The Taking of Mazar-i-Sharif
Should Have Come Much Sooner
Many Lives Would Have Been
November 9, 2001
As I write this evening, news
are ever-more-conclusively confirming that the Northern Alliance has taken
the strategic Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Most Taliban forces
reportedly withdrew rather than fight the incoming Alliance troops.
While in past wars the city
has changed hands many times, it will probably be quite difficult for the
Taliban to launch a counter-offensive, since any Taliban troop
concentrations would be easy targets for U.S. fighter jets and -- should we
finally choose to introduce them on the Afghan battlefield -- helicopter
In addition to the tactical
military advantages the capture of this city will have for U.S. war efforts,
humanitarian efforts to feed starving Afghans will get a much needed
boost. About three-quarters of the people in need are in northern
Afghanistan, and it should now be much easier to get them supplies by land,
the much preferred method and the only real way to feed large numbers of
That's the good news.
The bad news is how
unnecessarily long this military success took to achieve.
At the beginning of the
Afghan War, the U.S. took out all Taliban anti-aircraft sites in a day or
two. But then we flew relatively few bombing sorties, and utilized
almost nothing but fighter jets. And the targets were not Taliban
troops, but suddenly discovered additional "strategic assets" of
the Taliban, which were near civilians. Mistakes and carelessness led
to many civilian deaths for what many considered to be dubious military
advantage. Where were the B-52's, and why weren't the Taliban
front-line troops being hit in the field, people began to ask.
After mounting public
complaints by pundits and former military officials commenting on news
programs, the B-52's came and started bombing the Taliban front-line
troops. But again, the sorties were few and results unclear. Our
Northern Alliance allies complained that the slow pace and inaccurate
targeting were leaving Taliban troops relatively unscathed.
So we then dropped in some
Special Ops forces to improve the targeting, ratcheted up the number of
strikes dramatically, and as a result the Taliban started to hurt.
But still, the Northern
Alliance complained about a lack of logistical support from us. Once
again, after the public complaints, the logistical support started in
The result: the capture of
If there had not been a
public outcry about the feeble war effort at the beginning, and thereafter
during each successive stage of not-enough incremental increase, I think
we'd still be hitting a half-dozen Taliban "strategic assets" a
day and that would be all that was happening.
What is shameful is that
during this entire time period when it took public complaints to get the
Bush administration to prosecute the war like they meant it, many civilians
were killed by unnecessary bombing, and an untold number of civilians died
from hunger or lack of medical care. A more vigorous prosecution of
the war from the beginning would have shortened the process considerably and
spared many civilians, who wouldn't have had to be bombed, and saved the
lives of many others, who could have been fed and medically treated.
It's wonderful that the
people of Mazar-i-Sharif are no longer under harsh Taliban rule.
I only hope that -- unlike
its strange, foot-dragging approach to date -- the Bush administration now
makes a focused effort now to rapidly take over Kabul, so the overt
bombing/heavy ground fighting phase of the war can be concluded, and the
urgent humanitarian needs of the Afghan population can be attended to.
And of course, the sooner
Kabul is taken from the Taliban, the greater the likelihood we'll also have
of completing the uprooting of Al Qaeda and the capture of Osama bin
Laden. That's the real point of all this, isn't it?
Considering that Bush has
said the fate of civilization is in the balance, it would not seem a time
for him to continue his dawdling ways.