In five days, the Northern Alliance has gone from controlling less than 15 percent of Afghanistan, to controlling more than half, said Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in today’s Pentagon briefing.
Opposition control of the northern land will allow U.S. troops to open airports around Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul for the transportation of much-needed humanitarian supplies, he said.
While the rapid progress of anti-Taliban forces was welcomed by the United States, the Pentagon warned that it did not indicate a near end to the war on terrorism
“This effort against terrorism and terrorists is far from over,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters.
Rumsfeld acknowledged that the Taliban “appears to have abandoned Kabul,” but added that despite the tremendous Northern Alliance gains in the past few days, the al-Qaida network “remains dangerous.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that President Bush is “very pleased with the progress of the war and with the latest developments,” even though the administration had asked the Northern Alliance to stay out of the capital.
President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had requested that Northern Alliance forces not enter Kabul until a broad-based, multiethnic government was established. They were concerned that the entry of the mainly ethnic Tajik and Uzbek Northern Alliance would spark hostility among Kabul’s mostly Pashtun population, and that opposition forces might seek revenge on pro-Taliban civilians.
Unnamed United Nations sources said the Northern Alliance troops had executed 100 Taliban fighters hiding in a school in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Saturday, and there were other reports of reprisals against foreigners who had been fighting for the Taliban.
Earlier today, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said there had been no bloody reprisals against Taliban supporters in the newly captured territories.
“What we’ve seen thus far in places where the Taliban and al-Qaida are leaving and … the opposition groups are going in, they’ve been pretty uniformly welcomed,” Clarke said. “And things seem to be going pretty well thus far.”
Rumsfeld said many reports coming from the ground in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war had been lies and that the special forces stationed in Afghanistan will be able to observe the actions of the anti-Taliban troops in the captured areas. They will not, however, serve as police, he said.
“There are not sufficient number to monitor or police the entire city,” Rumsfeld said. “There are a sufficient number that they can give advice and counsel to the people who are in the city — the leadership — and that they can report back that which they see.”
In addition to the U.S. forces working with the opposition in the north, some special operations troops are operating in the Taliban-controlled southern regions of the country, Rumsfeld said.
Asked to characterize the Taliban retreat from Kabul, Myers said it was more disorganized than organized. The Taliban, he said, are likely trying to blend into Afghanistan’s landscape to escape continuing U.S. strikes.
U.S. warplanes will continue to strike at Taliban forces as they withdraw toward the south of the country, Myers said, although differentiating between Taliban and non-Taliban movement might be difficult.
A commander on board the USS Carl Vinson in the Indian Ocean told Reuters that U.S. warplanes are dropping fewer bombs on Afghanistan until the targets become more clear.
“The picture in Afghanistan is pretty unclear,” Air Wing Commander T.C. Bennett said. “With the advances of the Northern Alliance, we are simply not sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.”
Today’s bombing over Afghanistan concentrated on caves thought to be hiding places for members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization, the terrorist network believed to be responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
A Post-Taliban Government
In response to the rapid Taliban withdrawal from Kabul and the Northern Alliance entry into the capital, the United Nations today outlined a detailed plan for a post-Taliban administration.
“Time is now of the essence,” Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, told the UN Security Council. “Things are changing fast on the ground, as we saw over the last few days, especially last night and this morning, with the Northern Alliance expanding its control of the territory and entering Kabul.”
Brahimi is calling for a two-year transitional government headed by a provisional council reflecting the country’s ethnic diversity. That council would be chaired “by an individual recognized as a symbol of national unity,” referring perhaps to Afghanistan’s exiled king, Zahir Shah.
During the two-year term of the transitional government, a loya jirga, or grand council of tribal elders, would draw up a constitution. That draft would be approved by a second loya jirga, which would ultimately create a permanent government for Afghanistan.
In the meantime, a multinational security force would protect the country from terrorist organizations and other armed groups. A group of 21 countries would be responsible for monitoring the situation.
The Northern Alliance asked the 87-year-old former king Zahir Shah, in exile in Rome since 1973, to send a delegation to Kabul to discuss the future Afghan government.
“We had agreed with the former king that he would nominate 50 percent of the 120-member council from Pashtuns, and the [Northern Alliance] would nominate the rest of 50 percent so that the council has representations from all nationalities and ethnicities,” said Ahmad Wali Masood, the Northern Alliance’s London envoy.
The United Nations said it would like to resume humanitarian activities as soon as possible, possible using Mazar-e-Sharif to rush in food, shelter and clothing as winter sets it.