Wednesday, November 14, 2001

General: 'So far, so good'

Local vet lauds campaign

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Any expectation the U.S. government had that the Northern Alliance would hold off on seizing Kabul until a broad-based Afghan government was formed was wishful thinking, according to a retired Marine general from Florence.

        “Once you turn on a force like that, it's hard to turn them off,” said retired Brigadier General Thurman Owens, who lives in Boone County. “And we turned them.”

        When the Northern Alliance forces rolled into the Afghan capital city Tuesday — hours after Taliban rulers and their troops slipped out under cover of darkness — it touched off fears in Washington and other coalition capitals that an unstable political situation in Kabul might lead to reprisals by Northern Alliance troops, general chaos and an opening for the Taliban leadership to slip back into control.

        The Northern Alliance is made up of several ethnic minorities, mainly Tajiks and Uzbeks. The last time they held the Afghan capital — from 1992 to 1996 — there was widespread factional fighting that led to more than 50,000 deaths. The Bush administration wants to avoid that kind of bloodbath this time around.

        Gen. Owens, a World War II and Korea veteran who commanded a Marine combat battalion in Vietnam, said he believes the conduct of the U.S. air war over Afghanistan and the rapid advances by the opposition fighters of the Northern Alliance have been “outstanding,” but said it is still too early to tell whether large numbers of U.S. and allied ground troops will be necessary.

        “I've always felt you can't win a war until you put somebody on the ground with a bayonet, but they may prove me wrong in this one,” said the retired Marine general, who coached the University of Cincinnati football team between World War II and Korea.

        The Bush administration's hope that the Northern Alliance would slow down its advance long enough for a coalition government to be put in place to help the United States root out the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists was bound to be dashed, once the Northern Alliance forces began tasting victory, Gen. Owens said.

        “If these had been American troops, they'd stop when you say stop,” Gen. Owens said. “But these guys on the ground have no reason to stop. They'll look at you and say, "The hell with you. We're pushing on.'”

        If the push to flush out the Taliban and the terrorist cells shifts to the southern portion of Afghanistan, there could be a need for large numbers of ground troops to “finish the job,” Gen. Owens said.

        “You can't say it is over,” he said. “But I'd say, "So far, so good.'”

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