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Bill Weinberg, "WW III, Report #8"

World War III Report #8.

Nov. 17, 2001

by Bill Weinberg



Backed by US and British air power and military advisors, the Northern Alliance swept through Taliban defenses this week, taking the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and finally the capital, Kabul. Meanwhile, Pashtun tribal leaders rose against the Taliban in the south, taking Jalalabad. The Taliban have retreated to Kandahar, their traditional stronghold and de-facto capital, ceding control of most of the country with little resistance. However, the Northern Alliance, led by minority Tajiks and Uzbeks, display little loyalty to their imperial benefactors in Washington, who talk of a multi-ethnic coalition government (presumably led by Pashtuns, the largest and traditionally dominant ethnic group). The Taliban are on the run, but Afghanistan may be poised to collapse into tribal warfare.

Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum holds northern Mazar-i-Sharif, positioning him to receive aid from Uzbekistan and Russia. In the west, Tajik warlord Ismael Khan has seized Herat, positioning him to receive aid from his traditional benefactor Iran. The Pashtun tribal warlords in the south are backed by Pakistan. The US is now backing all factions against the Taliban, but each regional power has its own proxy forces and agenda in Afghanistan. (New York Times, Nov. 16)


The Taliban's one remaining northern town, Kunduz, is besieged by Tajik warlord Pir Muhammed (New York Times, Nov. 17). Jalalabad is controlled by Pashtun warlords, who have imposed a curfew enforced by pick-up trucks full of men with AK-47s--but it was "unclear exactly who was in control." (Newsday, Nov. 18). Former Taliban loyalist Yunis Khalis commands many of the forces occupying Jalalabad. (Newsday, Nov. 16) Pashtun forces loyal to Hamid Karzai claim to have Kandahar's airport and are ready to advance on the city.

Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar--whose forces shelled much of Kabul into rubble in the mid-90s, fighting the government which is now the Northern Alliance--has returned from self-exile in Iran to proclaim himself governor of Logar Province, just north of the capital (New York Times, Nov. 16). He appears to remain at odds with the Northern Alliance and the US. Just before the Taliban were routed, he had announced he would join them, declaring, "I am ready for a jihad against America." (UK Guardian, Nov. 9)

The rout began with the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif on Nov. 10. The US bombed Taliban troops as they retreated south (New York Times, Nov. 14). Two days later the Taliban abandoned Kabul and the Northern Alliance marched in--defying US calls (and their own pledges) to halt the drive until a coalition government could be organized (Newsday, Nov. 12).


Press photos featured happy residents cranking up boom-boxes in celebration of the Taliban's fall (New York Times, Nov. 16), but also of atrocities by the victorious Northern Alliance. A Nov. 13 New York Times story, "Executions and Looting as Alliance Nears Kabul," ran with a photo of troops executing a helpless Taliban captive as he writhed in the dust, bloodied and naked from the waist down. The following day, a Times headline admitted "POWs Were Shot; Question Is How Many?" The story cited CNN quotes from "Western officials" that up to 600 Taliban POWs were killed at Mazar. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the charges "unsubstantiated and sensational" and accused the sources of "absolutely lying through their teeth." However, when pressed he softened his line: "When there's a war, and people are shooting, and things happen, and there's no question that there are people getting killed--I don't doubt that for a minute."

A spokseperson for the UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan said "several sources" indicated over 100 Taliban fighters hiding in a school at Mazar were killed when Northern Alliance troops took the city. It is uncertain if the Taliban troops were killed in combat or if they were taken prisoner and executed, in violation of international laws of war (Newsday, Nov. 14). The UN World Food Program (WFP) reported "freelance gunmen" fighting in the streets of Mazar, kidnapping civilians and plundering food aid at will (London Times, Nov. 13).

The Nov. 16 New York Times featured photos of both returned refugees celebrating in the streets of Herat, having just repatriated from camps in Iran, and of a Pakistani border guard beating Afghan refugees who "continued to stream over the border."


