Friday, November 9, 2001
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Sunday, November 11, 2001

Taliban Flee as Alliance Sweeps Into Four Provinces

Excerpts from article describing the state of affairs after the Northern Alliance takeover of the key city of Mazar-i-Sharif:

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The offensive, which captured the strategically important city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday, rolled relentlessly on yesterday, as Alliance commanders moved tanks and thousands of troops to the front, predicting that the Taliban would soon be cleared out of the north.

In Mazar, citizens celebrated their liberation from four years of Taliban rule. Women cast off their burqas and men shaved off beards in gestures of contempt for their former repressive rulers.


In Mazar-i Sharif, civilians are now free
to choose, as Northern Alliance soldiers
take over control of the formerly
Taliban-controlled city, 11/10/01

American aircraft bombed the front line at Sarogh in the north-east in an attempt to build on the conquest of Mazar - the first strategic victory in the United States-led war against terrorism.

The success gave allied forces control of vital supply lines and a key air base. Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, the commander of Uzbek forces in the Alliance, said: "Today we captured Samangan, Sara-i-Pol, Faryab and Jowzjan."


Nov. 10— The Northern Alliance made
headway again Saturday in its push
through northern Afghanistan

His troops were now advancing on western Badghis in a move that would allow his forces to link up with those of the mujahideen general Ismail Khan near the western city of Herat.

... In Mazar, many of the city's residents were reported to be offering prayers of thanks for victory at the city's Blue Mosque, regarded as the holiest shrine in Afghanistan. Sheep were slaughtered in honour of the liberation and flowers were thrown at the victorious troops.

One resident told The Telegraph: "This is wonderful news. The people of Mazar have suffered terribly under the Taliban. We don't want them in our city."

Amid the celebrations, however, the risks of US strategy were becoming more evident, as the Americans tried to restrain elated Alliance commanders from launching an immediate push on Kabul.

Concerns were raised that the victory - the first significant territorial gain for a military campaign now in its second month - could be undermined by hasty action.

With Mazar and the surrounding area in allied hands, the Americans have a key logistics base in Afghanistan. This will allow them to mount air operations in southern Afghanistan and to carry out an airlift to help refugees gathering in the west.


Northern Alliance victors observing
U.S. airstrikes against Taliban troops
retreating from Mazar-i Sharif

Within days, US Air Force F15E Super Eagle and F16 Falcon fighter-bombers are likely to be flying missions against Kabul and beyond as special-forces reconnaissance missions continue.

Having secured the airfields, the Americans and the Northern Alliance are expected to try to secure the land routes between the plains of Mazar and the borders with Uzbekistan. Commanders see the routes as vital to moving supplies and aid during the bitter winter.

The Americans are also expected to deploy ground troops to protect the newly won air base at Mazar. About 3,000 troops of the 10th Mountain Division are currently waiting at bases in Uzbekistan. ...

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Bin Laden: Yes, I Did It

Excerpt from an article detailing a video in which bin Laden admits his guilt in the attack on America:

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Osama bin Laden has for the first time admitted that his al-Qa'eda group carried out the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the Telegraph can reveal.

In a previously undisclosed video which has been circulating for 14 days among his supporters, he confesses that "history should be a witness that we are terrorists. Yes, we kill their innocents".

In the footage, shot in the Afghan mountains at the end of October, a smiling bin Laden goes on to say that the World Trade Centre's twin towers were a "legitimate target" and the pilots who hijacked the planes were "blessed by Allah".

The killing of at least 4,537 people was justified, he claims, because they were "not civilians" but were working for the American system.

Bin Laden also makes a direct personal threat against Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, for the first time, and warns nations such as Australia, Germany and Japan to stay out of the conflict.

The video will form the centrepiece of Britain and America's new evidence against bin Laden, to be released this Wednesday.

The footage, to which the Telegraph obtained access in the Middle East yesterday, was not made for public release via the al-Jazeera television network used by bin Laden for propaganda purposes in the past. It is believed to be intended as a rallying call to al-Qa'eda members.

In the video, bin Laden says: "The Twin Towers were legitimate targets, they were supporting US economic power. These events were great by all measurement. What was destroyed were not only the towers, but the towers of morale in that country."

The hijackers were "blessed by Allah to destroy America's economic and military landmarks".

He freely admits to being behind the attacks: "If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism then history should be a witness that we are terrorists. Yes, we kill their innocents and this is legal religiously and logically." ...

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Islam's Beauteous Royal Revolutionary

Excerpts from an article describing an icon of beauty and earnest desire for progress, peace, and reconciliation in a world often steeped in efforts far removed from such concepts:

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... Queen Rania of Jordan is hardly the image of the downtrodden, burqa-clad Muslim women the West has come to expect.

The doctor's daughter is now as well known for her glamour and modern lifestyle as for her impeccable charitable work for children. She has been labelled the Princess Diana of the Islamic world.

But as she accompanied her husband King Abdullah on a state visit to Britain last week, it became clear it would be unwise to dismiss the world's youngest queen as another regal clothes horse.

