US action against Afghanistan will inevitably be difficult if it goes beyond missile air strikes. Washington will be seeking to enlist the forces of the anti-Taleban groupings collectively known as the Northern Alliance. The alliance comprises three main groups with a number of smaller factions drifting in and out of its sphere of influence. The fact that they are still holding out against the Taleban is testament to the difficulty that any military force has in achieving a total victory in Afghanistan's inhospitable terrain.
However, the alliance has suffered a major loss in the past week after suicide bombers killed its undisputed leader, Ahmed Shah Masood. The veteran fighter's followers dubbed him the "Lion of Panjshir" - not only for his resistance of the Soviet Union but also because he was considered the last line of defence against the Taleban.
Possible US Action: The alliance is already supported by Iran and Russia while it is believed it also receives support from central Asian states fearful of the Taleban effect within their own borders. If the US were to mount any kind of ground offensive, the Northern Alliance could prove indispensable. The loss of Ahmed Shah Masood may not be initially felt as the impending harsh Afghanistan winter tends to interrupt clashes with the Taleban.