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Maj. Gen. David Grange: Morale boost for Northern Alliance

David Grange is a retired U.S. Army major general and a military analyst for CNN.  

Update: The Northern Alliance has taken Mazar-e Sharif, but their forces probably aren't completely in control of it. Even though it's not a big city, you have to control the dominating terrain around it, including in the direction that the Taliban retreated.

You also have to control access and lines of communications to prevent a counterattack or interdiction as they set up operations there. And they have to protect not only their land bridge to and from Uzbekistan but also the routes they used in attacking the city.

They have to make sure that's all tied together. So it's going to take a little while to consolidate their gains.

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It's a lot easier to seize and hold Mazar-e Sharif than cities like Kabul or Kandahar. The U.S. military is in a lot better position to help them, being a few dozen miles away in Uzbekistan. And the ethnic makeup of that area -- mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks -- is much more friendly to Northern Alliance and allied forces than more Pashtun-heavy areas to the south and east. As soon as the people who lived there noticed that the Taliban were pulling out, they probably welcomed the Northern Alliance with open arms.

Impact: The key thing about capturing Mazar-e Sharif before winter is opening up that land bridge to get in humanitarian supplies and the like. To do that, you really have to use roads. Of course, the worse the weather gets, the worse conditions on the roads and the harder it is to bring in those things. And opposition forces can fight year-round, but it's obviously harder in the winter, and these people don't want to fight then.

It was also critical as a morale boost. Northern Alliance troops hadn't achieved a major objective yet. They've only had a little village here, a little outpost there. So they're really going to feel pretty good about themselves. And a lot of warlords and groups on the fence will probably change over, bringing unity to the cause. The countries around the area will see that these forces can win a major battle.

Tactics: You have to make sure the area is controlled enough so that aircraft can land and have multiple approaches into an airfield. To protect the approaches, you have to go out 10 to 20 kilometers and make sure it's clear of people who may have shoulder-fired weapons or anti-aircraft guns, which might be used to shoot low-flying, slowed-down aircraft.

The United States has aircraft like a C-17, which can make extremely steep approaches. A lot of it depends on the amount of weight they're carrying -- at some point, you'll start using some planes, mainly cargo planes, that need more approach to bring in war and humanitarian supplies.

If an airfield is damaged, the U.S. Air Force and Army have expeditionary units that can do immediate repairs of airstrips. They can parachute in, take helicopters or land on part of the runway. They can fix the strip with airborne bulldozers, matting, etc. The U.S. military could put in temporary lights and use other mobile equipment.

Strategy: No matter what Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are saying, the [loss of] Mazar-e Sharif has a morale effect on Taliban troops, too. And then there's the military effect on their forces in that region. They would have had to retreat in small elements because if they were in large groups they'd be easy pickings from the air. So they must have either abandoned their vehicles and equipment or surrendered.

Mazar-e Sharif was relatively easy to take, given its ethnic composition and location. The political vacuum also complicates the hopes of unseating the Taliban. There is no true seated government although Kabul is still looked upon as the capital. Taliban leaders command their government from a couple of cellphones and radios.


U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), a former NATO supreme commander, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Grange (ret.) and Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd (ret.) are serving as CNN military analysts during the war against terror. Their briefings will appear daily on

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN is sensitive to reporting any information that could endanger lives or operations.


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