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Between The Lines: Guerrilla War in Afghanistan?

from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine "Between The Lines"

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media

For release Nov. 19, 2001


After Taliban Abandon Afghanistan's Cities,
Will U.S. Be Drawn into a Protracted Guerrilla War?

*Some observers speculate that U.S.-backed Northern Alliance forces may deteriorate into warring factions, much as occurred after Islamic fundamentalist fighters forced the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989

After four weeks of relentless bombing of Taliban government targets by U.S. planes and missiles, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance advanced at a rapid pace, taking over the key cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and finally the capital city of Kabul. Although the Taliban described their change in fortune as a strategic retreat, U.S. government and Pentagon officials expressed delight and surprise at their allies' rapid march south. Many observers warn that the Taliban may be abandoning the cities in order to prepare for what could be a brutal guerrilla war.

In capturing Kabul, the Northern Alliance disregarded their agreement to remain outside the capital city until the U.S. could hammer out a plan to establish a stable post-Taliban government that was inclusive of all of Afghanistan's competing ethnic groups. As the U.S.-backed force overtook fleeing Taliban soldiers, there were many press accounts of executions, torture and looting by Northern Alliance militia.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll Jr. of the Center for Defense Information, who assesses the quick turn of events in Afghanistan and how this may affect the U.S. goal of capturing Osama bin Laden and dismantling his Al Qaeda terror network believed to be responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Eugene Carroll Jr.: What we have seen is a demonstration of the fragility of a so-called military service that has no real load on it. The (Taliban) simply existed to dominate the people of Afghanistan, and that was no challenge. When it was really pressured by U.S. air power and then by the Northern Alliance ground forces there was nothing there to call on -- it just dissolved and disappeared. Now that does illustrate the point that this is the nature of such military forces: they don't hold territory, they don't stand and face an enemy, they retreat and disperse, then they come back and strike again where they consider you to be vulnerable. They choose the time and place and you can't be on guard everywhere all the time. And I'm afraid we're going to have to consider this as the way of the future. We're going to be seeing guerrilla ambushes, land mines and all of the sorts of things that these types of military elements do.

Between The Lines: As you've just indicated, there are reports that the Taliban have melted into the countryside, that they are in the process of abandoning the cities to wage a guerrilla war. Is the United States prepared to engage Taliban fighters over the coming months or years in a protracted guerrilla war in your view?

Eugene Carroll Jr.: Absolutely not. It would be the most foolish commitment we could ever make to put U.S. forces on the ground to occupy Afghanistan. We would subject ourselves to a continual bloodletting. We would accomplish nothing by being there. We would probably lose support in the Islamic world. We've always said we don't have any territorial aspirations, we don't want to control or command "your" community, "your" nation. We simply want to rectify offenses that were committed against us and then we will be gone. For that reason we cannot afford to occupy Afghanistan. The way of the future if it is to succeed at all is to count on the United Nations meeting its responsibilities as a peacekeeper to put in police-type forces manned primarily by Muslim nations and to maintain a peaceful and stable condition within Afghanistan that will persist and endure.

Between The Lines: Rear Admiral Carroll, what is your view of the likelihood that the U.S. will be able to put together a new government in Afghanistan that will include key ethnic groups and political factions?

Eugene Carroll Jr.: Very unlikely. The fact is that the commander-in-chief of our armed services -- the president of the United States -- in effect directed the Northern Alliance to remain outside of Kabul until such time as a political structure could be created that would provide representative government in Afghanistan. That command or request, whatever you choose to call it, was totally ignored and we all knew it was going to be ignored.

The Northern Alliance consists of competing and even opposing factions which are each seeking their own objectives in Afghanistan and for them to willingly hold back and not go in and grab everything they could grab would be absolutely incomprehensible. They're going to be the greatest danger to Afghanistan in the near future that you can imagine. Unless some sort of an agreement among the ethnic groups and religious groups that are competing there can be reached we are not going to have accomplished much in Afghanistan. There will be no central authority, there will be no means of tracking down Osama bin Laden and ending the threat of terrorism from that quarter.

Between The Lines: Admiral Carroll do you believe that the United States will be able to succeed in either capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and dismantling his Al Qaeda network?

Eugene Carroll Jr.: We will not do it, the United States will not do it, because we don't have the intelligence. The information is not available to us, even if he's still inside Afghanistan, which is another question. The people who can do it, if he remains there, are the Afghanis themselves. But that means that they have to have a central government seeking continued support from the United States. Then they can track down Osama bin Laden, they can take him wherever he attempts to hide. It just isn't within our capacity to do that.

The United States as a super power has no magic wand that will make problems go away. We have to operate in cooperation with other nations in the world, with the United Nations in order to deal with these problems of global terrorism.

It absolutely horrifies me when I hear the hawks here in Washington saying, "Now we can go after Iraq, now we can 'take out' Sadam Hussein." That is madness, truly madness to think we can seize upon the terrorist actions of Osama bin Laden as an excuse to attack Iraq and Sadam Hussein. If we make that mistake we really will be in trouble.

Contact the Center for Defense Information by calling (202) 332-0600 or visit their Web site at

See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: for the week ending 11/23/01.


Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Nov. 23, 2001.

To subscribe to Between The Lines Q&A, e-mail

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