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
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
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
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...
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?
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