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Choosing Allies in Afghanistan
Analysts Say U.S. Should Keep Distance from Northern Alliance

audio Listen as NPR's David Molpus reports on America's potential partnership with the Northern Alliance. Oct. 10, 2001.

searchMore NPR News radio coverage on the mobilization and the U.S. attacks on the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

Northern Alliance soldiers

Northern Alliance soldiers return from frontline positions after a battle near Charatoy in northern Afghanistan. Oct. 10, 2001.
Photo: Reuters © 2001

Oct. 10, 2001 -- As the Pentagon continues its air raids on Taliban targets in Afghanistan, one key question is how closely the United States should work with resistance groups already fighting the Taliban forces. Among some planners at the Pentagon and the White House, the Northern Alliance is seen as a potential long-term ally. But as NPR's David Molpus reports, the group is far from an ideal partner for the United States, and analysts say the Alliance's record in power is marred with corruption and brutality.

In the past few days, U.S.-led airstrikes have helped the Northern Alliance gain more maneuvering room in northern Afghanistan. But the United States has so far resisted embracing the Alliance as an ally. The move is seen as a prudent measure by many Middle East experts, including Frederick Starr of Johns Hopkins University, who earlier this year prepared a strategic assessment of Afghanistan for the Pentagon.

The Northern Alliance Profile

• Dominated by two minority ethnic groups, Tajiks and Uzbeks

• Controls northeastern Afghanistan and scattered pockets in other regions

• Its military leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, assassinated just days before the September terrorist attacks

• Has 12,000-15,000 lightly-armed troops

• Soldiers armed with AK assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades

• Approx. 60-70 armored vehicles

• Maintains Soviet T-62, T-54, T-55 battle tanks, BMP infantry fighting vehicles, BTR troop carriers


"(Northern Alliance members) have a tough record in the area of human rights…it's quite comparable to the Taliban," Starr says. "They have also provided aid and succor to terrorists. They are still deeply involved in the drug trade. And when they ruled in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, they really engaged in spectacular corruption."

Another reason for the White House to keep the Alliance at arm's length is the group's connection with Moscow. For the past several years, the group has been almost entirely armed and supported by the Russian military, prompting suspicions among many Afghans that Russia is using the Alliance in a second attempt to take over the embattled country.

Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute is another expert in Afghan politics who argues it is wise for President Bush to keep his relations with the Alliance to minimum. "I think for the moment they are necessary partners for the United States," he says. "But they are hardly good partners."


Other Resources

• Visit the White House Web site's page on the U.S. response to terrorism.

• Visit Defenselink, a U.S. Defense Department Web site with information about military forces and movements, official statements and more.

• Visit the "Response to Terrorism" Web site operated by the U.S. State Department's International Information Programs.

• From the Washington, D.C.-based thinktank The Brookings Institution, read a special report on terrorism and U.S. foreign policy.