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Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Taliban face final defeat

Don Shepperd is a retired Air Force major general and a CNN military analyst.  

UPDATE: What's shaping up in the Konduz area is a final, major defeat for major portions of the Taliban forces and their allies, made up reportedly of Chechens, Pakistanis, Arabs and Kashmiris who are much more likely to fight to the death.

Reportedly, the Taliban in the area are attempting to broker a deal whereby they will give up their heavy weapons and let these allies of theirs walk under (United Nations) auspices. The problem is, there is no U.N. force in the area. It would take some time to assemble them. I have not seen that the U.N. is interested in taking responsibility for this, because it would take a force to do this.

So I think the likelihood of that happening is not good, and I see basically a fight to the finish. Reportedly the area is surrounded on four sides by Northern Alliance forces, about 30,000 fighters surrounding Konduz. There are further reports of the Taliban killing each other, killing those who want to surrender or defect.

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What I predict coming out of the area is some of the Taliban will be allowed to surrender and become prisoners and the other fighters will very likely fight to the death. I would be surprised if there is a U.N. solution.

IMPACT: Once that is in place, the entire northern part of the country on an east-west line north of Kabul is in United Front hands. There will still be considerable mop-up action as you dig out final cells -- people who have retreated to the hills, that type of thing. But essentially, the Taliban is finished as a fighting force in northern Afghanistan.

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For those who have retreated to the Kandahar area, the age-old thing is going on in Kandahar. The Pashtuns in the area were the major supporters of the Taliban, and now the Taliban are trying to hand over the city back to the Pashtun tribal leaders who are at least theoretically opposed to the Taliban. But you may be handing the city back to Pashtuns who sympathies really lie with the Talban themselves.

It's a difficult and murky picture in the Kandahar area, as predicted, because it was really the Taliban capital and stronghold.

TACTICS: It's clear that there are more and more special forces in the area. They are stopping people on roads, they are getting intelligence rapidly from captured and defecting troops and from documents that are being captured. They are looking hard for al Qaeda cells and they are looking hard for Osama bin Laden.

There are reports in the British press -- not confirmed by the United States -- that they believe they have him narrowed down to a 30-square-mile area southeast of Kandahar. I have no reason to believe or disbelieve that, but wherever he is, we will find it easier to find him than we did before because we have more intelligence. We will be pushing hard for people who want money to help us find him. We are pushing hard on intelligence that we get from defecting and captured troops.

There are lots of people who predict that we will get him and we'll get him fairly soon. I'm not ready to predict that. I think it will be difficult to find him no matter where he is. He'll be well-protected, and I would be very surprised if we take him alive, no matter where he is.

And air power is still going in, even though Ramadan is ongoing, in the Konduz area. It's apparent to me that wherever air power is needed, we will continue to apply it, despite Ramadan.

STRATEGY: As important as the military action is what's going on politically and diplomatically in Kabul. President (Burhanuddin) Rabbani, who is the legal president of Afghanistan, recognized by the U.N., has returned. That makes it difficult politically, because he has said they are going to hold a loya jirga and decide what kind of government is going to replace the Taliban. But it remains to be seen whether he and the Northern Alliance will step aside now that they are the main force in the capital.

The United Nations is very eager to get in as soon as possible. They are proposing a conference, and the U.N. will probably want to hold it outside of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance will probably want to hold it inside Afghanistan, probably in Kabul. It's equally important as the military side for ensuring the long-term stability of the country.


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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