KURUK, Afghanistan—Commander Daoulad didn't have enough fingers to tick off the wish list of gear he said he needed to finally counterattack his old enemy, the Taliban.
Crouched with his tattered band of Northern Alliance fighters in a muddy trench only 170 yards from Taliban frontline positions, he ignored the racket of nearby gunfire to list everything from more bullets to new shoes, from fresh mortar rounds to unbroken tea glasses, from heavy machine guns to bottles of cooking oil.
Even the previous day's ferocious B-52 strikes on the Taliban lines facing him did not change his view. "Unless there is more," he said, surrounded by freshly dug graves marked with handfuls of rocks, "I wait."
There is a lot of waiting and wishing these days in the frontline trenches of the Northern Alliance, Washington's unlikely ally in the war against terrorism. Bad weather, already hampering U.S. efforts to deploy ground troops in the area, is getting worse, and the rebels are ill-prepared for a winter campaign.
Pentagon officials promised to supply the troops the gear they need, while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Saturday sought more assistance from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan that would help supply Northern Alliance-held areas along their borders.
President Bush defended the progress of the U.S.-led bombing campaign, which now is four weeks old, saying that it's a "different kind of war."
But it seems very familiar to the Northern Alliance, an army that does not appear ready to risk a dangerous step forward.
Badly trained, badly armed, badly equipped, the Northern Alliance seems to be no challenge for the Taliban today and perhaps for months to come. Its formal name is the United Front, but that is a misnomer. Its forces are an amalgam of warlord militias and troops loyal to the exiled Afghan government. The independent-minded warlords pretty much do what they like.
Until U.S. bombs began raining down on the Taliban on Oct. 7, the Northern Alliance was squirreled away in one-tenth of Afghanistan, desperately trying to hold on to a mostly mountainous, poverty-stricken stretch of land.
"We were not attacking, we were defending," said Commander Hasan, a widely respected leader of one of the militias in northern Afghanistan.
Some analysts suggest that if the U.S. is not cautious, it could end up making decisions in Afghanistan similar to those it made during the Afghan uprising against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. During that conflict, Washington decided to support Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a radical Afghan freedom fighter whose movement attracted a young Saudi exile named Osama bin Laden. The result was the flowering of militant Islam worldwide and the birth of bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.
Supplies badly lacking
The Northern Alliance's problems are many. To begin with, the rebels lack almost everything an army needs to fight.
"If we get some ammunition, some weapons, some wheat, some shoes, some oil and gas, then we can fight," said Gen. Mohiballah Khan, one of the exiled government's commanders in northern Afghanistan, repeating a refrain heard among opposition military leaders.
Despite loud appeals to the world, leaders of the Northern Alliance complain that few nations have come to their rescue. "The Russians gave us meat, milk and wheat and some ammunition. That is all," Commander Hasan said.
Although Moscow promised to send heavy equipment to match that of the Taliban, nothing has shown up, said Bariyola Khan, deputy minister of defense.
Except for coordinating their own bombing runs, the U.S. military has offered little help, said Gen. Khan. As for Washington's promise to send U.S. Special Forces personnel to provide technical assistance on the ground, Khan said none has shown up in northern Afghanistan, where the Northern Alliance has been talking about launching an attack.
"If [Americans] are here, I have not seen them," he said.