Friday, November 16, 2001
S a t u r d a y ,  N o v e m b e r  1 7,  2 0 0 1
Sunday, November 18, 2001

Bin Laden 'Trapped' in 30 Square Mile Area Southeast of Kandahar

Excerpt from an article describing the confidence that bin Laden has been penned down in a 30 square mile area somewhere to the southeast of Kandahar:

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... British and American special forces have narrowed their search for Osama Bin Laden to a hilly area of just 30 square miles in southeastern Afghanistan, defence sources revealed yesterday.

British SAS and American troops have been dropped by helicopter across the southern approaches to the area, near the Taliban city of Kandahar, to prevent Bin Laden from escaping into Pakistan.

As the manhunt triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks on America intensifies, British soldiers have been involved in firefights with enemy forces around Kandahar.

"The plan has always been to deny Bin Laden space," said Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary. "The space he has to operate in is now very limited indeed." The disclosure reflected a growing confidence in intelligence circles that they would find Bin Laden soon.

A British defence intelligence source said he was believed to be "static" somewhere to the southeast of Kandahar. "For a variety of reasons we can be confident that he has not been able to move far."

... America has imposed what it calls a "total picture" over the region, meaning that a mixture of satellite, spy plane and special forces cover should enable it to trace any movement on the ground.

The special forces arrived near Kandahar 10 days ago to block off escape routes and engage the enemy.

"It has been about aggression and surprise," said one source. "We want to send a clear message that there is no safe way out to the rear of the Kandahar position."

SAS troops have been operating observation posts in the hills and running search-and-destroy patrols.

While they had killed a small number of enemy troops, the psychological impact of their presence had been "disproportionately significant", the source said.

Refugees fleeing skirmishes around Kandahar spoke of British and American special forces searching for Bin Laden in the mountains. One refugee said he had seen a British man questioning a Taliban deserter.

Other Afghans crossing into Pakistan at Chaman said soldiers of western appearance were near the outskirts of Kandahar, a base for Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organisation as well as its Taliban hosts.

Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces appeared yesterday to be preparing for last stands in the two cities still in their hands — Kandahar in the south and Konduz in the north.

At Kandahar, tribal leaders opposed to the regime agreed to allow Taliban forces to leave the city but said thousands of Arabs, Chechens and Pakistani supporters of Bin Laden were staying to fight.

Thousands more were standing their ground in Konduz in the face of a Northern Alliance offensive expected today. They threatened to massacre civilians if the Alliance attacked. ...

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  • The Sunday Times [link inactive]

Afghanistan Status as of 11/17/01

(click for large size image)

Al-Qa'eda Massacre Taliban in Kunduz

Excerpt from article describing the chaos and murder occurring by the Al-Qa'eda in the besieged northern enclave of Kunduz, Afghanistan:

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Osama bin Laden's elite al-Qa'eda guard, mainly Arabs and Pakistanis, are slaughtering Taliban troops to prevent them surrendering to the Northern Alliance army besieging Kunduz, the Taliban-controlled northern enclave.

In the first eye-witness accounts of life inside the city, escaping civilians last night told The Telegraph that an Arab al-Qa'eda commander had ordered the massacre of 150 Afghan Talibs who wanted to defect.

As alliance commanders prepared for their latest offensive on Kunduz, refugees described atrocities committed by al-Qa'eda militiamen.

Mohammed Ibrahim, 50, who escaped from the city yesterday, said: "A commander who was foreign gave the order for 150 local Afghan Taliban to be killed because they wanted to surrender. They showed them no mercy."

... Details of the Kunduz massacre came as alliance forces consolidated their grip on areas of the country captured from the Taliban last week.

... Special forces troops hunting bin Laden believe that they are now closing in on him. Last night a Ministry of Defence official said that special forces were "only hours" behind bin Laden as he fled from one hideout to another.

Military commanders are convinced that he is constantly on the move in the mountains of southern Afghanistan, despite Taliban claims that he had slipped over the border into Pakistan. ...

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Swiss Plan to Rebuild Buddhas Destroyed by Taliban

Excerpt from article describing plans to rebuild the Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in an act of religious-inspired destruction of stone, back in April, 2001. In 20/20 hindsight, that deplorable act might be viewed as an omen of the horrendous acts of mass murder against America which were at that time in the final planning stages:

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Two Buddhas blown up by the Taliban in one of their most extreme acts of vandalism are going to be rebuilt.

The 1,800-year-old Buddhas, hewn into a cliff face in the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan, were destroyed in April on the grounds that as "idolatrous" sculptures they offended Muslims.

... The Buddhas were built between AD200 and AD400 by the descendants of Greek artists who came to Afghanistan with Alexander the Great - which explains why they wore ancient Hellenic clothing. The larger one was 174ft high. ...

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Secret CIA Units Playing a Central Combat Role

Excerpt from article describing the role of the CIA in the Afghan military campaign:

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The CIA is mounting a hidden war in Afghanistan with secret paramilitary units on the ground and Predator surveillance drones in the sky that last week provided key intelligence for concentrated U.S. airstrikes on al Qaeda leaders, according to well-placed sources.

