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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 14:03 GMT
Analysis: Who is winning the war?
Afghans bury their dead after errors in US strikes caused civilian casualties
The number of civilian casualties is on the rise
Jonathan Marcus

As the war over Afghanistan enters its fourth week, UK political leaders are urging public opinion to remain focused upon the long-term goals of the struggle against terrorism.

Much of the media has been displaying a far more sceptical tone in recent days as the numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan slowly mounts and the air campaign shows no sign of ending.

Northern Alliance soldiers in Dast-e-Qala on the border with Tajikistan
The Afghan opposition is not impressed with the US
So is this war being won or lost? And how far does the media's scepticism reflect wider public unease?

It might be useful to draw up a balance sheet as to what has been achieved so far.

But part of the problem is that we simply do not know what impact the US bombing campaign is actually having.

The messages are, to say the least, mixed.

Mixed messages

All sorts of military locations appear to have been hit, with training camps, airfields, ammunition dumps and so on destroyed.

But the bombing has inevitably brought with it a growing toll of civilian casualties and distressing images of dead and injured children in the newspapers and on the television news.

Launch new window : Detailed map
Click here for a detailed map of the strikes so far

After more than three weeks of bombardment, the Taleban's grip on power seems undiminished.

It has seized and killed one influential opposition leader sent into the country to try to win over some of its allies.

The Northern Alliance seems unimpressed by the level of air support it is getting from the Americans and has made little headway on the ground.

Stark contradictions

Clear results are few and far between.

The contradictions of this campaign are ever more starkly revealed.

How far can the Northern Alliance be supported in the absence of any long-term political formula for Afghanistan?

Taleban fighters
The Taleban's grip seems undiminished
To what extent can US and UK ground operations be mounted without much more detailed intelligence?

There are lots of questions but few answers.

Perhaps the greatest question of all is what alternative is there?

Plan A may be showing few results - at least for now - but there does not seem to be any Plan B available.

The message from the White House and from Whitehall is to stick with it.

But in Britain, in particular, winning the public relations battle at home is going to become increasingly more difficult as time goes on.

The BBC's Jon Sopel
"The allies still have their work cut out"
See also:

28 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition leader buried
27 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Bombing strategy fails to lure defectors
27 Oct 01 | South Asia
US admits second bombing error
25 Oct 01 | South Asia
Call for cluster bombs halt
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