The Nov. 16 New York Times summed up the collapse of central authority: "Even under King Mohammed Zahir Shah, overthrown in 1973, Afghanistan was a construct of semi-independent fiefs, ruled by feudal chiefs who pledged loyalty to the monarchy in Kabul but acted, in practice, with wide autonomy. How the United States and its western allies might impose unity on this fragmented country remains unclear. Once the feudal lords of Afghanistan protected their power with muskets. But the warlords--the so-called 'jihadi' commanders of the 1980s Muslim guerilla struggle against Moscow and its puppet government in Kabul--acquired the weapons of modern warfare, including mortars, shoulder-fired rockets, stinger anti-aircraft missiles and millions ok Kalashnikov rifles. By one 1989 estimate, more than 10 million Kalashnikovs were funneled into Afghanistan in the nine years of the Soviet occupation--more than one rifle for every two Afghans in a country of about 15 million at the time of the 1978 Communist coup. Many of these weapons are still available."

The US is struggling to forge a coalition between the Northern Alliance, traditionally backed by Russia, and a nascent Pashtun alliance organized from Pakistan, longtime US partner in the region. The Northern Alliance seizure of the capital was protested by Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf: "Kabul should not be occupied by the Northern Alliance because of the past experience that we've had when the various ethnic groups were in hold of Kabul after the Soviets left." Northern Alliance foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah countered: "We don't want to see US foreign policy toward Afghanistan shaped by Paksitan. No neighbor should be allowed to influence the affairs of Afghanistan the way Pakistan has done." (Newsday, Nov. 12)

The seizure of Kabul was also protested by the dissident Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in a Nov. 13 statement: "The Northern Alliance has learned how to pose sometimes before the West as 'democratic' and even a supporter of women's rights, but in fact they have not at all changed, as a leopard cannot change its spots."

The Northern Alliance also appears on the brink of fracturing. The alliance's leader and former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani arrived in the capital Nov. 17 to once again declare himself in (at least interim) power, but an army of Hazara troops followed on his heels to challenge the Tajik-Uzbek forces occupying the capital--portending an imminent battle for the city. (BBC News, Nov. 17) The Hazaras, from Bamiyan in the central Hindu Kush mountains, are descendants of the Mongols, and part of the Shiite religious minority.


US forces are deeply involved in fighting on the ground. On Nov. 17, the New York Times reported US commandos are "blowing up bridges, blocking roads, spotting targets for warplanes and working to unify Pashtun tribal leaders in rebellion." Rumsfeld boasted US forces are "killing Taliban that won't surrender."

On Nov. 15 the New York Times reported claims by Northern Alliance commanders that a pair of Pakistani Air Force planes had landed at Kunduz to evacuate Pakistani and Taliban officials, apparently with US permission.

The Northern Alliance warlords have adopted the language of their US benefactors, always referring to the Taliban as "terrorists." Said Herati's occupying warlord Ismail Khan: "If the terrorists do not leave Kandahar, we'll go there to liberate it." But he also asserted his independence, protesting plans for foreign peacekeepers and demanding British paratroopers to evacuate Bagram air base outside Kabul. (New York Times, Nov. 17) The British marines and US Special Forces were flown into Bagram as part of a "force to keep order in a vacuum." France and Canada have also pledged troops. (New York Times, Nov. 16)


In a move to head off growing concern about imminent mass starvation, US Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios toured projects in northern Afghanistan Nov 15, flown to a town just across the border from Tajikistan in a Special Forces helicopter. (AP, Nov. 15)

Food donations are flooding in, but war continues to disrupt delivery. The WFP delivered 29,000 tons of wheat in October--far short of the 52,000 needed every month for at least the next four months, reported the New York Times, Nov. 16: "Like the Taliban before them, Northern Alliance commanders have been stealing relief goods. This week, a convoy of UNICEF trucks carrying 200 tons of supplies was seized, United Nations warehouses were looted of 89 tons of food and aid offices were ransacked by armed men outside Mazar-i-Sharif, where the Northern Alliance had just seized power. During the fighting, shrapnel from an unknown source hit 20 loaded trucks headed for Afghanistan's central mountains, destroying more than 260 tons of food. As Kabul fell, Taliban soldiers and freebooting Pashtun warlords held up hundreds of tons of the World Food Program's wheat at the border with Pakistan. The WFP, which has been delivering most of the aid, said it suspended shipments 'in light of the tense security situation.'" The London Times reported Nov. 13 that the shrapnel that hit the WFP convoy was from "American airstrikes."


