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The Re-Occupation of Afghanistan by Russia:

Eric Margolis

What has the US achieved after waging war for the past two months in
Afghanistan?

*Afghanistans de facto government, Taliban, with about 30,000 armed
supporters, has been overthrown and scattered. After holding out for five weeks
under massive US bombardments, its leader, Mullah Omar, ordered his men to
retreat to the mountains. Omar, who may be shortly captured or killed, claimed
he ordered the retreat to spare civilians in Taliban-ruled areas from US
bombing. Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, was shattered by intensive US
bombing.

To date, the US has dropped over 10,000 bombs on Afghanistan, killing
sizeable numbers of civilians perhaps in the range of 2,000, according to Afghan
sources. US bombing of cities, towns and villages has driven over 160,000 people
into refugee camps.

*On December 3rd, 2000 one year ago – this writer warned that overthrowing
Taliban would `pave the way for a second Russian occupation of Afghanistan. This
has now happened. The Northern Alliance, armed and funded by Russia, directed by
the Afghan Communist Party, and under the overall command of the Chief of the
Russian General Staff, Marshall Viktor Kvashnin, deputy KGB director Viktor
Komogorov, and a cadre of Russian advisors, seized Kabul and all of northern
Afghanistan, likely with the aid of troops from Uzbekistan and/or Iran.

Bush committed a major, inexcusable blunder. If this writer could foresee
Russian intervention, why didnt the White House?

*Last weeks much ballyhooed Afghan unity conference in Germany produced a
sham
coalition government run by the Northern Alliance. One of CIAs Pushtun
`assets, Hamid Karzai, who represents no one but himself, was named prime
minister. There was no other real Pushtun representation, thought they comprise
half the population. Of thirty cabinet seats, two thirds went to Northern
Alliance Tajiks, notably the power ministries: defense, interior, and foreign
affairs. Two women were added for window dressing to please the west. The
87-year old deposed Afghan king, Zahir Shah, widely blamed for allowing the
communists to infiltrate Afghanistan in the 1970s, was invited back as a
figurehead monarch. In short, a communist-dominated regime, ruled by a king,
whose strings are pulled by Moscow. Quite a bizarre creation.

The very next day, feuding broke among Alliance members. Old communist
stalwart Rashid Dostam, who had just finished massacring hundreds of Taliban
prisoners with American and British help, threatened war if his Uzbeks did not
get more spoils. My old friend, the Alliances figurehead president, Prof.
Rabbani, a respected Islamic scholar, was shoved aside by young communists.

*The Bush Administration was apparently too preoccupied chasing Osama bin
Laden to notice its new best friend, Russia, had broken its agreement to wait
for formation of a pro-US, pro-Pakistani regime, and seized half of Afghanistan.
Marshall Kvashnin rushed his men into Kabul, just as he outfoxed the Americans
in 1999 in a similar coup de main in Kosovo.

*The hunt for bin Laden and his al-Qaida continues. Two senior Qaida figures
have been killed: Mohammed Atef and, mosy likely, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader
of Egypts Islamic Jihad. The net is closing around bin Ladens possible hiding
places. Unless he has escaped Afghanistan, his capture or death appear imminent.

This will be welcome news for the Bush Administration. If bin Laden somehow
escapes, or his body never found, Bush will be accused of blowing apart
Afghanistan, killing large numbers of civilians, and allowing the Russians to
grab back the country, all for nothing.

*The late Pushtun leader Abdul Haq, whom I knew from my Peshawar days, warned
the US before his death that bombing of Afghanistan was unnecessary and a grave
mistake. Taliban control could be broken, where needed, by financing tribal
uprisings – the standard form of Afghan warfare without foreign intervention.
Otherwise, he warned, the Northern Alliance would take over and bring in the
Russians. He pleaded with Washington for restraint, but to no avail. Haq was
captured by Taliban during a bungled CIA operation and hanged.

But Haq was right. US forces could have hunted bin Laden in southern
Afghanistan with relative impunity, as they are now doing, without having to
launch a total war against Taliban. US air power totally dominates barren
Afghanistan. Taliban forces could not move or communicate. There were only a
small number of Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan where bin Laden was
hiding.

Bombing Afghan civilian centers was absolutely unnecessary. The only real
military targets offered by Taiban were its entrenched troops facing the
Alliance. It was remarkable that Taliban managed to withstand five weeks of
carpet bombing by US B-52s particularly, as one columnist in DAWN wryly noted,
Pakistan gave in to the US after only a threatening phone call from Washington.

The US could have hunted bin Laden without allowing the Russians to recapture
half of Afghanistan, a severe geopolitical defeat for American ambitions to use
that nation as a gateway to Central Asian oil and gas. And without blasting to
rubble what little remained of demolished Afghanistan, and without driving
160,000 civilians into terrified flight. If the medieval Taiban was such a
scourge, then why was the Bush Administration giving it millions in aid as late
as May, 20001?

After eight weeks of war, Taliban is out; the Communists are in power in
Kabul. The south is in chaos. Pakistan is isolated and unloved by all. The war
has cost Washington US$10 billion to date. Afghanistan is a bloody mess. And
Vladimir Putin is smiling.