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Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 14:21 GMT
An army of generals
Northern Alliance tank commander
The Northern Alliance is inside Kunduz
Adam Mynott

The Northern Alliance army of General Daoud has closed in on Kunduz, the last Taleban enclave in the north, for nearly two weeks.

The army under his authority operates as a coherent fighting force (even if the strategy it is following lacks any apparent coherence), despite any outward sign of a command and control structure.

The front-line is manned, the tanks have been carefully dug in on the high ground, the artillery positions have trucks bringing regular new supplies of shells.

Northern Alliance tank near Kunduz
Afghans have been fighting for over 20 years
The discipline and co-ordination required for successful conflict seems to reside in the ages-old, almost innate sense of warfare that these bellicose peoples possess.

There are five separate fronts to the battle for Kunduz all concentrated around roads converging on the city. That means five separate armies and many, many more army commanders than that.

Surprisingly efficient

There are two other generals in addition to General Daoud who claim command of Tajik armies pressing on Kunduz from the east.

Out of this state of apparent confusion and duplication emerges a surprisingly efficient fighting force.

Mohammed Safiq is a foot-soldier. He is about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from home, which is in a village near Feyzabad. He says he will be going back home soon, because his family needs him.

So far I have not met a single man in charge of one of these units who does not claim the rank of General

He knows that his commander-in-chief is General Daoud, but recognises no other Afghan soldier as his senior officer. Around him are hundreds of other village fighters.

Mohammed says he will spend another 10 days at the front line and when he returns home, he will be replaced by another man from his village.

The Northern Alliance has several hundred tanks, scores of artillery weapons and some quite sophisticated armaments like rocket launchers.

These are commanded by officers with teams of men. They are professional fighting units and, from a journalist's point of view, very useful people to talk to.

They are usually in short-wave radio contact with headquarters and know what is happening. So far I have not met a single man in charge of one of these units who does not claim the rank of general.

General Daoud negotiates via a satellite phone
General Daoud is one of the many key figures
In fact the only Northern Alliance soldier I have spoken to who said he was an officer, but stopped short of claiming the rank of general, was a tall young man in a rocket launcher unit who cannot have been more than 21 years old.

He said he expected to be promoted to general any day.

I asked Mohammed Safiq what would happen when the Taleban were defeated and there was no-one left to fight.

Would he get rid of his treasured AK 47 assault rifle? He looked at me as though I was mad.

He has been fighting all his life. He is an Afghan warrior.

He might even make general one day.

See also:

24 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Kunduz 'tragedy'
24 Nov 01 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Defections in Kunduz
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Key groups to attend Afghan talks
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Who are the Northern Alliance?
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