The Kabul office of the Qatar-based satellite channel al-Jazeera, which the US harshly criticizes for its coverage of the Afghan campaign, was destroyed Nov. 13 by a US missile, the channel's managing director said. Nobody was hurt in the pre-dawn attack. The Taliban Ministry for the Suppression of Vice & the Promotion of Virtue was across the street from the station's office, and may have been the actual target. (AP, Nov. 13)

On Nov. 11, al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of civilians were killed in US bombing raids near Kandahar and Kabul over the past two days. At least 35 passengers were killed when the bus they were traveling in was hit on a road north of Kabul. Coverage showed a mangled vehicle sprawled across a roadway, the chassis flipped up on its side. Several corpses were shown laid out on the bare floor of a building said to be a hospital. Al-Jazeera reported that at least 270 people had been killed when two villages near Kandahar were completely destroyed by US bombing, again broadcasting footage of grief-stricken locals digging through rubble. (Summary by media watchdog Ali Abunimah, www.abunimah.org)

In addition to the controversial "cluster bombs", which can leave live explosive scattered over a wide area after an attack, the US is using the 15,000-pound "daisy cutter," an air-fuel explosive and the world's most powerful conventional weapon, which was dropped directly on Taliban troops. Said Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice-Chair Gen. Peter Pace: "The intent is to kill people." (London Mirror, Nov. 11) The New York Times reported Nov. 10 that over 8,000 bombs have been dropped on Afghanistan since the campaign began.


The week ended with the announcement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar in besieged Kandahar that his forces were preparing to abandon the city for the mountains. The US also boasted that Mohammed Atef, second-in-command of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network, had been killed in a bombing raid (UK Guardian, Nov. 17).

In a Nov. 15 interview with the BBC's Pashtun-language service, Mullah Omar boasted he is preparing "the destruction of America... The plan is going ahead and, God willing, it is being implemented." UPI also reported Nov. 5 that Mullah Omar (through his foreign minister, speaking to Iran's INRA news agency) had invited George Bush and Tony Blair to a personal duel with AK-47 rifles to determine who would rule Afghanistan.


The UK Guardian reported Nov. 15 that Amnesty International wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair expressing grave misgivings about the rapid reversal in Afghanistan: "By failing to appreciate the gravity of the human rights concerns in relation to Northern Alliance leaders, UK ministers at best perpetuate a culture of impunity for past crimes; at worst they risk being complicit in human rights abuse." In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer insisted that President Bush was "very pleased" with developments in Afghanistan.


UK foreign secretary Jack Straw apparently avoided wetting his pants with laughter when he told the UN General Assembly Nov. 11: "There must be no more Great Games with Afghan people as the pawns." (UK Guardian, Nov. 12)


After a long wait, Ismail Adilov, a human rights monitor from Uzbekistan who had been invited to speak in New York about his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the regime, was granted permission to leave the country. Adilov was honored at an awards ceremony hosted by Human Rights Watch at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine--placing pressure of the US, which is cultivating Uzbekistan as a partner and staging ground for the war in Afghanistan. Adilov's Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan charges Uzbekistan's President (and former Communist Party boss) Islam Karimov with the false imprisonment of some 7,000 political dissidents and Muslims who practice outside officially-sanctioned mosques, Adilov was arrested in July 1999 and repeatedly tortured. For two months, interrogators daily beat his head and vital organs with batons to coerce him into signing documents confessing to "anti-government activities"--which he refused to do. Often beaten bloody, he was denied medical treatment. Although sentenced to six years, Adilov was released in July 2001 following an international campaign. (New York Times, Nov. 3; Human Rights Watch press release, Nov. 2)

