The Taleban Response

Will the Taleban regime be able to mount effective resistance to American-led attacks?

The Taleban Response

Will the Taleban regime be able to mount effective resistance to American-led attacks?

Shortages of fuel and trucks are the most crucial obstacle to the Taleban's ability to repulse US-led forces.

The morale and quality of the manpower available to the religious militia also falls far short of its claims that its tribal fighters are "well-experienced and trained". Many of them have been forced to fight by Taleban press-gangs.

Pakistan closed the border posts at Khyber Pass and Chaman recently, rupturing the nearest supply of diesel and aviation fuel, while Tehran has shut off the Taleban's western supply line from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

Much of Mullah Omar's remaining fuel is in the northeast, where military planners were building up stocks prior to opening the customary pre-winter campaign against the 15,000-strong forces of the opposition Northern Alliance.

Also bivouacked there are the fittest of the Taleban's armed forces, estimated at between 45,000-60,000, including 9-10,000 volunteers from Pakistan.

Among the Kabul regime's most committed fighters are several thousand Arabs, graduates of the training camps run by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda movement. They are concentrated in the widely despised Brigade 055, a unit notorious for its savage treatment of conquered non-Sunni Muslims at previous battles in Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamian.

The Taleban have around 200 serviceable armored vehicles, many positioned in the northeast, and a handful of creaky, fixed and rotary-winged aircraft dating back to the Soviet era. Also in their arsenal are an unknown number of Scud missiles, mostly used in military displays, and a handful of Stinger missiles, donated by the CIA in the mid-1980s, that may no longer work.

Ammunition for small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, however, are in good supply thanks to the massive quantities abandoned by the Soviet army when it pulled out in 1989.

The Taleban's most effective military innovation in Afghanistan has been the use of Japanese four-wheel drive pick-ups, similar to the "technicals" deployed by the warlords in Somalia.

These transformed local fighting techniques by allowing squads of 8-10 lightly-armed commandos to move at speed through the least accessible parts of the countryside. Linked by radio or satellite phone, teams of vehicles engaged in offensive actions, mopping up operations and hot pursuit, leapfrogging one another along a chosen line of advance.

This tactic worked against the mujahedin, who could not afford to buy fleets of Toyotas. But it is less likely to work against the US.

The availability of fuel reserves, though, will be crucial to the Taleban's ability to mobilise its forces and get reinforcements to front-line positions.

Some hundred thousand Pashtun fighters from Pakistan's North West Frontier Province are thought to have offered their services in the anti-American jihad, but transporting them to the battle ground, 100 to a truck, will require large quantities of diesel. Whether Kabul has sufficient fuel available is open to question.

In the past, Mullah Omar could rely on the Pakistani army and, in particular, the Interservices Intelligence agency, which were largely responsible for the Taleban's military successes during their rise to power. But both have withdrawn their support, following President Parvez Musharraf's decision to cooperate with Washington.

Michael Griffin is author of Reaping The Whirldwind - The Taleban Movement in Afghanistan, and is project coordinator of IWPR's Afghanistan project.

Pakistan, Afghanistan
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