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MAZAR-I-SHARIF

The Taking of Mazar-i-Sharif Should Have Come Much Sooner

Many Lives Would Have Been Saved

November 9, 2001

As I write this evening, news reports 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 gunships.

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 people.

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 earnest.

The result: the capture of Mazar-i-Sharif.

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.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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