2,000 US Special Forces and units from the 10th Mountain Division are now stationed at a former Soviet military base, Khanabad airfield, at Karshi, Uzbekistan. US forces are building a new compound at the air base to resist potential terrorist attack, (New York Times, Nov. 10). Uzbekistan's troops earn only $23 a month, and root through garbage discarded by the US troops at the base for unused ration packets or other items that might fetch something on the local market. "Our own damned officers have started going through the trash that the Americans bring out," said a disgruntled Uzbek serviceman, who asked not to be identified. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan's secret police have established checkpoints on all roads within a four-mile radius of the base, only allowing in residents and further angering locals. (AFP, Nov. 3)



President Bush signed an Executive Order Nov. 13 creating military courts to try international terrorists, with "classified" evidence that would not be made public. White House officials called it "a new tool to use against terrorism." ACLU national director Laura Murphy called it "deeply disturbing and further evidence that the administration is totally unwilling to abide by the checks and balances that are so central to our democracy." (Newsday, Nov. 14) Arch-conservative columnist William Safire accused Bush of "Seizing Dictatorial Power." (New York Times, Nov. 15)


Refugee resettlement agencies say that since Sept. 11 there has been an effective moratorium on entry of refugees into the US, and that the federal funds they receive to assist refugees are consequently drying up--which could soon lead to lay-offs. Every Oct. 1, start of the fiscal year, the White House is expected to issue a list of the number of refugees allowed in from each region of the world under a pre-determined ceiling. Six weeks later, the Bush administration has still not issued the lists, and the ceiling has been set at 70,000, the lowest number in over a decade. Some 200,000 refugees already approved--having passed background and health checks--are now held up by Bush's inaction. "It is a time of unprecedented uncertainty regarding refugees," said Ralston Deffenbaugh Jr., president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore. He noted that many refugees have already sold their belongings in preparation for the move. "Now they're on the edge of survival as they await their departure." (Newsday, Nov. 12)

The State Department also announced a new 20-day waiting period for men between the ages of 16 and 45 from 25 countries, nearly every Islamic nation--not only those listed as sponsors of terrorism. Extensive new background checks are being imposed. (HirsonWexlerPerl Immigration Law News Flash, Nov. 14, www.hirson.com)



On Nov. 1, the day before New York City firefighters protested angrily at Ground Zero over Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's decision to cut back Fire Department personnel in the excavation effort, the AP reported that some $200 million worth of gold and silver buried under the rubble, held in vaults by Canada's Bank of Nova Scotia, had been successfully recovered. "I think we have most of it," Giuliani told reporters, confirming that armored cars heading to and from the site were carrying the precious metals.


A shaken city was further tested when an American Airlines flight crashed in the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach Nov. 12, killing 260 people. But authorities said they had no reason to suspect terrorism, and the UK Guardian reported Nov. 13 that just a month earlier the plane in question, the Airbus A300, was identified with an "unsafe condition" The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a safety notice on Oct. 5 after months of increased scrutiny of the engine, manufactured by General Electric, which is used on more than 1,000 aircraft world wide. In May, a problem with the same type of engine forced the emergency landing of a Monarch Airlines passenger jet in Portugal. Last year, the FAA ordered airlines to replace a fuel tube within these engines to prevent high-pressure leaks, which investigators warned could result in an engine fire and damage to the plane. Also last year, the FAA ordered carriers to replace certain fan shafts earlier than planned, to prevent possible catastrophic failure.


Verizon, the New York area telephone company, continued to charge a large number of customers whose phone service has still not been restored after the Sept. 11 attacks. Charging customers for lines that are down for over 24 hours would normally violate state regulations and entitle customers to a rebate. But Verizon lobbied the state Public Service Commission for a suspension of the rebate requirement. The suspension was granted, without public notice or hearings. The move was protested by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. (New York Times, Nov. 10)



San Francisco, beset by California's energy crisis even before energy self-sufficiency became more of an imperative following the outbreak of World War III, overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative Nov. 6 to make the city the USA's top producer of solar power. Proposition B passed by 73%, allowing the city to issue a $100 million revenue bond to finance solar and wind-power projects for municipal and county government buildings. San Francisco could install as many solar panels as the entire nation does each year, generating up to 20 megawatts. One megawatt is enough electricity to power roughly 750 homes. (New York Times, Nov. 8)


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