DEBKAfile, November 13, 2001

With the Taliban heading south out of Kabul, towards their last strongholds of Kahandar and Jalalabad, some background of the North Alliance’s remarkable series of military wins on Monday begins to emerge.
One key factor is that the Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of tribal groups, were powerfully aided in plotting and fighting the campaign by the US, British and Iranian Special Unit contingents fighting alongside them. Most striking of all, US and Iranian troops fought side by side on Monday, for the first time since hardline Shiites grabbed power in Tehran 22 years ago, to wrest the important western town of Herat from the Taliban.

The 6-million strong Hazara Shiite minority’s militia, Hezb-e-Wahdat, is a partner in the Northern Alliance.  This minority retains strong with Iran and speaks a dialect of Farsi. The Americans permitted the Hezb-e-Wahdat militia to lead the advance into Herat, where the Hazara have their largest presence in the country, thereby assuring Iran of a role in creating the post-Taliban government of Afghanistan.

As for the current turbulence inside Afghanistan, DEBKAfile’s military experts note that only a fraction of the Taliban’s estimated 60,000 strong army was struck down in the latest round of fighting. Most fell back with their weapons - almost without firing a shot. Before abandoning Kabul, they emptied the banks. Even the 55th Brigade, the main military force commanded by Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zuwehiri, remains pretty much unscathed. Intelligence reports describe the brigade as “melting away” from the battlefront, presumably to prepared hideouts in the mountains.

Taliban tactics are plain: Pulverized by US bombardment and disarrayed by the Northern Alliance’s momentum, Taliban and al Qaeda forces decided to husband their resources and take advantage of the heavy snows already blocking the mountain passes, in order to dig on for a long winter of guerrilla combat.