Will the Northern Alliance Splash
Blood on U.S. Hands?
November 13, 2001
Events are unfolding so
rapidly in Afghanistan that as soon as I write a few paragraphs and check
the news wires, what I've written has become obsolete. Here goes
The Taliban have apparently
withdrawn from the Afghan capital of Kabul and Northern Alliance forces have
entered the city.
That's great news in the
sense that it puts the ultimate defeat of the Taliban that much closer, and
it means additional multitudes of Afghan civilians have been liberated from
oppressive Taliban rule.
The problem is, most
observers felt the Northern Alliance should not enter the city by
itself. Many elements of the Northern Alliance have a terrible human
More specifically, the last
time the Northern Alliance took over Kabul, widespread atrocities
followed. The citizens of Kabul are reported to hate the Northern
Alliance even more than the Taliban, if that is possible.
Already there are unconfirmed
reports from U.N. officials of summary executions and abductions of
civilians in Mazar-i-Sharif, which the Northern Alliance just took
over. It's not clear who are the perpetrators and who are the victims.
The New York Times has
that Northern Alliance forces summarily executed Taliban prisoners and
engaged in widespread looting in an area under their control about 10 miles
north of Kabul. As the reporter dryly put it:
The killings here suggested
that alliance soldiers might prove difficult to control as their victories
Were any Northern Alliance
forces to commit atrocities in Kabul, that could precipitate a rallying of
the Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan to the Taliban, making defeating the
Taliban infinitely more difficult that it would otherwise have been.
The Northern Alliance is made
up primarily of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, so even without any atrocities,
the Pashtuns may well feel threatened enough simply by the Northern Alliance
presence in Kabul to cause the Pashtuns to rally to the Taliban.
Many military analysts
believe that in the best of circumstances at least a division of U.S. forces
will be needed to achieve victory against the Taliban in their stronghold of
Kandahar. Were the Pashtun population there to vigorously support the
Taliban, that would increase the requirement for U.S. troops and undoubtedly
increase U.S. casualties.
Moreover, any innocent
blood spilled by the Northern Alliance is also blood on U.S. hands.
Northern Alliance Is
Beholden to the U.S.
Before the Afghan War
started, the Northern Alliance controlled somewhere between 5-10% of the
country, and they were being slowly squeezed out of the rest by the
Taliban. It is beyond doubt that the only reason the Northern Alliance
is enjoying its current string of successes is because of the effect of
sustained U.S. bombing on the Taliban, as well as new weapons, equipment and
supplies just received by the Northern Alliance from our country and allies.
As the enablers of the
Northern Alliance, we're responsible for what they do.
We can't enable an army and
then disavow the consequences.
Remember the Sabra and
Chatilla massacre? General Ariel Sharon, commander of Israeli forces
who had invaded Lebanon in 1982, allowed Christian Phalange militia allies
of Israel to enter the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps, even though
everyone knew from past history that massacres would result. Over the
next 38 hours 7-800 Palestinian refugees were massacred by the Christian
We reportedly told the
Northern Alliance not to enter Kabul until arrangements had been made for a
government to replace the Taliban. Northern Alliance officials agreed,
that they would have to enter the city were a "political vacuum"
In a statement that insults
the intelligence of the American people, Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld said that
it might be difficult to stop
the Northern Alliance if they tried to seize the capital.
"We don't have enough
forces on the ground to stand in their way," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
If the United States
explicitly told the Northern Alliance not to enter the capital, does
anyone believe they still would?
If the U.S. warned them of a
cut-off of further assistance, would they Northern Alliance dare defy us?
If the U.S. merely parked a
helicopter gunship in front of the advancing Northern Alliance troops, does
anyone believe the Northern Alliance would fire on us?
Rumsfeld's statements are
actually a public relations effort to avoid the appearance that the Northern
Alliance is under U.S. control.
The reality is, if the
Northern Alliance has entered Kabul, it has done so with U.S. approval.
Pray for the civilians there
that the Northern Alliance troops conduct themselves properly.
Earlier today, even before it
was known that the Northern Alliance had taken Kabul, the U.N. issued
an urgent call for
Afghan politicians to meet
within days, make interim arrangements for the Afghan capital and provide
the nucleus for a broad-based government to replace the Taliban.
Now that the Northern
Alliance is already in Kabul, the urgency is magnified, and the U.S. -- as
the creator of this new and highly volatile situation on the ground -- must
work to ensure that the people of Kabul, and the rest of Afghanistan now
under Northern Alliance control, are protected.