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THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
Within Afghanistan, then, we should expect two simultaneous military efforts. The first is a combined effort by Northern Alliance forces to take as much territory as possible from the Taliban. Supported by NATO, Russian, and Pakistani intelligence, NATO airpower, and NATO, Russian, and Iranian materiel, the Alliance forces have roughly a month to complete their campaign (before Ramadan and winter weather make sustained ground fighting impossible).
The second is the beginning of a series of SAS and Delta force raids against Al Qaeda bases and training camps, as well as the Taliban leadership. These actions will be sporadic, reacting to intelligence on the ground; and will likely continue at least through winter.
Critical to the NATO operations is the extent to which the Northern Alliance can sustain a coordinated attack. Alliance leader Al-Masood's assassination coupled with the varied territorial claims of the ethnic groups comprising the Alliance make their forces unreliable military partners. The greater their territorial successes, and the farther afield from their home bases they continue, the less likely their efficacy as a unified force.
On the other hand, coordination of the Taliban is far from certain, as Omar's increasingly reclusive leadership have left many of his supporters in the dark as to his intentions. Early indications from our contacts in the region show that defections from Taliban supporters have indeed been widespread, except in the southeast, where the Taliban have maintained the loyalty of key tribal chiefs. Accordingly, the Afghan capital Kabul could fall within weeks, but leave Kandahar and the Taliban's (and Bin Laden's) best trained and most loyal forces intact - creating a successor regime in Afghanistan but keeping the principal operations of Al Qaeda intact.
Either way, we expect most of the ground fighting to be limited to Afghanistan, not to spread to neighboring Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, where the Taliban will find themselves outgunned and badly prepared for an offensive strike.
Internationally, the most significant statement to follow the initiation of the military campaign came from Iran, which despite supporting a faction of the Northern Alliance, called the NATO action "unacceptable." This points clearly to Teheran siding against Washington in the war against terrorism, a policy which will lead to a more defections among wavering Middle Eastern states (UAE, Syria, and others) and, potentially, a harder line US policy against Iran. More immediately, this heightens the prospect of internal dissent from a population which finds itself increasingly alienated from its conservative clerics. While such demonstrations would be favorable to reform in Iran and orientation to the international community more broadly, they would almost certainly lead to a crackdown from Iranian security forces. In our estimation, Iran is at present one of the least stable countries in the Middle East.
Pressures on further defections from the US-led coalition will also intensify as reports of civilian casualties come from within Afghanistan. In particular, domestic antipathy to US policy is likely to spread within Pakistan, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia; building pressures for the forcible removal of the leaderships of all three countries.
Mention should be made of Osama Bin Laden's televised statement, released to the press yesterday. The statement was unusual in that it explicitly linked US security to the security of the Palestinians. This reflects a reprioritization of Bin Laden's own goals, which had been first and foremost the overthrow of the Saudi royal family and the removal of US troops from Saudi Arabia (and also, a direct threat of continued terrorist attacks on American soil, as opposed to US allies or assets abroad). Putting Palestine ahead plays to Bin Laden's strength internationally, as it widens the cause of Al Qaeda to include as many Arab Muslim states as possible. It also allows Bin Laden to attempt to take credit for any tilt of America's position on the Israel-Palestine conflict.