1. CONFIDENTIAL -- ENTIRE TEXT.
2. SUMMARY: IN A POSSIBLE WATERSHED EVENT, KABUL GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES HAVE CONFIRMED THAT THE TALIBAN SEIZED THE STRATEGIC, SPRAWLING SHINDAND AIR BASE IN FARAH PROVINCE, SEPTEMBER 3. THE TALIBAN ARE NOW REPORTED BY RELIABLE OPPOSITION SOURCES TO BE LESS THAN 30 KILOMETERS SOUTH OF HERAT CITY AIRPORT. THE KABUL GOVERNMENT SAYS A COUNTER-ATTACK TO DRIVE THE TALIBAN BACK IS BEING PLANNED, BUT ISMAEL KHAN IS CLEARLY POLITICALLY AND MILITARILY WEAKENED. WHETHER HE CAN HOLD OUT MAY WELL DEPEND ON HOW IRAN REACTS TO THE TALIBAN THREAT -- OPPOSITION FIGURES BELIEVE IRAN IS PLANNING TO GIVE KHAN MORE SUPPORT. DOSTAM'S FORCES ALSO REPORTEDLY HAVE ADVANCED IN BADGHIS, ADDING PRESSURE ON THE HERAT GOVERNMENT. IN THE EAST, THE TALIBAN HAVE BEGUN SHELLING MASOOD POSITIONS FROM MAIDAN SHAHR, AND KABUL GOVERNMENT PRESSURE ON HEKMATYAR'S FRONT-LINE AT SAROBI (LATABAND ROAD) REPORTEDLY HAS LESSENED AS MASOOD WITHDRAWS TROOPS CLOSER TO KABUL. IN RELATED DEVELOPMENTS, DOSTAM OFFICIALS SAID THEY INTEND TO KEEP UP THEIR AERIAL BOMBING CAMPAIGN AND WARNED THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AGAINST TRANSITTING OPPOSITION AIR SPACE WITHOUT PERMISSION. END SUMMARY.
3. IN A SURPRISING BLOW TO THE PRO-RABBANI FORCES OF ISMAEL KHAN, TALIBAN TROOPS ARE CONFIRMED TO HAVE SEIZED THE MAJOR AIRBASE AT SHINDAND, SEPTEMBER 3. USUALLY RELIABLE OPPOSITION FIGURES CLAIM THAT AS OF SEPTEMBER 4, THE TALIBAN FRONT-LINE HAD MOVED NORTH OF ADRASKAN IN HERAT PROVINCE AND WAS ONLY THIRTY KILOMETERS SOUTH OF HERAT AIRPORT (WHICH IS A MERE 20 MINUTE DRIVE FROM THE CITY OVER A VERY BAD ROAD). WITH FLIGHT OPERATIONS SUSPENDED BECAUSE OF REPEATED AIR ATTACKS AGAINST HERAT, THE UNOCHA DIRECTOR MARTIN BARBER TOLD POLOFF SEPTEMBER 4 THAT THE SITUATION THERE IS SUFFICIENTLY WORRISOME THAT THE 6-7 RESIDENT U.N. INTERNATIONAL STAFF HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE AUTHORITY TO LEAVE OVERLAND FOR IRAN OR TURKMENISTAN WITHOUT FURTHER CONSULTATION WITH HEADQUARTERS IN ISLAMABAD.
It seems the Taliban were pushing northward from Farah Province into Herat Province, both of which border Iran.
4. [redacted] TOLD POLOFF SEPTEMBER 4 THAT THE OPPOSITION RECENTLY HAD INTERCEPTED RADIO MESSAGES FROM KABUL INSTRUCTING HERAT GOVERNOR ISMAEL KHAN TO COME TO THE CAPITAL FOR CONSULTATIONS WITH AHMED SHAH MASOOD. [redacted] INTERPRETED THIS TO MEAN THAT ISMAEL KHAN'S POSITION IN HERAT WAS BECOMING INCREASINGLY UNTENABLE AND THAT THE KABUL GOVERNMENT SOUGHT TO INVOLVE ITSELF MORE DIRECTLY IN THE DEFENSE OF THIS IMPORTANT SUPPLY ROUTE -- FOR THIS REASON, HE CLAIMED, KABUL DEFENSE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN AND TOP MASOOD ADVISOR DR. ABDULLAH HAD VISITED HERAT SEPTEMBER 2. PREDICTING THAT THE TALIBAN MIGHT VERY POSSIBLY OCCUPY HERAT WITHIN THE NEXT DAY OR SO, [redacted] SAID THE MOST IMPORTANT VARIABLE WOULD BE THE DEGREE TO WHICH IRAN CHOSE TO INTERVENE ON BEHALF OF ISMAEL KHAN. [redacted] ADDED THAT ISMAEL KHAN'S POLITICAL POSITION WAS WEAK; HE CLAIMED KHAN'S PREVIOUS RELIANCE ON PANJSHIRI TROOPS FROM MASOOD TO PUSH BACK THE TALIBAN SIX MONTHS AGO HAD ALIENATED HIS OWN HERATI COMMANDERS, WHILE HIS HABIT OF PRESS-GANGING YOUTHS INTO THE MILITARY HAD ANGERED THE USUALLY DOCILE CITIZENS OF HERAT. [redacted] WITH SOME SATISFACTION, DECLARED THAT ISMAEL KHAN'S SITUATION POLITICALLY WAS DIFFICULT AND LARGELY SELF-CREATED.
