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Swimming With Warlords #1: Chagatai Ridge

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian writes:

Lots of useful reference material in this Time magazine story:

…Northern Alliance artillery shells and 82-mm mortars whiz overhead as a 50-cal. gun pops individual rounds at Taliban front lines, 1,000 yds. away across a small dip in the rolling brown hills…



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16 September 2021page first published

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian writes:

There's a tragic story from Kevin Sites' Swimming With Warlords, which also illustrates some tactical challenges appropriate for wargaming. From chapter 4, The Ghosts of Kalakata.

Swimming With Warlords

It's 11 November 2002 in northern Afghanistan. Several Northern Alliance warlords have successfully launched attacks and driven Taliban forces south, and now in the northeast, it is the turn of an Uzbek warlord named Moammar Hassan.

Kevin Sites was a journalist embedded with the Northern Alliance. He describes driving to Dasht-e-Qala, crossing the Kokcha River on horseback, and reaching the hills of Kalakata near the village of Chagatai. Above the village is Chagatai Ridge, where Hassan's forces are entrenched; they face the Taliban in bunkers 'dug into the hills of Kalakata'. The Northern Alliance is also described as firing down at the 'Taliban-controlled valley' with trees 'awash in reds and yellows'.


Checking Google Maps, I can locate both the Kokcha River and Dasht-e-Qaleh (alternate spelling), but not Chagatai (unless it's Khoja-i-gar?).

Both the Northern Alliance and the Taliban forces have infantry, tanks and mortars. A dug-in Northern Alliance T-55 and a Taliban 120mm mortar are specifically mentioned in Sites' journal.

According to a local Northern Alliance commander, the Taliban in the valley are some of the fiercest fighters in this war, made up mostly of Saudis, Chechens, and Pakistanis. Team bin Laden. But Northern Alliance commanders, I have learned, always say that. Their enemies are rarely just Afghans, but always the most highly trained Al Queda terrorists this side of the Amu Darya.

Kevin later mentions finding evidence of a Pakistani fighter in an abandoned Taliban bunker:

It's an 8 x 10 room dug into the earth with a roof made of tree branches covered with sandbags… it's dep enough for me, at 6' 1", to stand upright… there's a fire pit in one corner…

Hassan dramatically walks into the open, braving Taliban fire, and radios his men to 'start fighting'.

In his account, Sites recounts reaching a Northern Alliance tank position on the ridge at dusk. They come under mortar fire, and a National Geographic producer is wounded – the first American in the war to be wounded by Taliban fire.

Sites tell us about a tragic event that occurs 'a few hours later' when it is 'already dark'. Hassan's second-in-command, Amir Bashir, receives word that five bunkers have been captured and the area is cleared. He decides to go forward to see for himself.

The Northern Alliance advance in a column of vehicles, in an attempt to avoid land mines. Bashir is in an armored personnel carrier (Wikipedia says 'tank'), behind other unspecified vehicles. Six reporters are riding on top of Bashir's APC.

The column is advancing toward the Taliban trenches and bunkers, across a cratered field, when an ambush is sprung. One of the reporters, a Soviet veteran, reported taking fire from 'at least 5 AK's and one light machine gun'.

One of the reporters appears to dive to the ground (he's actually been fatally shot). The APC's driver takes a sharp left turn, descending a steep hill, causing more passengers to fall; one reporter is clinging to the gun turret, blocking the barrel with his leg. The APC takes a shot in the rear hatches from an RPG – fortunately, it's apparently anti-personnel and fails to penetrate. The APC then reverses direction (?) and surges forward to escape the kill zone.

The Northern Alliance force returns to their own lines. They discover that three journalists are missing.

Bashir sends out 'scouts' to find the missing journalists. This is apparently a mounted force, as a Russian-made APC is mentioned. No fighting is mentioned. One body is recovered; it had been dragged back to the Taliban trenches and looted.

The other journalists' bodies are recovered the next day. The three journalists were the first foreign journalists to die in the war.


There are three potential scenarios here.

The first is Hassan's attack on Taliban lines, in its entirety or a portion thereof.

The second is Bashir's reconnaissance in the dark. The Taliban forces could be determined randomly, to keep the Northern Alliance player uncertain of what he will face. It would be optional to include the journalists.

The third scenario would be the scouts' sortie. This is a what-if, as we don't know if the Taliban had withdrawn at this point or not. It's a night action, and the fate of the journalists could be determined randomly: dead, wounded, captured, or alive and seeking rescue.

This is a 'scenario starter' article, so please feel free to comment if you have any suggestions, additional information, or sources to recommend. The article will be updated as needed. And if you find the subject matter too close to home, feel free to repurpose the concepts to another era or even a fantasy or sci-fi setting.