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On the frontline 17/10/01
In northern Afghanistan, it's
no good trying to get to the
front line in the morning rush hour,
and you'll never see any action
unless your papers are in order.
Luckily we bumped into someone
with a very important signature. We
were given permission to advance by
no lesser personage than the first
deputy defence minister, General
Muhebulloh. He effects complete
indifference to changes in American
GENERAL MUHEBULLOH (TRANSLATION):
The Americans can strike or not
strike. That's their political choice.
We will continue our own struggle.
But at the moment we are in a state
of heightened military alert,
waiting to start a mass advance.
Lines of communication in this war
are slow and primitive. This is the
same route and the same transport
used by Alexander the Great 2,300
years ago, though he, unlike us,
probably had the use of stirrups.
The cliff-top city Alexander
founded to command the river
is now a base for Northern Alliance
artillery. The Taliban positions in
the hills opposite are a few
kilometres away. At the top of the
slope it's silent as the grave.
There were fierce battles here a
year ago. Now the path that leads
the final few hundred yards to the
front probably sees more journalists
than soldiers. On this north east front,
there's no movement. The trenches of
the two sides are within easy rifle
range of one another, but the
shooting has a desultory air. The
commander is still waiting for orders
to advance, though he hints there's
not much reason to delay.
COLONEL ABDUL RASUL (TRANSLATION):
America struck at the Taliban
headquarters in the town over there.
The communications centre and their
tanks were all hit.
A visit to the Northern Alliance
positions makes it no clearer why so
little is happening here. The local
commanders say many of the Taliban
forces facing them have been
withdrawn to fight elsewhere, and
some have simply melted away. Yet
still there's no push forward. It
may be a sign of the alliance's
military weakness, or it may be
deliberate calculation. Since the
assassination last month of its
revered leader, Ahmed Shah Massood,
the alliance has lost political and
military direction. Precise
targeting of its foreign minister,
Abdullah Abdullah, has proved a
difficult task for reporters, but
he has now given something away.
The United Front, as the alliance
calls itself, won't move on Kabul
just yet because it can't agree on
what to do when it gets there.
There are some people in the United
Front who will say that since we
have resisted against the Taliban
for so many years, we should have
the chance to rule the country.
There might be some elements in the
United Front. What we are saying as
the political leadership of the United
Front of the Islamic state of Afghanistan,
yes, we deserve that right, but we have to
The alliance has to march with
America. And America can't afford
to get out of step with Pakistan.
That means a new Afghan government
must represent the south of the
country as well as the north. Until
a shadow administration is formed,
it's safer for everyone to test
their strength well away from the
capital. We put in a call to General
Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Northern
Alliance commander who's advanced
towards the northern city of
Mazar-e-Sharif. The general was in
bullish mood, though it's now
reported he's facing some Taliban
resistance. Can you ask General
Dostum what's happening around
ABDUL RASHID DOSTUM (TRANSLATION):
The Taliban have already given up
a lot of territory and gradually we are
advancing. I can say with all confidence
that in the coming days we will take over
commanders are too proud to admit
receiving outside help, but America
has targeted the Taliban around
Mazar-e-Sharif, as well as near Kabul.
What the alliance won't say is
how closely those strikes are
co-ordinated with their troops
on the ground. Are you exchanging
operational information, military
operational information with the
GENERAL MUHEBULLOH (TRANSLATION):
This is really a question for the defence
minister. The information we get
from intelligence is passed upwards.
The co-ordination of operational
plans and military strikes is done
at their level.
contacts can't really pass over the
head of a deputy defence minister,
but the truth is, America and the
Northern Alliance are still sizing
one another up. Neither side knows
exactly where it's going.