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Jubilation follows liberation in Afghanistan, but the war on terror won't end even with the capture or killing of Public Enemy No. 1-because, as one expert puts it, state sponsors of terrorism like Iraq can call on "zillions of volunteers"

Issue: "No time to celebrate," Dec. 1, 2001

When President George Bush told Americans this would be an unconventional war, that was no overstatement. U.S. special forces riding horses call for air support via satellite phone. With Taliban fighters on the run after the mid-November fall of Kabul, American ground units use both pack mules and GPS to track the retreating enemy. The Taliban by turn melt into caves in the ground or sink into bordering countries supposedly allied with the United States.

Meanwhile, Pop Tarts and peanut butter rained from the sky last week as U.S. planes kept providing a steady supply of food packets for the country's growing numbers-6 million-of starving homeless. In these climactic days of fighting, the panorama in Afghanistan is Stone Age one second and Brave New World the next, Flintstones one minute and Monty Python the next. And like all wars, this one is hell.

After five weeks of pounding by U.S. air forces paired with ground assaults from impatient Afghan raiders, the Taliban regime gave up most of the cities it for six years held captive to an unreasonable Islamic code. Fleeing soldiers of the Taliban left behind gored opponents in mass graves and well-thumbed terrorism manuals. They took refuge in the southern city of Kandahar, long the stronghold of both the Taliban and of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorists. Anti-Taliban militias, along with increasing numbers of U.S. ground forces, moved southward, too, closing in on Taliban commander Mullah Mohammed Omar and-the Bush administration hoped-Mr. bin Laden.

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For a country stooped under two decades of civil war, the taste of liberation was sweet. Skies over Kabul filled with kites and barbershop floors filled with hair. Kite-flying, along with playing chess, keeping pigeons, and listening to music, were featured prohibitions under the Taliban. Now the rules could come off, along with the fist-length beards the Taliban required all men to wear.

For women, instant changes were not only cosmetic. Many lost their burqas, the head-to-toe covering required in public, and found old jobs still waiting, even though education and work outside the home remained, technically speaking, outlawed under the Taliban. At least one girls' school near Kabul promises to reopen after the winter term.

Alliance troops entered Kabul to a victorious welcome. A country said to hate America welcomed Westerners with handshakes and a greeting, "Zindabad!"-long life. Shopkeepers invited reporters in for tea. Pundits predicted even a wider war that could free other nations from radical Muslim tyranny. "This is not a manhunt, it is the opening salvo of a great revolutionary war that will transform the Middle East," said American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen.

The liberation of Afghanistan coincided with the beginning of Ramadan for the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. Leading clerics in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, spotted the pale sliver of the new moon, which marks the start of a month of fasting, on Nov. 15. Traditionally, Muslims celebrate by fasting from dawn until sunset, followed by nights of feasting. To fast in Ramadan achieves one of the five pillars of Islam (professing to "no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet"; praying; giving money to the poor; and performing the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime are the other four).

In Afghanistan, Ramadan will be no holiday. "For my family, and probably for many people, every day of our lives is like Ramadan, because we have been living for years on tea and bread," said one elderly man in Kabul.

For Osama bin Laden, there will be no time off, either. U.S. forces believed the terrorist mastermind was trapped in a mountain region east of Kandahar and they reportedly had tracked him to a 30-square-mile area at one point. Leaders in the opposition Northern Alliance said they had information he was "still in Kandahar province in Maruf, some [80 miles] east of Kandahar city." They were using a $25 million reward to tempt Taliban defectors into pinpointing his precise location. "We are going to dig him out of his hole," vowed Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. bin Laden has built his reputation on the hillside redoubts that have helped him elude capture since the United States put a price on his head three years ago. At one time his headquarters near Jalalabad consisted of three rooms hollowed into rock face. One room contained a control and communications center stocked with laptop computers, fax machines, and a satellite telephone system. A second room housed the al-Qaeda arsenal, including assault rifles, mortar rounds, and machine guns. And the third room was private quarters-a library filled with Islamic classics and thin mattresses with wool blankets. Nearby were caves for top aides.


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