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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 18:24 GMT
Kabul fall vindicates campaign
Kabul policemen
Kabul has fallen, but the war is not over yet
By world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds

American and British military planners are trying to suppress feelings of triumphalism, but they are ready to admit to a sense of satisfaction.

The rapid fall of Kabul has, they feel, proved the effectiveness of a bombing campaign which only a week ago was being questioned for its effectiveness and criticised for its brutal impact on civilians.

Northern Alliance soldiers are greeted by Kabul residents
Military success has outstripped diplomatic efforts
All the while, the Taleban was being taken apart and is now "scattered to the four winds", said one senior official in London.

Air power was the difference which allowed such a rapid advance by the Northern Alliance, which was almost written off post-11 September following the assassination of its legendary leader Ahmed Shah Masood.

Air power will pursue the Taleban after their retreat from Kabul.

Their problem is that if they seek to regroup, they will simply provide American bombers with an easier target.

Officials scoff at suggestions that the Taleban made a "tactical withdrawal".

"They ran before they lost", was the comment of one.

Southern stronghold

But it is not all over. The Taleban can fall back on their stronghold to the south, Kandahar, and the Northern Alliance must be stretched.

So its ability to go beyond Kabul must be in doubt. But then so was its ability to take Kabul, and it did so.

Preparing for an attack on Kandahar and the isolation and takeover of Jalalabad, the city near the Pakistan border, will be the next stage

Preparing for an attack on Kandahar and the isolation and takeover of Jalalabad, the city near the Pakistan border, will be the next stage.

And maybe, the optimists hope, if Kabul fell quickly, so might the others.

They question the conventional wisdom that the main Afghan tribe, the Pashtun, will necessarily support the Taleban to the end.

Destroying al-Qaeda

It is important to remember that the aim of the American-led campaign is to destroy the al-Qaeda network of Osama Bin Laden, who is still free or at least on the run.

Kandahar may be where the Taleban retreat to

The military operation will therefore continue and, in American eyes, will still be the most important part, even though there is a concentration of interest right now on who is to take over in Kabul.

The issue also arises as to whether US and British ground forces might now be used to harry and harass the Taleban and al-Qaeda, perhaps by using one of the air bases which have fallen into Northern Alliance hands.

The Taleban and al-Qaeda are now seen as virtually the same thing and the aim is to remove Bin Laden's defences by removing the protection the Taleban gives him.

This is the strategy of "draining the swamp", as the US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it last month.

Maintaining momentum

And the political and diplomatic campaign must now move into full gear.

It has fallen badly behind the swift moves on the ground, with diplomats and governments floundering.

Efforts led by the UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi have not exactly forged ahead, although Mr Brahimi is hoping to make progress towards getting agreement on a broad-based government soon.

Britain and France are tabling a Security Council resolution to give formal backing to these attempts.

Many governments also want a peacekeeping force to enter Kabul. This would probably have a strong contingent from Islamic countries.

But the allied military want to press on. They have the momentum. It was unexpected and they want to exploit it.

The BBC's John Simpson in Kabul
"This is the end of the Taleban in Afghanistan"
The BBC's Rageh Omaar in Kabul
"Kabul has fallen: but difficult questions remain"
The BBC's Peter Greste
"This has been a remarkably peaceful handover by Afghan standards"
See also:

13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul falls to Northern Alliance
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Opposition takes Kabul
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan concern at Kabul's fall
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The Taleban collapse
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