Ismail Khan is now Minister of Energy for Afghanistan. He is currently considered to be well-liked, especially in his native city of Herat. This is important to keep in mind as we consider, in future posts of this series, what was reported regarding his actions as the Taliban approached. Even in this cable, you can see some hints about how his actions were not appreciated.
5. [redacted] TOLD POLOFF SEPTEMBER 4 THAT THE JUMBESH OFFICE IN TEHRAN HAD REPORTED THE PREVIOUS NIGHT THAT THERE WERE "CLEAR INDICATIONS" THAT IRAN WAS "PREPARING A RESPONSE TO THE ADVANCE OF THE TALIBAN WHICH COULD NOT BE DISCUSSED BY TELEPHONE." [redacted] PROMISED TO SEND A FAX DETAILING THE SCOPE AND NATURE OF IRANIAN PREPARATIONS, BUT THE MESSAGE HAD NOT YET BEEN RECEIVED. [redacted] NOTED THAT KABUL GOVERNMENT FORCES WERE PREPARING TO COUNTER-ATTACK THE TALIBAN, BUT SAID HE COULD NOT PREDICT WHICH SIDE WOULD BE VICTORIOUS. JUMBESH TROOPS UNDER RASUL PAHLAWAN HAD TAKEN THE NEIGHBORING BADGHIS PROVINCIAL CAPITAL OF QALA-I-NAW, AND WERE PRESSING TOWARDS HERAT FROM THE EAST, [redacted] STATED, BUT THE SITUATION WAS FLUID AND HE OBSERVED THAT, WITH SUFFICIENT IRANIAN SUPPORT, "TURAJON ISMAEL MAY BE ABLE TO HAVE A REPEAT OF A HALF YEAR AGO," WHEN HERATI TROOPS HALTED AN ADVANCE NEAR SHINDAND AND PROCEEDED TO PUSH THE TALIBAN BACK.
To help visualize this, I have placed here an image from a map. Qalay-I-Naw is in the upper right corner, and Herat is in the lower left corner. Notice the mountains running roughly east-west between them.
6. MEANWHILE, IN THE EAST, HEKMATYAR'S OFFICIALS REPORT THAT PRESSURE ON SAROBI VIA THE LATABAND ROAD DIMINISHED SEPTEMBER 3 AS MASOOD PULLED SOME OF HIS TROOPS BACK CLOSER TO KABUL. IN WHAT JUMBESH SOURCES DESCRIBED AS "A DEAL" BETWEEN HEKMATYAR'S COMMANDER ZARDAD AND LOCAL TALIBAN LEADERS IN WARDAK PROVINCE, TALIBAN FORCS AT MAIDAN SHAHR BEGAN ROCKETING MASOOD'S POSITIONS SEPTEMBER 4. JUBESH OFFICIALS SAY THEY EXPECT TO CONTINUE THEIR UPGRADED AIR CAMPAIGN AGAINST KABUL GOVERNMENT TARGETS AT BAGHRAM, HERAT AND KABUL AIRPORTS. IN THAT CONTEXT, DOSTAM'S OFFICIALS HAVE ANNOUNCED PUBLICLY THAT NO AIRCRAFT CAN OVERFLY THEIR TERRITORY WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL -- A MEASURE THEY PRIVATELY CONFIRM WAS TAKEN BECAUSE OF CONCERN THAT ARIANA AFGHAN AIRLINES, AS WELL AS RUSSIAN AND POSSIBLY INDIAN AIRCRAFT, WERE BEING USED TO DELIVER BADLY-NEEDED MILITARY SUPPLIES FOR KABUL.
We have seen throughout the series how Pakistan was implicated in the rise of the Taliban. Here we see one possible reason for Pakistani concern in Afghanistan: possible Indian involvement. Just as Kabul was seeing Herat being outflanked by the Taliban's drive from Qalay-I-Naw, so was Islamabad's concern that Pakistan was being outflanked by her large adversary's meddling in Afghanistan.