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Twenty Years Later, Massoud’s Son Continues the Fight

Twenty years ago today, the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by al Qaeda. The murder of the Lion of Panjshir should have put to rest any notion of separation between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist franchise and the Taliban regime. I remain convinced that bin Laden would never have pulled the trigger on 9/11 if Massoud had been alive. Even as a martyr, he was still able to bring together the Northern Alliance and NATO to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban.

Two decades later, that liberation has been reversed, thanks to appalling short-sightedness lasting through at least [1] two [2] presidents [3]. How long will it take until al Qaeda returns to pre-9/11 strength?

If Ahmad Massoud – the late Lion’s son – has anything to say about it, it will take a lot longer than conventional wisdom holds.

Massoud the Younger quickly cobbled together a new Northern Alliance [4] in Panjshir. Sadly, his pleas for help from the democratic world have gone unanswered. That, in part, enabled the Taliban to claim “victory” in the valley last week. Initial reports had Massoud and Amrullah Saleh, the last official in the elected government still trying to hold his post, in Tajikistan.

Those reports, however, were incorrect (Reuters [5]).

Panjshiri leader Ahmad Shah Massoud and former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh have not fled Afghanistan and their resistance forces are still fighting the Taliban, the ousted Afghan government’s ambassador to Tajikistan said on Wednesday.

Zahir Aghbar, envoy to Dushanbe under the government of ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, told a news conference in Tajikistan’s capital that he was in regular contact with Saleh and that the resistance leaders were out of general communication for security reasons.

“Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh have not fled to Tajikistan. The news that Ahmad Massoud has left Panjshir is not true; he is inside Afghanistan,” Aghbar said.

“I am in constant contact with Amrullah Saleh, who is currently in Panjshir and running the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s government,” he said.

Admittedly, that last bit is bravado. While Saleh did indeed become acting president when Ashraf Ghani fled the country, there isn’t much of a republic left, but the fight continues (VOA [6]).

Earlier in the day, pro-resistance Twitter accounts claimed their fighters retreated to the mountains to regroup but that they will continue to fight.

“Last night, we had to make a hard decision in the face of furious enemy attacks and depleted amunations (sic),” said their Twitter message posted Monday afternoon. “Make a last stand in Bazarak and risk the total elimination of our leadership, or retreat to higher ground in order to continue the resistance. We choose the latter.”

I’ll admit it’s not much, but as long as there is at least some resistance in Afghanistan, the Taliban will be weaker and their al Qaeda allies will be on shakier ground. The Afghan people refuse to be cowed (WaPo [7]). The opportunity for us and our allies to further disrupt the “Islamic Emirate” is right there in front of us – and must be taken.

The fall of Kabul is already corroding our political discourse. The left is retreating to its late Cold War isolationism [8] (which earned an f-bomb from yours truly); while the right is drifting toward the nativist, 1920s version. Even our own Shaun Kenney seems to be shifting the focus from American enemies to America’s educators [9]. If this is what America means by “moving on” from Afghanistan, then it’s all the more reason we should do no such thing.

More to the point, the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance isn’t moving on from us – and the Afghan people aren’t moving on to accept their returned tyrants either. As much as al Qaeda wants to return to its former, violent glory, they can’t do it until the resistance in Afghanistan is swept away. We need to make sure that day never comes.

Once again, a Massoud is among our best allies in country. The father’s death gave al Qaeda the confidence to clear the way for 9/11. The son is leading the first defense against its revival.

Is it too much to ask Washington to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself?