BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 11.11.01


About the latest military developments.

PETER SNOW: And I'm joined as usual by Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden to analyse the situation. Well now the first of the big four Afghan cities, Mazar-e-Sharif, has fallen and the allied coalition now has a huge opportunity. It can make this city its forward base inside Afghanistan for political reconstruction and for humanitarian relief. Moreover, it now has the military momentum to try and push through into central and southern Afghanistan. Here's a closer look at the north of Afghanistan. Only three days ago, the Taliban appeared to be firmly placed in Mazar-e-Sharif with their tanks around the outside facing the Northern Alliance and keeping them back. And there were even reports of the less well armed Northern Alliance charging on horseback against the tanks in the ring around Mazar-e-Sharif. But it was the American B52s' carpet-bombing the Taliban positions particularly to the south of city that finally broke the Taliban's resistance. And within hours the Taliban were streaming out of Mazar to the east here, to the west and way down here to the south and to central Afghanistan. And the Northern Alliance were in, only three years after they were kicked out last by the Taliban. So the battle has now shifted elsewhere. The spotlight is now on the towns of the east of Mazar, Kondoz and Taloqan where the Taliban are still in control. Kondoz is an important crossroads town, Taloqan an important tactical target for the Northern Alliance. Now the front-line is now something like this. A great swathe of territory here now around Mazar-e-Sharif, many provinces said to be in their hands now, the Taliban way out of that area and over here, around Taloqan anyway as of this morning, the Northern Alliance in a position something like that with a small pocket here only of Taliban resistance. The Taliban's strength is now pinned down in this corner up here around Kondoz. The Northern Alliance, now to their north, their east, their south and of course, here to the north of Kabul down here. Now Taloqan, we're told by the Associated Press has fallen according to claims by the Northern Alliance, to the Northern Alliance, so we could actually redraw that line there if we happen to get, got the independent verification that is correct. B52s bombing Taliban positions up here for the last two weeks or so, weakening the Taliban positions around Taloqan. And the Americans now using the so-called Daisy Cutter bomb, a bomb that has lethal effect, it explodes in the air, just above the surface and then has lethal effect on troop concentrations below it. The Northern Alliance may be within hours now of moving from Taloqan to Kondoz if their claims are correct and they have captured Taloqan, and from there of course, they can then move onto the only remaining part of north-east Afghanistan, still in Taliban hands, and that could be where the Taliban now make their last stand in Northern Afghanistan. The fall of Mazar has also encourged the Northern Alliance to advance on Kabul, from their positions just north of the city, here. There, the Bagram airfield and here the Northern Alliance there, and the Americans doing their best again down here to bomb the Taliban positions around the Bagram airbase here and to the north of Kabul. But the Americans have made it clear that any Northern Alliance advance should stop short of taking over Kabul until there's agreement on a new government. Now, Air Marshal, you rightly forecast that Mazar would be the first town to fall, which do you think it going to be the second? AIR MARSHAL SIR TIM GARDEN: Well I think we're already hearing that Taloqan is likely to have fallen. It's in a very vulnerable position there, and I think if you can (thank you), see down along here, there'll be a join-up, which will give the whole of that. We've already had some more reports that at the junction of the road coming down south into Bagram and Kabul, the Northern Alliance have made some headway down there. They're going to have to take out the higher mountains which are surrounded and have Taliban troops, but that'll be a clearing-up operation. So the aim of the game I think at this stage is to make sure that they've got a completely continuous territory down to just south of Bagram airfield. SNOW: Right, so of the bigger towns - we assume that Taloqan may or may not have gone this morning - of the bigger towns, Kondoz or Kabul, Kondoz likelier to go sooner? How long do you think this pocket will last now? GARDEN: I think it's a matter of days. It's going to be done before the real winter is set in in the next week or two and they can then consolidate that, they can use this whole area for bringing in more ammunition, bringing in winter supplies and bringing in humanitarian aid, which is important. There'll be lots more defections as the quality of life improves in the north. SNOW: Okay, so what next? Well the capture of Mazar will allow the allied coalition to make the airport there not only its forward military base, but also a centre for the distribution of relief supplies. Now they can either be flown into the airport in Mazar, or driven across the border from Uzbekistan. Moreover the mainly Anglo/American coalition will soon be broadened by the promised arrival of other European troops, two-thousand from France, many of them are already there, three thousand, nine hundred from Germany and a thousand from Italy. One of the next tasks will be to attempt to build on victory up here by laying the foundations for a post-Taliban government in waiting, maybe even establishing its framework here in Mazar. The trouble is, the triumphant Northern Alliance has a dismaying record of internal disunity. To name just three leaders who've been bitterly opposed to each other in the past within the Northern Alliance, Abul Rashid Dostum, the main driving force in the conquest of Mazar-e-Sharif. Now he's an Uzbek and has a fearsome reputation. Any further bloodshed his troops cause in Mazar will make it all the more difficult to begin to build political unity out of this military victory. To the east, the main focus for loyalty there is the Tajik leader, Burhannudin Rabbani. There his troops who are poised to advance on Kabul. They'd have an even bigger challenge in trying to control a population which is largely Pashtun from the south. And the Northern Alliance's other big leader, is Ismail Khan, Commander of a quite different force, over here around Herat although there's now talk of his forces effectively joining up with Dostum's forces and almost having a corridor here right the way across of the north part of Afghanistan. The trouble is that none of these leaders represents the majority Pashtun population of southern and western Afghanistan. And there's been very little sign of any anti-Taliban rebellion down here. Only one tribal leader, Hamid Karzai has managed to have been successful in infiltrating the country and surviving. Now he's somewhere here, north of Kandahar and American helicopters have been supplying him, and dropping food to him, according to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Karzai for his part, says that they haven't been helping him, he's got no help from the Americans at all. Meanwhile the man the allies are looking for, Osama Bin Laden, somewhere in hiding down here in the south of the country, goodness knows where exactly, says he has access to chemical and nuclear weapons, and he and the Taliban government are reported to be forming suicide teams who will attack with explosives attached to their bodies. None of this can be verified independently now, Air Marshal, do you think first of all that he has got nuclear weapons? GARDEN: I think it most unlikely that he has nuclear weapons. He may have some nuclear material, but he's more likely to use that for terrorist attacks outside Afghanistan rather than in terms of the campaign here... SNOW: ...for last stage survival... GARDEN: SNOW: ...weapon inside Afghanistan? GARDEN: No. I mean it wouldn't work anyway. Finding him still remains the aim of the exercise and this will be much easier with the whole of the North under control and then looking in the cold weather for where he is. SNOW: Now, what do you think the next stage of it all is going to be? We've got the winter coming up in what, a week or two? GARDEN: Yes. SNOW: Snow's coming down. Do you think the Northern Alliance and indeed the coalition is going to get further than the north of the country in the next couple of weeks before ... GARDEN: ...well I think it's very difficult to say because it may be that all the Taliban supporters will realise they're going to lose and defect, in which case Kabul becomes empty and the Northern Alliance can get in quite easily, but more likely they'll stay and defend there. And what we do need to do is start getting some sort of secure area in the south, so that both sides of the country realise that they can get the humanitarian aid in and isolate the Taliban. SNOW: Fighting their way into the south before winter? GARDEN: No, no. I mean it's.. right down in the south it's fairly under-populated and maybe securing an area with an airfield in order to provide a humanitarian aid base which will allow the people to realise that it's worth their while coming and getting support from the NGOs. SNOW: Meanwhile, Mazar-e-Sharif, now do you see British troops for example going in there? GARDEN: I think we'll see European troops going in there and British troops are already there by all reports and we've got the Germans coming aboard and the French and I think we'll see a great coalition of forces to provide the rule of law. SNOW: Air Marshal, thank you very much. John.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.