombs are boosting the Taliban: Days before the Kabul regime killed him, Afghan leader Abdul Haq argued against the American raids" The Guardian, November 2, 2001. Excerpts

Tom Hayden, a former Marine officer currently living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sent me the following email on 10 November, just as the stunning collapse of the Taliban was beginning with the capture of Mazar-e-Sharif. At the time of his email, there was an uneasy feeling that the Taliban were conducting a baited retreat with the aim of sucking the U.S. into a protracted guerrilla war in the rugged Pashtun-dominated highlands of south and east Afghanistan.

The central fear was that the early phase of the bombing campaign would induce the majority of Pashtuns to remain loyal to the Taliban and their al-Qa'ida masters (i.e., Osama bin Laden and his "Arab-Afghans,"  who also include Pakistanis, Chechnens, among others), possibly leading to a partition brokered by Pakistan. This was certainly a concern I held. The quick capture of Adbdul Haq by the Taliban, in late October, only a few weeks after he told Anatole Lievan that the bombing campaign was hardening Taliban resolve, seemed to reinforce this fear [Ref 3]. But as Ref 3 also makes clear, Haq understood that the Taliban were brittle and was well aware of the Afghani hatred of the Taliban and their Arab masters [which many observers now see clearly e.g., Ref 1 & 2]

Like Professor Harold Gould [Comment #430], Hayden is one of the few Americans who saw through the fog more clearly at the time. Hayden argued on November 10 that the theory of a guerrilla war was fallacious for a variety of reasons. While the fight continues, subsequent events seem consistent with his analysis. Enjoy.

No Guerrilla War for Taliban

By H. Thomas Hayden
10 November 2001

The Taliban retreat form their city fortresses and their alleged profession that they will regroup to fight as guerrillas seems to meet with some appreciation in the East and West. The Taliban probably believe that they will receive help from across the Pakistan border in the form of money, supplies, and reinforcements. The problem for the West is a propensity to impose Western assumptions, values and political heritage on foreign ideology.

Before the recent Northern Alliances successes, many news media reported that the Taliban controlled over 90% of the territory in Afghanistan. After the US bombing campaign shifted from the attack on command and control nodes and air defense systems, many news media began to show maps with large sections of active Opposition Forces and large sections of contested areas. It is now believed that the Taliban had little control over much of the country-side and maintained their power base in the major cities.

Supporting the Northern Alliance was the key to victory in Afghanistan. However, an "overly-Washington" concern that the Northern Alliance could not finish the job was based on the exaggerated belief that there was a monolithic social and political homogeneity of the Pashtun tribes.

The success of the US air strikes on Taliban front line positions coupled with the Northern Alliance's ground offensive was a surprise to many in the West. Many used the Kosovo air campaign as an example and concluded that a long winter air campaign lay ahead with more bombing. Kosovo would have been over in 30 days if a ground campaign had been part of the plan.

The Taliban are probably now seen, by a large portion of the Pashtun people, as a failed oppressive religious/political system that existed for the sole purpose to perpetuate itself and to kill or destroy any religious or political thought that might challenge them.

As it turned out the Taliban are far less "fearsome" as the Western media made them out to be. Additionally, the Taliban had a very weak military command structure. They had no firm chain of command. They had no supporting general staff. They had no trained supply and logistics staff. The Taliban Intelligence organization was deeply influenced by the Pakistani Intelligence Service. There were no major reserves to shift to strategic locations and certainly no planning level headquarters that could have directed the changing, back and forth campaign.

It is now plain that the Taliban do not enjoy the support of the majority of the various ethnic tribes and many of the Pashtun clan do not want the Taliban anymore. It is a known fact that many of the Pashtun tribal leaders have already switched sides.

Within days of the Northern Alliance taking Kabul, Afghanistan became a patchwork of isolated conflicts and ethnic rivalries.

It is now reported in the Western press that the Taliban will revert to "guerrilla warfare." It has been mistakenly reported that it was guerrilla warfare that brought them to power in 1996.

