Welcomed here as a heroic, victorious force just yesterday, the Northern Alliance today is being painted as a gang of murderers on the loose. The Pakistani press today reports two alliance massacres of Taliban soldiers.
One involved the wholesale slaughter of 1700 troops, many of them students from Pakistan who’d joined the Taliban army south of Kabul. The Northern Alliance forces were under the command of Afghanistan’s Burhanuddin Rabbani, whom the alliance reportedly named president of the country yesterday. They were also advised by British and American military units inside Kabul.
According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the American officers are there to “provide advice and counsel” to the alliance.
Reports from Mazar-i-Sharif say several hundred Taliban supporters—including Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis—were shot dead in a massacre after that city fell to the alliance. A UN spokesperson said officials had received reports of hundreds of children being massacred by Northern Alliance forces at one school. She disclosed that alliance soldiers had looted many offices of the UN and other nongovernmental organizations in Mazar-i-Sharif, according to the Pakistan News Service. In addition, the UN said it fears the opposition troops may actually have shot some UN drivers.
UNICEF said it was postponing the sending of aid convoys into Afghanistan until the situation becomes more stable. The World Food Program postponed its truck convoys carrying food into Afghanistan because the drivers are frightened of reprisals.
While it may appear the U.S. and the Northern Alliance are mopping up pockets of Taliban resistance, some argue the Taliban are not in disorganized retreat, but are rather making a deliberate shift in their military strategy. This theory holds that Taliban commanders are giving up towns and cities and moving as predicted into the mountains, where they can conduct guerrilla raids on allied supply lines—just as the mujahideen did in the war against the Russians.
This time it will be much more difficult. During the war against the Soviets, mujahideen were well equipped by Pakistan and the CIA. Now, the U.S. has at least temporarily neutralized Pakistan and made it harder for Taliban sympathizers there to ship supplies across the mountainous border.
The danger here is that a guerrilla war, if not quickly snuffed out, could spread into neighboring countries, especially Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf’s support for the American military campaign remains controversial.
Despite glowing press reports, intelligence estimates say the Taliban’s arsenal of 250 to 300 Scud missiles remain hidden in the mountains. They are expected to be used against cities captured by the Northern Alliance and perhaps for strikes into Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Among the other oddities of the war are the weird alliances of troops in the field. Various intelligence and press reports have U.S. Special Forces fighting in the north alongside Iranian Special Unit men. Meanwhile, Chinese Muslims are said to be on the Taliban lines. U.S. planes were reported to be zeroing in on a group of several hundred Saudis who had been brought in to fight for the Taliban. If true, this last would be yet another embarrassing development in U.S.-Saudi relations.