In a wide ranging interview with The Observer yesterday, Rania made clear she has a serious message: that the brutal repression of women under the Taliban is a perversion of true Islam, a religion she believes is much misunderstood.

And as the war against terrorism unfolds, she is determined the world should not forget these victims who are denied education and work outside the home, forced to cover their faces and starved of medical care since they may not be treated by male doctors.

'What we see in Afghanistan is women being stripped of rights that have been granted to them by Islam, and rights that women enjoy in many parts of the Arab world,' she said. 'It is incumbent on all of us in the Arab world to try to demonstrate that and try to reach out, explain what we are about.

'It's also important for the rest of the world to reach out to Arab countries and try to understand. We must be very careful of making quick judgments. That just increases the gulf, the gap between us.'

She is distressed about the plight of Afghan women. 'Islam grants us choice. We are not supposed to force anyone into anything. If they do it, it's out of conviction because they believe in it,' she said.

'These women are not given the choice, that is what I find completely wrong with the system, that they are forced to dress in a certain way, stay at home all the time.'

And she strongly believes the coalition against terror should not forget them. 'We are morally obliged to help people who are suffering injustice,' she says quietly.

... A banker before she married, she has used her corporate skills to help poor Jordanian women start their own businesses, and begun tackling issues considered taboo, from domestic violence and child abuse to so-called 'honour killings' of allegedly adulterous women by male relatives, which claim up to 25 lives a year in Jordan.

She has angered some traditionalists, but is unrepentant: 'Some of the areas that I have chosen to tackle have been traditionally social taboos, but it was very important not to let that deter us.

'In Jordan we don't believe in sweeping problems under the carpet - any problem that goes undealt with is one you will have to confront in a much bigger way later on. I really believe in trying to get to the root of the problem, even if it's not popular .'

... The Kuwaiti-born ethnic Palestinian warned that unless there was a permanent peace settlement for the Middle East the war in Afghanistan would achieve little, and 'there will always be a danger of extremism'.

'The injustice has been going on for too long, too many lives have been lost. People don't see the light at the end of the tunnel and that is very explosive.'

The military campaign alone could be only a 'short-term' approach. 'Even if the American forces eradicated that particular group of terrorists [al-Qaeda], that does not mean we will have not another group emerging before you know it unless some other issues are resolved.' ...

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Villagers Murdered, Beaten, and Driven Out By the Taliban

Excerpts from article describing the recent torture and murder of refugees by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan:

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Men were killed and women whipped in front of their children when Taliban troops sought new recruits, writes David Harrison in Dashti Qali, northern Afghanistan.

The men in black turbans and black beards came just before midnight. Five-year-old Tashkumar and her family awoke to find six Taliban soldiers standing over their beds pointing Kalashnikovs at their heads.

Tashkumar and her four brothers and sisters started crying. Their mother Jamila, terrified beyond imagination, pulled her children close to her and screamed at the intruders to leave.

Cursing the family, the troops, seeking recruits to fight the Northern Alliance, demanded to know the whereabouts of Jamila's husband, Gholam Mohammed.

She refused to tell them and the soldiers responded by whipping her on the head, back and legs with a metal rod and threatening to kill her.

Still she would not give him up, earning more beatings until she was left, battered and bruised, on the floor of her mud-built home in the Taliban-controlled village of Baharac, near Taloqan in northern Afghanistan.

Jamila was attacked during a night of terror last Sunday when about 100 Taliban soldiers - Afghans, Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens - swept from house to house, killing and capturing men, whipping women, stealing precious food and burning down houses.

All 80 families in the village were forced to flee. By yesterday most had arrived at the bleak Nawabad refugee camp a few miles behind Alliance front line.

Jamila at least survived. Others were not so fortunate. Usman, 20, one of many Afghans who has only one name, told how his father was beaten to death by the Taliban.

He said: "They burst into our house with their turbans pulled down and wrapped around their faces. They killed my father, took all our food and money and then, as we ran away, they set fire to our house and destroyed everything we had."

His mother said: "The Taliban had been threatening and harassing us since the American bombings started, but it had got much worse in the past two weeks."

Another victim of the Taliban, Torsim, 40, said many women in the village were whipped because they would not say where their husbands were hiding. Many of the men had fled to neighbours' houses because the Taliban wanted them to go to fight the Alliance.

Torsim said: "They hit me across the back and on the legs. I was scared to death but I knew that if I told them where my husband was they would kill him for refusing to fight for them."

Torsim, her husband, Abdul Qayum, 45, and their 12 children fled in just the clothes they were wearing, using two donkeys for transport.

They spent three days travelling to the camp, sustained only by scraps of bread and food given by people in the impoverished villages they passed through.

One woman in her seventies said the Taliban had gone from house to house, driving people out and setting fire to their homes. "War has ruined our country but at least we had our own homes. Now we have nothing."

Some men were captured and imprisoned by the Taliban.

One 25-year-old who had just arrived at the camp said he was held for four days after the attack on the village. "They beat me all the time and when I came home I found that they had burned my house down." ...

