Gen. Wesley Clark: Tribal politics come into play
Update: The Northern Alliance still hasn't eliminated the last pockets of Taliban in the area around Kabul, and fighting is underway there. In addition, there is a large Taliban force, with a substantial number of what are called Arab Afghans, still located in Konduz.
There have been negotiations, which may or may not have been sincere, related to the Taliban's surrender. At the same time the Taliban have, in one way or another, provoked an attack by the Northern Alliance on the city's outskirts. The end result is that there is heavy fighting around Konduz, and the negotiations don't seem to be going anywhere.
Meanwhile, another Northern Alliance group, based around Herat and supported by Iran, has promised a southward push to Kandahar. Such a move would likely stir up rivalries with Pashtun tribes in the area. Even those Pashtun who are anti-Taliban probably will not want Shi'ite Muslim forces -- supported by Iran -- to come into this Pashtun, Sunni Muslim area.
All around Afghanistan, I think we're in for a period of uncertainty, ambiguity and confusion.
Impact: The fate of Taliban in Herat, Kandahar and elsewhere will be decided on the ground, in battles and face-to-face discussions. The discussions are going to ebb and flow depending on the strengths of the respective parties, and what each side thinks it has to gain. This is part and parcel of what the fighting in Afghanistan is all about: It's fighting amongst tribes, it's shifting loyalties, it's temporary groupings.
In this part of the world, breakthrough deals would come once it's clear the Northern Alliance is strong enough -- to take Konduz, for instance. Right now, that hasn't been established. I don't think there's any chance of just a cease-fire and a static situation in that area.
I think the United States has to press the Northern Alliance to continue the fight, to eliminate Taliban and al Qaeda in Konduz and elsewhere. It would be a substantial Taliban success if there were a stalemate. So if the Northern Alliance is going to succeed, if the peace talks in Bonn are going to have any hope when they convene on Tuesday, then the Northern Alliance needs to go ahead and finish the fighting in Konduz.
Tactics: The idea that some pro-Taliban will surrender and some won't certainly factors into the ambiguity around Konduz, but I think the other part is that the Taliban are very adept at using negotiations to split their adversaries. As we know, the Northern Alliance consists of several factions, each with different leaders and perspectives.
What we had in Konduz, it appeared, was a surrender deal with one faction -- the one in Mazar-e Sharif led by Gen. Dostum -- while another Northern Alliance faction was actually starting an attack Thursday. There's a very real possibility the Taliban have actually driven a rift in the Northern Alliance by their negotiating tactics -- promising one group one thing, and the other group another -- or at least that they wanted to.
My guess, too, is that there are substantial Taliban units around Kandahar. The strength of these units, although we haven't seen clear figures recently, is in the order of 10,000 to 20,000 troops, and it's a force capable of organized resistance. In addition, there may be scattered pro-Taliban elements in the hills around Kabul and scattered pockets of resistance. And there are various communities, such as Spin Boldak in eastern Afghanistan, where we know that there are some Afghan forces who will resist Northern Alliance or non-Pashtun forces.
Strategy: Popular support will erode in southern Afghanistan as the Taliban are demonstrated to be losers. But I think there's also fear there that these northern tribesmen, many of them Uzbek or Tajik, and Shi'ite Muslims from western Afghanistan could somehow get into the area and start the rampages, looting and chaos that were present from 1992 through 1996, before the Taliban arrived. I think the population around Kandahar really is torn by this -- many of them don't want to support the Taliban, but they probably feel they have no alternative.
This is going to be a very complicated fight for the next few days. The key, from a military standpoint, is to demonstrate power and the superiority of your force and avoid setbacks, at all costs. Once that's done, the opposition melts away.
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 CNN.com.
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