WASHINGTON, D.C.—While details of American battle plans for Central Asia are under wraps, it’s nonetheless possible to piece together from foreign press reports how the attack will take shape: First, the U.S. blitzes Taliban positions in Kabul, also hitting the group’s stronghold in the southern city of Kandahar. The allies will plaster hundreds of fundamentalist training camps around the country. Next, the cutthroat army of the Northern Alliance, our surrogates—freshly romanticized as freedom fighters—will somehow get it together to race 30 miles into Kabul and claim victory. However, this is not exactly like the allies entering Paris in World War II, since the 15,000 or so Taliban fighters holed up in Kabul will fight to the death. The struggle for the city could turn into a repeat of the Russians in Chechnya—hand-to-hand combat, street by street—more than likely involving U.S. gunships and maybe troops. Whatever happens, it is essential that the worldwide TV images show Kabul falling to good-guy Afghan rebels, not nasty invading godless imperialist Americans. That would fall into bin Laden’s lap—and lead to a fiercer jihad against the West.
But while many Afghans are anxious to see the Taliban go, they aren’t exactly thrilled at the idea of living under the Northern Alliance. The Alliance took power in 1992 after the Russians had withdrawn, and in no time started fighting each other, leaving the capital in anarchy. Many of the most vicious commanders of the Alliance were killed in the fighting, but some of them are still around. Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, still with the Northern Alliance, reportedly ordered massacre of hundreds of ethnic Hazaras, as did the men under the late Ahmad Shah Massoud. They raped and murdered Hazaras and bombarded West Kabul. Meanwhile, other commanders murdered and raped Pashtun civilians and executed Pashtun prisoners. To get people in Afghanistan to accept the Northern Alliance may mean arresting and putting on trial some of its leaders for war crimes.