The Northern Alliance is an Afghanistan Islamic
rebel faction actively and belligerently opposing
its country's Taliban regime since taking control
in September 1996 under leader Mullah Mohammed
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Why should the United States care about the
The rebel force and possibly U.S. President
George W. Bush's most strategically-placed friend
is a band of ragged and ill-assorted warriors
who've managed to resist the Taliban's rule for
five years now.
Just after the attacks on the World Trade
Center, Northern Alliance guards shackled some of
their 2,500 Taliban captives. Supporting a faction
capable of such direct action within Afghanistan's
borders, may be America's best hope for
retaliation and a key force in its war against
global terrorism. Bush has gathered as much,
naming the Alliance as its vanguard against
Afghanistan’s Taliban government. And now, experts
have gone so far as to speculate that American
forces are arming the rebels in support of its
How is the group armed?
Northern Alliance fighters, whose support base
is in northern Afghanistan, number in the tens of
thousands. And much like the Taliban’s, the
group’s weaponry includes antiquated Russian
fighter jets and helicopter gunships, mostly left
over from Soviet occupation. The number of weapons
amassed by the faction is uncertain but The
Associated Press reports of various soldiers
with Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and other
Is the Northern Alliance currently engaged
A spokesperson for the group confirmed intense
fighting between the rebels and the Taliban. He
said several of his soldiers were wounded but that
the Alliance captured several villages in the
Sangcharak district, killed six Taliban soldiers
and took weapons including artillery, tanks,
mortars and rocket launchers.
How much territory does it control?
The Northern Alliance claims five per cent
Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls between 90
to 95 per cent.
Who does the group hold captive?
A Panjsher Valley prison built by the
opposition four months ago is said to hold about
2,500 Taliban captives, including 300 at Doub, 21
of whom are foreigners from Pakistan, China and
Arab nations. Besides the episode after the
attacks on America, the Alliance says it permits
its prisoners a considerable amount of freedom,
allowing them to gather firewood and leave the
grounds to pray. Although prisoners live in harsh
conditions sleeping 30 to a cell, the rebels
insist they will not kill POWs hoping one day to
exchange them for Taliban-held rebels.
What countries support the faction?
Iran and Russia have already openly offered
support to the Northern Alliance, and American
officials are praising Russia's pledge to the
"We very much appreciate the offers of
support," says U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander
Vershbow. "I think that Russian support for the
leaders of the Northern Alliance is well known and
could have an important role in the coming weeks
in trying to put maximum pressure on the Taliban
to, in the best case, to turn over Osama bin Laden
and his lieutenants."
Can the United States trust the Northern
Trusting a group with a history of mismatched
allegiances and inhumane tendencies could prove to
be a risky move for the United States. Figures
leading the faction were once those dragging
Afghanistan through a period of aggression plagued
by plundering, violence and rape. One Alliance
member Rashid Dostum abandoned his post as general
in Afghanistan's communist army, turned on his
President Najibullah and joined the rebels. And it
was just a year ago that reports suggested the
Alliance was to collapse.
Who else is a part of the group?
The group is lead by Burhanuddin Rabbani who is
recognized by most world governments as the
country's legitimate ruler. He is a former Kabul
University professor of Islamic law and became
leader in 1992 after the Mujahadeen ousted
Najibullah. Rabbani replaced Ahmed Shah Massood
after he was killed by a suicide bomber just two
days prior to the attacks on Washington and New
York Ethnically, the rebels are diverse. Rabbani
is a Tajik, the Shiites are Hazara and Dostum is