Fall of Mazari Sharif
- For other uses, see Battles of Mazar-e-Sharif
|Fall of Mazar-e-Sharif|
|Part of the War in Afghanistan|
U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers with Northern Alliance fighters at Mazar-e-Sharif on 10 November 2001.
| Northern Alliance
|Commanders and leaders|
| Abdul Rashid Dostum
Atta Muhammad Nur
|Jumma Kasimov †|
|Casualties and losses|
|8 Junbish-i-Milli Islami and 30 Jamiat-e Islami fighters killed||300+ killed,~500 captured and ~1,000 defected|
The fall of Mazari Sharif (or Mazar-e-Sharif) that took place on November 2001 resulted from the first major offense for the Afghanistan War after American intervention. A push into the city of Mazari Sharif in Balkh Province by the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (Northern Alliance), combined with U.S. Army Special Forces aerial bombardment, resulted in the withdrawal of Taliban forces who had held the city since 1998. After the fall of outlying villages, and an intensive bombardment, the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces withdrew from the city. Several hundred pro-Taliban fighters, including many Pakistani volunteers, were killed. Approximately 500 were captured, and approximately 1,000 reportedly defected. The capture of Mazari Sharif was the first major defeat for the Taliban.
The Taliban recaptured the city in 1997 and controlled it thereafter.
The decision to launch the war's first major strike against Mazari Sharif came following a meeting between U.S. Army General Tommy Franks and Northern Alliance commander Mohammed Fahim in Tajikstan on October 30, 2001.
In the days leading up to the battle, Northern Alliance troops advanced on population centers near the city, such as Shol Ghar, which is 25 kilometers from Mazari Sharif. Phonelines into the city were severed, and American officials began reporting accounts of anti-Taliban forces charging Afghan tanks on horseback. Propaganda leaflets were dropped from airplanes, showing a woman being struck by a man and asking if this was how the Afghans wanted to live, and listing the radio frequencies over which Americans would be broadcasting their own version of events. Meanwhile, U.S. Special Forces set up laser designators to serve as beacons for guided munitions, highlighting targets around the city.
General Abdul Rashid Dostum led the ethnic-Uzbek-dominated faction of the Northern Alliance, the Junbish-i-Milli Islami Afghanistan, in an attack on the village of Keshendeh southwest of the city on November 4, seizing it with his horse-mounted troops. General Noor, meanwhile, led 2,000 men of the ethnic-Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e Islami forces against the village of Ag Kupruk directly south of the city, along with six Special Forces soldiers and seven others[clarification needed] who directed bombing from behind Taliban lines north of the city. It was seized two days later. Ethnic Hazara forces of Mohammad Mohaqiq's Hezbe Wahdat took part in the offensive.
On November 7, the New York University's Director of Studies on International Cooperation, Barnett Rubin, appeared before a hearing of the American House Committee on International Relations on "The Future of Afghanistan". He claimed that with Mazari Sharif on the brink of invasion, the US was responsible to ensure that there were no reprisal killings of Taliban members by the Northern Alliance. He noted that when the city had been overrun (in 1997 and 1998), thousands had been murdered by both sides.
On November 7th and 8th, as the Taliban were moving 4,000 fighters across the countryside towards Mazari Sharif in preparation for battle, American. B-52 bombers bombed Taliban defenders concentrated in the Chesmay-e-Safa gorge that marked the southern entrance to the city, as well as the Haji Gak pass, which was the only Taliban-controlled entrance to the city. This was one of the heaviest campaigns up to that point. Nevertheless, the Taliban claimed they had infiltrated 500 fighters into the city to prepare for the coming battle.
Initial rumors claimed that the Afghan fighters were unimpressed by the American bombardment and believed that their opponents refused to advance on the city. At 2 p.m. Northern Alliance forces, under the command of Dostum and Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor, swept across the Pul-i-Imam Bukhri bridge and seized the city's main military base and the Mazari Sharif Airport. The "ragtag" non-uniformed Northern Alliance forces entered the city from the Balk Valley on "begged, borrowed and confiscated transportation", and met only light resistance.
