Taliban Withdrawal Was
Strategy, Not Rout

In less than a week, Taliban fighters have been swept from most of northern Afghanistan, including the key cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kunduz, Taloqan, Bamiyan, Jalalabad and the capital Kabul. How did a force that only two months ago controlled most of Afghanistan get swept from the battlefield so quickly, and is the battle over? Evidence suggests it has only just begun.
Northern Alliance troops moved into Kabul on Nov. 13, less than a week after launching an offensive that has swept the Taliban from most of northern Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance now controls the key cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kunduz and Taloqan, all located astride vital supply routes into neighboring countries. Popular uprisings have reportedly ousted the Taliban from Bamiyan and Jalalabad, and there are even reports of anti-Taliban Pushtun forces marching on Kandahar. On the surface it appears a lightning offensive by the Northern Alliance -- supported by U.S. aerial bombardment -- has shattered the Taliban army in a matter of days. But has the Taliban been defeated? An examination of the Taliban withdrawal suggests the group has intentionally surrendered territory in the interest of adopting tactics more amenable to its strengths.
If the United States and its allies misread the Taliban withdrawal as a rout, they could quickly find themselves locked in a nasty guerrilla war in Afghanistan. Worse, that war is likely to spread beyond Afghanistan's borders, as the core of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in that country seek to secure their supply lines and capitalize on their strengths and their opponents' weaknesses.

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