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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Analysis: The tough battle for Mazar
Northern Alliance fighters
Northern Alliance forces are short of supplies
By BBC Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

The Northern Alliance commander in the Mazar-e-Sharif region, General Rashid Dostum, gives the impression that his forces could enter the city at any time.

But outside observers question whether General Dostum's forces really are in a position to mount a major attack.

The Northern Alliance says it has now captured the villages of Marmol and Shandian, in the mountains overlooking the city from the south.

But that is still some 25km (16 miles) from its centre.

Taleban strong

US air strikes may have inflicted some damage to Taleban positions, but the Taleban garrison in Mazar is strong.

Some sources suggest there could be 10,000 defenders.

That is probably more than General Dostum has at his disposal.

And the Mazar garrison includes some of the Taleban's most effective soldiers, Arabs and others foreigners.

Their will to fight will be strengthened by the fact that in the past, Mazar has been the scene of brutal massacres, by both sides.


Northern Alliance forces near Mazar, on the other hand, are short of heavy weapons and supplies.

And there is no easy supply route to the mountainous region where they are based.

Supplies from Russia are said to be arriving in Badakhshan province, in the extreme north-east.

But that is 200km from Mazar, and the northern plain between is occupied by much of the Taleban army.

The only other way for supplies to reach General Dostum is by helicopter or a circuitous land route over high mountain passes and remote valleys.


The battle for Mazar, however, may not be decided just by military hardware and supplies.

A key factor will be morale.

Will the Taleban forces' courage hold up under constant US air attacks?

And do Dostum's forces have the morale to make up for their numerical weakness?

See also:

25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: General Rashid Dostum
21 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tackling the Taleban
18 Oct 01 | Media reports
War of words over Afghan town
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Battle for Afghan stronghold
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