The CIA units, whose existence has not been previously disclosed, are operating in what amounts to a central combat role in America's unconventional war in Afghanistan.

... The units are part of a highly secret CIA capability, benignly named the Special Activities Division, that consists of teams of about half a dozen men who do not wear military uniforms. The division has about 150 fighters, pilots and specialists, and is made up mostly of hardened veterans who have retired from the U.S. military.

The division's arsenal includes helicopters and airplanes and the unmanned aerial Predator drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and Hellfire antitank missiles. Last week, a CIA-run Predator provided intelligence resulting in three days of strikes that killed key al Qaeda leaders.

But it was unclear what role CIA information played in the successful attack on Muhammad Atef, the senior operations lieutenant for Osama bin Laden whose death was confirmed yesterday by the Taliban. ...

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The Rout of the Taliban

The Taliban modernityphobes, claiming god would decide their fate, refusing to turn over those found to be behind the attack on America, and 'tis America (and our allies) that all-but vanquished them in the last six weeks.

Details behind that story appear in the following excerpts from an article describing many of the heretofore unrevealed behind-the-scenes events:

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Six weeks of bombing. A week of battles across Afghanistan. Now the Taliban appear crushed, brutally swept from their prized strongholds. Here we reveal the secret US and British plans that led to last week's astonishing military campaign.

When dawn broke, the party began. In the bombed-out ruins of Kabul, people gingerly emerged from their shelters last Tuesday and looked nervously around. All night, they had listened to the sound of pick-up trucks being gunned in the streets of the Afghan capital and sporadic outbursts of shooting as vehicles were commandeered.

There was much shouting and headlights flashed across the streets as panic gripped the religious zealots who had arrived in the tree-lined city five years earlier. The Taliban were on the run.

As more and more Kabulis appeared on the streets that momentous morning, people started singing. Illicit cassette players, kept hidden for years to avoid torture and death for listening to decadent Western music, blared out songs from every corner.

The sounds of Elton John, Sting and Pink Floyd filled the air. Women removed their burqas, the all-enveloping shawls made compulsory by the Taliban. Young boys got out footballs and played with friends at the local stadium, which had been used only for executions for most of their lives.

Men poured into barber shops to have their compulsory beards shaved. Groups gathered outside a shop and watched television for the first time.

Men stripped off their Islamic turbans. They joined the remains of unrolled black Taliban turbans that had been hung contemptuously from the lampposts near the now-empty police stations.

People wore jeans again. People danced. People laughed. Some people cried. 'We are free!' shouted Noor Mohammed, 57, as he danced with a tape player outside a tea shop. Kabul had been liberated. There were wild celebrations, though nobody knew what the future would hold.

Only 24 hours earlier, the city had been paralysed by fear as the Taliban insisted they would die rather than flee under American bombardment. But Kabul fell before American and British-led forces had got to within two miles of the city suburbs. It seemed like an accidental victory in a country that had never been conquered. It was not.

For weeks, away from the eyes of the media and the rest of the world, America and Britain had been plotting a strategy that was to result in what appeared to be an overwhelming victory in their campaign against terrorists using Afghanistan as a base for a war against the West.

The stunning sweep through the country was the culmination of a carefully orchestrated campaign that has confounded the critics.

Here, for the first time, The Observer can reveal the secret details of how the military campaign was put in place within hours of Osama bin Laden's attacks on New York and Washington - and how every weapon, from propaganda to misinformation to carpet-bombing, was ruthlessly exploited in the battle to bring bin Laden to justice.

The build-up: Three ways to beat the Taliban

... looking at the chances of a successful major ground offensive. Nearly every aspect of it, discussed and pored over in briefing documents, was negative.

It is an article of faith in military planning that you want to be mobile and agile while your enemy is fixed and trapped.

A ground offensive would reverse that rule, putting coalition troops in static positions while smaller units of Taliban forces would rain down fire from their positions in the hills.

There was also the logistics problem. Afghanistan was a landlocked nation the size of Texas. Supply lines to troops at the front would have to be hundreds of miles long

'It became a force protection issue,' ... 'Access would have been difficult and horribly vulnerable. It was simply not safe.'

Two further options were discussed: a short and overwhelming bombing campaign to destabilise the Taliban and allow the Northern Alliance to advance, and a longer bombing campaign followed by an 'assisted' advance by the Alliance.

The short option had significant problems. Intelligence briefings drawn up for Blair as he travelled around the world on diplomatic mission after diplomatic mission, and seen by The Observer, revealed the essential weakness of the Alliance. It was a rag-bag organisation of competing forces ...

Option three, the long air offensive, was gaining ground. ... With a coalition ground offensive out of the question the Alliance 'would have to be supported militarily', one intelligence briefing said. This was the key.

The Alliance, with American, British and Russian help, would undertake the ground offensive itself.