This is most definitely not the case. The Taliban were swept into power by buying off local commanders or defections of various tribes. The Taliban swept from city to city bypassing the dispersed Mujahadeen and had control of all the power centres in a relative short period of time. The displeasure of many of the population against the Mujahadeen also played a role. Guerrilla warfare will be new to the Taliban.

Guerrilla warfare is only a basic military tactic aimed at harassing an adversary. The Taliban will need a politically unifying philosophy or common objective to rally people to their cause and support a guerrilla movement.

Mao Tse-Tung, the famous Chinese guerrilla leader/philosopher, once said that the guerrillas must be like fish in a sea made up of the local people, the guerrillas cannot live without the (sea) people.

The objective in conventional warfare is terrain and the centre of gravity of political and military power. This usually means to start with the military forces that support and protect the political leadership and then cut off the head of the political apparatus. In unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, the objective is the people. Without local support of the people, there will be no intelligence collection, no resupply, no recruits, and no popular uprising.

Guerrillas also need sanctuaries for rest and recuperation. It is doubtful that Pakistan will give sanctuary to the Taliban after the devastating humiliation they just received form the Taliban.

There are some news media reports that the Mujahadeen success over the Soviets may be a model for the future. It must be remembered that the Mujahadeen won with massive financial and military support from the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and Iran. The Stinger, surface-to-air missile launcher, played a major role in neutralizing the Soviet air power. The Taliban and al-Qa'ida will not get the same kind of support.

Additionally, allegiances in Afghanistan can be easily bought for a price. From the "Great Game" of the 19th Century, Pushtans have been easily divided. They are famous for temporary loyalties, shifting alliances and deceit.

The real threat to immediate peace in Afghanistan are the al-Qa'ida "foreign mercenaries." It is reported that the al-Qa'ida mercenaries include fighters form various nationalities: Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis, Chinese, and former Soviet Republics with Muslim minorities.

Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida organization have few friends among the Afghans. For those who can escape the traps they currently find themselves in, they most certainly will flee to the nearest border. There will be no al-Qa'ida mercenaries taking to the hills to continue the fight.

Pakistan may not be permitted to be involved in the formation of any post-Taliban government because of their sponsorship of the Taliban. The price that Pakistan will demand for their continued support to the Allied cause may be hard to pay.

The US has to decide if it will fall back into the failed paradigm of a Pakistani brokered political regime or will the US apply new and imaginative thinking to the political realities of a multi- ethnic social structure with tribal leadership and political consensus.

There is also the distinct possibility of a partition of the country which will only further divide the population. The unanticipated arrival of British and French forces at the air base out side Kabul may hasten the fragmentation of the country.

What lies ahead for the US and the Western Allies in their world wide campaign against "terrorism"?

For all the reported changes in the US military and the Quadrennial Defense Review, the basic strategic and operational template remains the same as was seen in the Gulf War. Simply stated the US military is built on the necessity to defeat a large scale military force with armour and air power.

However, the application of US Special Forces and precision air strikes may be a catalyst for reorienting US military strategy.

There is a new 4th Generation of Warfare that has evolved in warfare on or before the September 11, 2001, attack on the New York World Trade Centre. That is another story.

H. Thomas Hayden

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia



Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Long Island Newsday
November 20, 2001

Afghan Hatred Of Arabs High

By Mohamad Bazzi, Staff Correspondent

Jalalabad, Afghanistan


While many Afghans disliked the Taliban and its harsh rules, they despised even more the thousands of militant Arabs who backed the Islamic regime. This hatred was perhaps most pronounced here in Jalalabad, an eastern Afghan city that was an important base for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network. Many Afghans blamed the Arabs, and especially bin Laden, for precipitating a military showdown with the United States.


The so-called "Afghan Arabs" - a cadre of Islamist volunteers from across the Mideast who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and stayed behind when the Soviets withdrew in 1989 - are seen as vigilantes who helped the Taliban take power in 1996 and hold onto it with violence.


