ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The sudden collapse of the Taliban and its al-Qaida terrorist guests in Afghanistan stunned Pakistani military analysts, who now say the groups' leaders made enormous tactical blunders.
In the end, they say, the Taliban's vaunted courage and military mastery proved a myth. The Taliban and al-Qaida had no strategy, misread the United States' commitment to eradicate terrorism and, these analysts say, thought they could win by fighting yesterday's war -- in which the moujahedeen defeated the Soviet Union, after a decade of combat, in 1989.
Only a few months ago, the Taliban, which controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan, appeared in position to defeat the dogged Northern Alliance opposition force and extend its rule across the entire country after five years of civil war.
When alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masoud -- "the Lion of Panjshir" -- was assassinated Sept. 9, a retired Pakistani general recalled, "I said to myself, 'That's the end of the alliance.' Many alliance leaders felt that way too."
Then came Sept. 11. Afghanistan was turned upside down. And within three months, the religious zealots who had promised to stand and fight to the death were destroyed as an effective political or military institution, having been killed or pushed into hiding without digging in for a single decisive battle.
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive Taliban leader, appeared to be aware of the U.S. reputation of being willing to fight wars but not suffer casualties since its ill-fated experience in Vietnam.
Pakistani analysts believe Omar's game plan was to hunker down and lie low until large numbers of U.S. ground troops were sent into combat. When Taliban and al-Qaida forces, hidden in their fortified mountain caves, inflicted large casualties on them, the Americans would withdraw, the reasoning went. It was a strategy that had worked with the Soviet Union.
"Al-Qaida fought hard at first," said Sayed Mohammed Pahlawan, an anti-Taliban commander in Tora Bora. "But when they found out they were fighting Muslim brothers, not the Americans, they softened and were easily defeated. I think they were disappointed not to fight the Americans."
In the capital, Kabul, the northern cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz and the southern stronghold of Kandahar and other places, the Taliban tried to hold ground. The Soviet army had found in the 1980s that such a tactic doesn't work in Afghanistan. It particularly didn't work in 2001, when the United States controlled the skies and, unlike the Soviet Union, didn't have to worry about losing planes to missiles.
Besides, the strength of the Taliban and the anti-Soviet moujahedeen had been as guerrillas, operating in rugged terrain they knew well, not as soldiers who held ground and fought conventional battles.
"To say the Taliban had a strategy gives them too much credit for military sophistication," said Kamal Matinubim, a retired Pakistani general.
The Taliban, Matinubim and others said, was doomed the moment Pakistan pulled the plug on the fundamentalist regime.
That left the Taliban and al-Qaida with no havens, no external supply routes, no friendly neighbors among the countries that surround Afghanistan. On top of that, neither the Taliban nor al-Qaida had a constituency willing to rise up in its support.
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