This became the military option of choice. 'Applying pressure' became the key phrase. The Taliban would be undermined from the ground and the air. The Alliance was given military assistance in targeting its firepower, military kit bags were sent, along with mortars and artillery.

A conventional airpower campaign would prepare the ground for both parallel and connected campaigns - designed to find and arrest and kill bin Laden and dismantle his bases, and bring down the Taliban.

It would be a textbook operation, straight out of staff college. First they would hit al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and Taliban air defences, then telephone exchanges and other communications infrastructure, as well as targets grouped under the loose heading of 'command and control'.

Next would be so-called 'targets of opportunity' for America's roaming single-seater navy Hornet bombers: tanks, fuel tankers and military vehicles. B1-Bs and B52-Hs would drop cluster munitions on defences around the cities of Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif.

Then - and only then - would they turn their attention to Taliban troop concentrations using AC-130 Spectre gunships and so-called 'daisy cutter' munitions, designed to slaughter hundreds of soldiers at a time.

... On 1 November, the Pentagon moved to concentrate its military power in northern Afghanistan and set the stage for a ground offensive by the Alliance. Fresh US troops were deployed; some in the south, where Green Beret and other fighting units landed to fight alongside the Alliance.

Squadrons of B-52s pounded the Taliban front lines and its positions north of Kabul with increased ferocity while bombs rained down on their defences around Mazar-e Sharif.

... In Washington, officials briefed privately on 2 November that they hoped soon for an Alliance march on the capital of Kabul, and that the way was being cleared. The Americans were correct.

... The first sign of the coming breakthrough was the continual carpet bombing of the Taliban trenches. Gone were the precision raids of the previous weeks. Instead huge trails of bombs were laid across the countryside. They included 'daisy cutter' bombs, the biggest in the world.

At the Alliance's Kabul front headquarters of Jabal Saraj the world's media were summoned and a parade organised. Alliance soldiers marched up and down through the dust and conducted a firing exercise.

A buildup was on the way. Then on 5 November came a final clue. A rugged but usable airstrip 50 miles north of Kabul had been built by Alliance men.

Its first inbound flight was a light aircraft that circled the runway several times before coming into land. Out of the aircraft stepped five Americans with their Afghan guides. They looked surprised to see an American radio reporter, who was quickly shooed away.

They were 'military advisers', in other words US special forces. The airfield was big enough to land a Hercules and big enough to bring in massive amounts of ammunition.

... on 9 November the attack on Mazar had begun. First, waves of US planes dropped more than 40 bombs on the Taliban positions, concentrated in the Chesmay-e-Safa gorge that provides entrance to the city. It was the thirty-fourth day of US raids since the air war had begun.

Then, as silence descended, a two-pronged assault began. From the west the Deh-Dadi military base was quickly overcome, from the south the city's main airport - its runways still littered with rusting Soviet-era tank wrecks - was also taken.

In the gorge the remnants of the Taliban lines offered little resistance. It had begun at 2pm. It was over in less than four hours. Taliban morale had collapsed, shattered by the relentless bombing and the steady Alliance advance.

... The cracks in Taliban rule were rapidly becoming deep fissures. In their spiritual home of Kandahar far to the south, the strict Islamic rules that had governed day-to-day life for five years were disappearing.

The feared religious police had not been seen for days on the streets of the city since their headquarters had been flattened by US bombs.

... Taliban rule was a bubble beginning to burst. The north had fallen. The west would be next. And the greatest prize was now within reach - Kabul itself.

Endgame: the Alliance advances on Kabul

Commander Gol, who had so welcomed the US carpet bombing, could now see at first hand the effects it had had. As the lines moved forward, behind a massive artillery barrage, they saw trenches pulverised into bomb craters, trees twisted and blackened by incendiary bombs and the burnt-out shells of tanks and gun emplacements.

Of the Taliban there was little sign. A handful of firefights broke out but the advances were swift. A front line that had been frozen for almost five years moved 12 kilometres in a just a couple of hours. Now they were just 10km from Kabul itself. They came to a halt. The city was in their sights.

In Kabul the Taliban retreat began last Monday afternoon. Taliban commanders and their fighters jostled for control of cars and pick-ups that gathered at military bases around the city. Private taxi cabs were stolen at gunpoint and packed with fleeing fighters.

Belongings and weapons were piled high into the vehicles that began to stream out, joining a steady flow of refugees also heading for the hills around the city or down the road that led south. All the while the bombing continued, the boom of the explosions spreading fear through the darkness.

The last goodnight was sounded from the city's radio station, Radio Sharia. Allah was praised by the announcer who said he would return in the morning. It was a lie. A few hours after midnight, the withdrawal from Kabul was complete.

... The hawks in America and Britain have won. Despite growing criticism of the war, the speed with which huge chunks of the country were conquered ridiculed claims that there would be a huge humanitarian disaster.

However, military officials yesterday insisted the war was not yet over. Air strikes against the south of Afghanistan will continue. ...