Reference #2

Baltimore Sun
November 20, 2001

Past Conflicts In Afghanistan Offer Lessons For U.S., Allies

Factions seem to hate foreign troops more than they do each other

By Frank Langfitt, Sun Foreign Staff

When opposition military commander Ismail Khan returned to take control of his home base of Herat in Western Afghanistan last week, he had a message for the foreign forces who helped make it possible: Go home.

"We see no need for foreign forces like from the United States and Britain, but the presence of the Americans was effective here because it weakened the Taliban," said Khan, a guerrilla leader during the U.S.-backed proxy war against the Soviet Union.

"We believe we must cleanse Kandahar of the Taliban, and we will pursue this with all our might."


This time, the United States and Britain have used the Northern Alliance as a proxy army. But some lessons from past wars still apply. They include keeping a foreign troop presence small, discreet and brief.

And when it comes to making alliances with Afghan military commanders - beware.


A little less than a century after the British left Afghanistan, the Soviets invaded. Afghan fighters were formidable as usual. They sneaked into camps at night, blockaded roads and controlled the countryside despite Soviet control of the cities.

But Afghan soldiers have faults as well.

From 1983 to 1987, Brig. Mohammed Yusuf ran the Afghan bureau of the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence, which funneled weapons from the CIA to the mujahedeen. During that time, he tried to get Afghanistan's seven political factions and their military commanders to work together. It was, he says, an often maddening task. "Their internal feuds never stopped," Yusuf recalled in a phone interview from his home in Islamabad, Pakistan. "All of them were at loggerheads with each other. For some time, we were able to keep three or four [factions] united."


"Leave the fighting to the Afghans, that's the only way to do it," said Yusuf. "I think they can trust the Afghans to destroy the Taliban. Whether they will remain united after that is a different matter."

Reference #3

US bombs are boosting the Taliban
Days before the Kabul regime killed him, Afghan leader Abdul Haq argued against the American raids

The Guardian
November 2, 2001

Probably the US has already made up its mind what to do, and any recommendations by me will be too late. However, military action by itself in the present circumstances is only making things more difficult - especially if this war goes on a long time and many civilians are killed. The best thing would be for the US to work for a united political solution involving all the Afghan groups. Otherwise there will be an encouragement of deep divisions between different groups, backed by different countries and badly affecting the whole region.

I am not sure that the air campaign will work. Before the attacks started, the Taliban's people were very nervous, and their support in the population was very low. Everyone was afraid. But once the bombing started, people began to say: "Well, it's not so bad. We have known worse. We can stand it." This is something I have often seen in battle. The soldier runs away, terrified. Then he realises he is not in immediate danger. He stops and faces the enemy, and his courage comes back.


However, what everyone is telling me is that for this to happen, there must be some alternative structure for Taliban people to come over to. Most won't go over to the Northern Alliance, and the Alliance must not be allowed to take power, because they would take revenge on anyone who had ever fought them and drive people back to the Taliban. And the Northern Alliance must not be allowed to launch attacks, at least against Kabul and to the east and south [ie into core Pashtun territories].

If this is followed, then, many Taliban people have told me, they will be prepared to abandon the Taliban.


The Taliban is mostly from Pashtun areas and Pashtuns are the key to getting rid of them. Whenever the Taliban is weak, it turns to Pashtun nationalism, and it does have a certain effect. The anti-Taliban campaign needs two stages: a military strategy to split and remove the Taliban, which should be carried out by Afghans themselves, not the US; and a Loya Jirga [grand national assembly] to create a future government, including representatives of all ethnic groups and tribes.


But the US is trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone in the world. They don't care about the suffering of the Afghans or how many people we will lose. And we don't like that. Because Afghans are now being made to suffer for these Arab fanatics, but we all know who brought these Arabs to Afghanistan in the 1980s, armed them and gave them a base. It was the Americans and the CIA. And the Americans who did this all got medals and good careers, while all these years Afghans suffered from these Arabs and their allies. Now, when America is attacked, instead of punishing the Americans who did this, it punishes the Afghans.

Afghan opposition leader and former mujahedeen commander Abdul Haq was captured last week by the Taliban and executed as an American spy. This article is an edited version of an interview he gave on October 11 to Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.