After outlying villages fell to precision air strikes on key command and control centers, approximately 5,000-12,000 Taliban combatants as well as members of al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters began to withdraw towards Kunduz to regroup, travelling in pickup trucks, SUVs and flatbed trucks fitted with ZU-23-2's (anti-aircraft guns modified for ground combat). By sunset, the Taliban forces had retreated to the north and east. Some feared that they were massing for a counter-offensive. It was later estimated that 400-600 people died in the battle, although it was not possible to separate civilian and combatant deaths. Approximately 1,500 Taliban were captured or defected.
As many as 900 Pakistani volunteers reached Mazari Sharif in the following days while the majority of the Taliban were evacuating. Many of these fighters were recruited by a Pakistani Mullah, Sufi Mohammed, who used a loudspeaker riveted onto a pickup truck which blared, "Those who die fighting for God don't die! Those who go on jihad live forever, in paradise!"
When these volunteers reached the city in the days when the Taliban were evacuating, many of them were alone and confused. The group, chiefly consisting of teenage boys, gathered in the Sultan Razia Girls' School, where they began negotiating their surrender, but hundreds of them were ultimately killed. For almost two days as the group gathered in the abandoned Sultan Razia Girls' School and built up their fighting positions, the town officials and Northern Alliance attempted negotiations for their surrender, but the fighters vehemently refused, ultimately killing two peace envoys, one town mullah and a soldier escort. All the while they constantly fired at anyone whot moved within the vicinity of the building, including civilian bystanders.
After the envoys' murder, the Northern Alliance began returning fire on the school with machine guns. This gun battle went on for hours. Inside the battered school, someone scrawled on the walls the words of their mullah, "Die for Pakistan", "Never surrender" and "Our philosophy has been surrender or die."
At mid-afternoon, U.S. military advisers approved the building for a bombing run. Army Col. Rick Thomas of the U.S. Central Command said they had determined the school was an appropriate target.
Officials from the United Nations and other organisations claimed that a massacre by Northern Alliance troops had followed after the defenders surrendered in the school, moments before an American warplane dropped two, or four, 1000-pound bombs. The fighters scattered quickly to escape, and the Northern Alliance shot at them as they fled, resulting in an alleged 800 fatalities. Later reports suggested instead that the Northern Alliance had shelled the school, rather than an American warplane dropping bombs on it, but following the battle, United States Air Force Sgt. Stephen E. Tomat was awarded the Silver Star for calling in the air strike on six vehicles and the school.
The fall of the city proved to be a "major shock", since the United States Central Command had originally believed that the city would remain in Taliban hands well into the following year and that any battle would be "a very slow advance". Mazari Sharif was strategically important. Its capture opened supply routes and provided an airstrip inside the country for American aircraft. The battle was the Taliban's first major defeat and precipitated a rapid transfer of territory in northern Afghanistan. Following rumors that Mullah Dadullah might be headed to recapture the city with as many as 8,000 Taliban fighters, a thousand U.S. Army Rangers were airlifted into the city, which provided the first solid foothold from which Kabul and Kandahar could be reached.
The fall of the city generated reports of jubilant excitement among locals, followed by reports of summary executions and the kidnapping of civilians by the Northern Alliance. The Pakistani prisoners who were captured fleeing the school were held as "slaves" and often sexually abused by their Northern Alliance captors, who demanded a ransom from their families for their return. The American-backed forces now controlling the city immediately began broadcasting from Radio Mazar-e-Sharif, the former Taliban Voice of Sharia channel, on 1584 kHz, including an address from former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Foreign media outlets were denied access to American troops or to battle sites at this time.
The airfield, the city's main prize for the Americans, had been badly damaged by their bombardment and had been boobytrapped with explosives planted by the Taliban in and around the property as they left. This created a rift between the United Kingdom and the United States. The former charged that the aerial bombardment had been ill-advised, that the United States had failed to pay sufficient attention to humanitarian concerns and had refused to consult with its allies. The destroyed runways were patched by Afghans. The first cargo plane landed ten days after the battle. The airbase was not declared operational until December 11. While prior military flights had had to be launched from Uzbekistan or aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea, the Americans now could fly more frequent sorties against the Taliban frontlines, carrying heavier payloads that replace the fuel necessary for the longer flights.
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