American special forces riding horses, the Taliban fleeing in Toyota pickup trucks, al-Qaida’s plans for a fantastical plasma gun—elements of the military campaign and some of the recent discoveries in Afghanistan are not just asymmetrical but truly odd. Take, for example, a report broadcast on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition earlier today. Speaking from Northern Alliance lines outside Kundoz, reporter Steve Inskeep listened to a walkie-talkie conversation between a Northern Alliance soldier and a Taliban fighter trapped inside the Afghan city. It was one of the most improbable battlefield chats between opposing forces you are likely to hear, thereby confirming that in Afghanistan absolutely anything is possible. Intermittently, the two men inform each other, sarcastically, that the latest mortar or rocket-propelled grenade has missed its intended targets, depending on which side is doing the firing this time round. The Taliban soldier then asks why the Northern Alliance are speaking to so many foreign journalists—the Taliban can see Western reporters from their positions inside Kundoz. The Northern Alliance soldier responds, saying that the journalists are not fighting and that, unlike the Taliban, who have Arabs and Pakistanis among their numbers, there are no foreigners fighting for the Northern Alliance. (No matter about the American bombers and fighter planes: They obviously don’t count for much in this exchange.) The Taliban soldier replies that at least their foreigners are Muslims. And then hostilities between the two sides resumes.
You’d think a dialogue such as this one might be an encouraging sign—a desire on both sides to talk and, therefore, a possibility that discussion might herald an end to the fighting. Inskeep’s report suggested quite the opposite, however: that while you go about killing your enemy, you keep on talking—and even let him carry on despite his useless targeting.