It flies over large cities, towns and the Kabul airport, which has been evacuated by US troops. Now the Taliban are trying to hoist their white flag over the Afghan Panjshir Valley – but they will not be able to do so without a fight.
Panjshir, controlled by the National Resistance Front, a reincarnation of the Northern Alliance rebel group that fought alongside US forces during the 2001 invasion, held out when the rest of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last month.
This week, both groups confirmed that the Taliban had launched an offensive to take the region around 100 kilometers north of Kabul and in the towering Hindu Kush mountains between the capital Kabul and the strategically important province of Badakshan.
Panjshir, normally home to around 100,000 people – which means “five lions” in the Dari language or Afghan Persian language – has seen a population increase in recent weeks as thousands of refugees, including fragments of the destroyed Afghan National Army, flocked to the area looking for security.
At the head of the National Resistance Front is Ahmad Massoud, 32, the son of the famous resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as “the Lion of Panjshir” because of his role in the victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Elder Massoud’s forces would continue to fight the Taliban and other anti-Russian fighters as Afghanistan fell into a bloody civil war. He was criticized when his troops indiscriminately bombarded western Kabul during the fighting in 1992, killing hundreds of civilians.
The elderly Massoud was murdered on September 9, 2001 by Al Qaeda suicide bombers posing as television journalists.
Two days later, al-Qaeda terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon outside Washington D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania. The Taliban, against whom his troops fought, had given protection to Al-Qaeda and the architect of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban’s refusal to release bin Laden sparked the US invasion, which overthrew its government later that year.
The next Massoud
The younger Massoud, who was only 12 when his father was killed, was prepared from an early age to one day replace him.
After studying for a few years behind Prince Harry at the British Military Academy Sandhurst, he received a bachelor’s degree in warfare from King’s College London and a master’s degree in international politics from the City, University of London in 2016.
Two years ago he was officially appointed Chief of the Armed Forces in Panjshir to succeed his father.
“No matter what, my mujahideen fighters and I will defend Panjshir as the last bastion of Afghan freedom. Our morals are intact. We know from experience what to expect, ”said Massoud in a comment from the Washington Post Three days later, the Taliban invaded Kabul without resistance and without firing a shot.
Despite all his combative words, he said his first hope was to negotiate an agreement with the country’s new Taliban rulers.
Massoud is looking for an agreement that decentralizes power away from Kabul – giving Panjshir and other regions a degree of autonomy – and one that will commit the Taliban to basic human rights, Ali Nazary, a spokesman for the National Resistance Front, said over the phone last week.
Antonio Giustozzi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, said last week before fighting broke out that Taliban forces are vastly superior to the fighters at Massoud.
Any conflict would “damage their international image somewhat,” he said, adding that geography was “on the side of Massoud Jr. and his armed forces.”
“The whole province is really a valley,” he said. “There is only one street. So if you can hold on to the valley entrance, no mechanized forces can advance. It’s easy to block. “
Resistance fighters are already asking the US and its allies for humanitarian aid – including food, fuel and tents – as they prepare for the looming Afghan winter. In his comment, Massoud pleaded with the Biden government to provide weapons and ammunition.
“The United States and its allies have left the battlefield, but America can still be a ‘great arsenal of democracy,'” he said, citing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s slogan for US support for Britain and his Allies in Europe one year before entering World War II.
A State Department official said the US is not going into the details of all of our diplomatic commitments.
“The United States is speaking to a number of Afghan leaders who are involved in government-forming talks,” the official said. “We promote a peaceful and orderly transfer of power to an inclusive government with broad support. That is the best result for Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability. “
Nazary said his people, with or without US support, would stick to their tradition of resistance, whatever happens.
“The Panjshir people know how to survive and they know how to fight invaders,” he said.