This UK College Graduate Is the Last Man Standing Against the Taliban
Ahmad Massoud, whose father was one of Afghanistan’s most famous warlords, earned his degree in War Studies from King's College London in 2015.
Ahmad Massoud, along with a few hundred well-equipped fighters, pilots, and Amrullah Salehl—Afghanistan’s former vice president, who has claimed the Afghan presidency after Ashraf Ghani fled on August 15—make up the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) that Massoud founded, and are still holding back the Taliban from taking the last bastion of the country.
The group told the BBC they are pursuing a peace deal with the Taliban that would allow them a voice in the new government, but if that fails, they will do what it takes to hold on to the land that has always been a center for resisters.
“We prefer peace, we prioritize peace and negotiations,” Ali Nazary, head of the NRF Foreign Relations told the BBC this week. “If this fails, if we see that the other side is not sincere, if we see that the other side is trying to force itself on the rest of the country, then we're not going to accept any sort of aggression. And we’ve proven ourselves, our track record in the past 40 years has shown that no one is able to conquer our region, especially the Panjshir Valley.”
Massoud’s father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was tapped as the “Lion of Panjshir” after he defended the same valley during the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s. He also fiercely fought the Taliban’s rise to power in the late 1990s until he was brutally and poignantly assassinated by al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001, two days before the Twin Towers fell half a world away.
In an op-ed he penned for the Washington Post on August 18, the 32-year-old resistance leader wrote, “I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujaheddin fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban. We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come.”
They have called up any Afghan fighters who still have the will to battle the Taliban, and have rallied for support of the NRF—if they are able to negotiate a peace accord that would allow them to represent more moderate Afghans.
The Taliban, which has sent its fighters to mass along the Panjshir valley, has not yet attacked the fighters holed up in the valley, in what some believe is a signal that earlier promises that they would include others in their new government could have a glimmer of truth. Still, others believe it is a plot to get Massoud to pledge his group’s allegiance, which would mean there is no resistance against the Taliban left.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that “The enemy is under siege in Panjshir,” but then later told a gathering of clerics in Kabul that there had been no exchange of gunfire yet, insisting they, too, were looking for a “peaceful solution,” according to reports from the region.
In a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday, Mujahid continued to press the idea that the Taliban had changed, despite widespread reports of killings and vendettas being carried out across the country by its fighters. Mujahid said the Taliban had met with all embassies still present in Kabul, including the U.S., but stopped short of confirming reports that a commander met with the CIA to discuss the extension of U.S. troops. He also invited all international entities present in the country to stay.
“No embassy should feel any threat, any danger,” he said, according to CNN. “I would like to request international organizations, the United Nations, health organizations, other organizations, those who have continued to stay in Kabul with us,” he added. “Our Mujadeen has ensured security for them, their physical security, their psychological security—we are at your service.”
Massoud, in his Washington Post opus, disagreed that the Taliban would change, instead vowing, “No matter what happens, my mujaheddin fighters and I will defend Panjshir as the last bastion of Afghan freedom. Our morale is intact. We know from experience what awaits us.”
He then called upon the U.S. and retreating troops to help them. “But we need more weapons, more ammunition, and more supplies,” he wrote. “America and its democratic allies do not just have the fight against terrorism in common with Afghans. We now have a long history made up of shared ideals and struggles. There is still much that you can do to aid the cause of freedom. You are our only remaining hope.”