- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

The Afghan Northern Alliance may lack unity, leadership, money and weapons, but it has become thanks to U.S. bombings the spearhead of the U.S. war on terrorism.
Despite fears that alliance troops are prone to human rights violations and are too weak and divided to oust the Taliban, the rebel troops are poised to receive a green light to move on Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.
President Bush said before his China trip last week U.S. air strikes would set the stage for "friendly troops on the ground" to oust the Taliban and help round up accused terrorist Osama bin Laden and his supporters.
Despite the U.S. sorties against Taliban frontline positions this week, the poorly armed, ethnically divided and leaderless Alliance troops still face a powerfully motivated enemy loyal to the Taliban leadership and stiffened by Arab and Pakistani religious zealots.
The alliance lost its most effective military strategist when its defense minister, Shah Ahmed Masood, was killed by a suicide bomber possibly sent by Osama bin Laden a few days before the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
"Who is in charge of the Northern Alliance now? No one," said Larry Goodson, an expert on Afghanistan who is advising the U.S. government on Afghan policy.
The alliance, which still holds the Afghan seat at the United Nations and controls about 10 percent of the Afghan countryside, remains a "credible fighting force with problems," said Mr. Goodson, a professor at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.
With Mr. Masood gone, Mr. Goodson said, the alliance is even more fractious than before and it lacks a cohesive military strategy. It also suffers from outmoded military gear.
The Northern Alliance, also calling itself the United Front, consists of four major ethnic groups loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Mr. Rabbani, head of the Jamaat-i-Islami party, served as president in Kabul from 1992 to 1996 when the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, drove him out of the capital.
His defense minister, Mr. Masood, commanded an ethnic Tajik militia that is now headed by his former aide, Mohammed Fahim.
The four main groups of the Alliance are, according to a Washington spokesman:
The Tajiks of the Jamaat-i-islami, headed by Mr. Rabani and Gen. Fahim, with 15,000 regular and 15,000 reserve troops.
The Uzbeki militia of Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, who has shifted sides in past wars, His 8,000 troops are poised to advance on the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and have been advised by U.S. forces.
The 6,000 ethnic Hazara forces of the Hizb-e-Wahadat party, based west of the central Afghan town of Bamian, where the Taliban recently destroyed two giant stone Buddhas. The mainly Shi'ite Hazaras have been badly persecuted by the Sunni Taliban.
The 5,000 troops in the Herat militia of Ismael Khan, a popular former governor of Heart who established schools for girls after the end of Soviet occupation in 1990.
Another militia is the Turkomen fighters of Gen. Malik Pahlawan, previously in an alliance with Gen. Dostum's Uzbeks. They betrayed Gen. Dostum to the Taliban but then slaughtered about 2,000 Taliban forces when they failed to give Gen. Pahlawan a major role in governing Mazar-e-Sharif.
None of the Northern Alliance factions is from the biggest and politically dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan the Pashtun who form the Taliban and are based in the south and east along the Pakistani border.
The only Pashtun militia to remain loyal to the Rabbani government is that of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, which was once a conduit for Saudi funds and conservative Wahabbi Saudi volunteers for the anti-Soviet war of 1980-1990.
The Bush administration has sent CIA agents to the Pakistani border cities of Peshawar and Quetta to try to recruit Pashtuns to join with the Northern Alliance in a broad-based government under the aegis of the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. But so far there has been little evidence of success.
Before the U.S.-initiated air strikes on Afghanistan this month, the Northern Alliance had an estimated 15,000 troops, compared with 40,000 for the Taliban, said Mr. Goodson, far less than the alliance spokesman's estimates.
"Since then, they have begun to change sides. In Afghanistan, cash is flowing and tea drunk and sides are switching," he said.
However the Taliban forces have been stiffened by perhaps 1,000 to 5,000 deeply committed Arab and Pakistani volunteers.

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