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Taliban Routed by Force of B-52s and Pick-up Trucks

The odd but potent arrangement of forces arrayed against the Taliban prevailed on Friday, as documented in the excerpts from the following article:

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Tanks and trenches were abandoned as the Northern Alliance, after weeks of American bombing, finally launched their assault. Chris Stephen and Tim Judah report from the front line.

They attacked at dawn on Friday: three Northern Alliance battle groups left the trenches they had occupied for three weeks and pushed towards the Taliban. American soldiers went with them - not to fight, but to guide in the bombers which for several days had been hammering the Taliban front line positions.

Within minutes fierce fighting erupted up and down the front line that ran in a smooth arc around from the south-west of Mazar-e-Sharif and up around the airport, five miles to the east of the city. And then the unthinkable happened: The Taliban line collapsed. Taliban infantrymen leapt from their trenches and ran. Others scrambled into jeeps, pick-up trucks and lorries.

Soldiers jumped out of their tanks and joined the flight, together with the crews of the few big guns not already smashed by days of intensive air bombardment. On the one road east out of the city they formed a jumbled terrified column.

By midday the first Northern Alliance units had reached the outskirts of the city, reporting that they were encountering feeble resistance.

The two generals in joint command, Ostad Ata and Abdul Rashid Dostum, ordered their ubiquitous pick-up trucks - the vehicle of choice in a country almost devoid of paved roads - to be brought forward.

By last light the first columns of these vehicles, with soldiers packed in and some clinging to the sides, nosed their way into the city. They found the darkened streets deserted. The enemy which had held Mazar since 1998 had fled.

... it soon became clear that the battle had been won in the weeks before, much of it through the bloody attrition of American bombing. Alliance officials are coy about how much help the United States has given, but admit that teams of forward air controllers have been working with the Northern Alliance for three weeks. They have been directing air strikes and the massive raids by B-52s.

They have also brought in supplies by helicopter - mostly ammunition, but also feed for the horses and donkeys that were the Northern Alliance's only means of transport in the Alborz mountain range south of the city.

By midnight, retreat had become a rout. Units from across the northern front poured south along the Soviet-built Salang Highway. Forty miles north, the garrison at the bridge with Uzbekistan at Hairatan didn't wait.

They leapt into their jeeps and fled south, desperate to reach the Na'ebabad junction with the Salang before the Northern Alliance did. 'Their withdrawal was not well planned. They were surprised,' said Qanuni.

And as they fled, the Americans came after them. Flashes lit the night sky from the impact of their bombs. Further south near the city of Samangan, long-range artillery ripped into the fleeing vehicles.

All of this was sweet revenge: Three years ago, when the Taliban captured Mazar from the Northern Alliance, they celebrated with a murderous rampage that left 6,000 men, women and children dead.

... The implications of this rout are enormous. In less than 24 hours the whole political, strategic and military picture of the entire region changed.

And, statements by US officials clearly show that they are shocked by this unexpectedly rapid collapse as it spreads across northern Afghanistan. ...

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New Front Illustrates Evolving U.S. Strategy

The success of the bombing campaign around Mazar-e Sharif has emboldened U.S. tactitians towards using that very same technique in the northwestern part of Afghanistan, this time aiding an anti-Taleban force in an atttack on Herat.

Excerpts from an article with details on that new front:

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Special Forces troops have opened a new front for the U.S. bombing campaign in western Afghanistan, the latest element of an evolving Pentagon strategy that has become fiercer, broader and far more reliant on Afghan rebels than planners originally envisioned.

A U.S. government source said yesterday that Special Forces are for the first time coordinating airstrikes to bolster rebel leader Ismail Khan in the far western part of the country.

Air support from the United States could help the veteran commander, considered by some to be the most militarily effective of all opposition commanders, to launch an offensive in the northwest.

If successful, that move would block a major route of withdrawal for Taliban forces ousted over the weekend from the key northern city of Mazar-e Sharif -- and set the stage for a possible attack on Herat, the major city in the west.

Having first focused on winning over southern leaders of the Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group in the country, the U.S. approach now is to use Special Forces on the ground and bombers in the air to bolster rebel forces attacking Taliban strongholds.

With the fall of Mazar-e Sharif, a senior defense official said, the Pentagon plans to take that tactic to other parts of the country. "That strategy seems to be working," this source said. "Once we get the ability to coordinate airstrikes, it gets pretty effective."

The new U.S. action in the west of Afghanistan underscores how the U.S. military strategy has evolved considerably since warplanes began bombing five weeks ago, despite repeated statements from the Bush administration that the war on terrorism is proceeding according to plan.

When military operations began, the United States hoped for a rapid succession of events: pinprick airstrikes and a few raids by U.S. Special Forces might lead to substantial defections from the ruling Taliban, the rapid fall of major cities and, with a bit of luck, a final offensive that would "smoke out" Osama bin Laden from Afghan caves.

There was even talk by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that some Taliban members might be able "to participate in developing a new Afghanistan."

These hoped-for developments did not materialize, and by late October there was little evidence that the U.S. approach was working.

But early this month the United States began to fight a different, more intense kind of war that more fully embraced the opposition Northern Alliance, along with trying to encourage defections among Pashtuns supporting the ruling Taliban. ...

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