Sept. 25, 2001 | WASHINGTON -- As the United States seems to gear up for a seemingly inevitable military conflict in Afghanistan, the Bush administration speaks with great excitement about the support it expects to receive from an anti-Taliban group called the Northern Alliance. Though it only holds about 10 percent of Afghanistan, Congress is discussing sending the Alliance money and weapons, and the Pentagon reportedly has tentative plans to train it with the help of Special Forces units.
Last Friday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the rebels "know the lay of the land" and "can be a lot of help" in a campaign against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. The press has dutifully followed the lead. The New York Times, in its lead Monday story, pointed out that the Northern Alliance has enjoyed the support of Iran and Russia, and supporting them would therefore "help the United States balance the interest of its outside partners." The Washington Post noted that the "rebels have been fighting the Taliban since the mid-1990s, and no one knows the territory better than they do." The Post quoted an Alliance leader as saying that there is "a unique opportunity on the horizon" to topple the Taliban and that his group is more than willing to "fight against terrorism." On the Fox News Channel, a defense analyst named David Isby called the rebels the "on-the-ground alternative to the Taliban."
Lost, however, amid the hype around our newfound allies, which ruled Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996, is their own troubling history -- including shocking human rights records, thievery and a sheer governing incompetence that in large part led to the rise of the Taliban.
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