Skip to comments.A lion cornered - The attack on Masood is bound to strengthen the Taleban
Posted on 09/11/2001 12:34:48 AM PDT by HAL9000
The suicide bomb attack on Ahmed Shah Masood, the leader of the Afghan opposition, has dealt a deadly blow to world attempts to hold the Taleban in check. The Lion of Panjshir, feared dead by Washington and Islamabad, may yet be clinging to life; but the attackers, by reaching his stronghold, have shredded his mantle of invincibility. He has been the last of the commanders still holding out against the Islamic extremists. From his stronghold in the Panjshir Valley, where he once fought off more than a dozen Soviet offensives, he has kept alive the resistance to a regime that is a byword for intolerant fanaticism.
The attack bore all the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi terrorist whose presence in Afghanistan has triggered the United Nations sanctions against the country. Masood, a commander of considerable skill and experience, was guarded by loyal Tajik supporters, and was on constant guard against betrayal and surprise attack. But he was always ready to explain to foreigners, outsiders and potential allies his vision of a free and independent Afghanistan; bin Laden knew that Arabs posing as journalists would more easily be able to infiltrate themselves into his presence than Taleban supporters.
Masood suffered repeated setbacks, and the area of control by the Northern Alliance has now shrunk to no more than 5 per cent of the country. But he was backed by all those threatened by a Taleban victory, including Afghanistans minority ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks, the Iranians and the rulers of Central Asia who have suffered repeated incursions by Afghan-backed rebels and saw Masood as the last bulwark against the spread of Islamic extremism. He even sought and won the backing of the Russians, his old enemies, who have been incensed by Kabuls public support for, and probable clandestine aid to, Chechens and Tajik bandits.
The West has long abandoned any attempt at negotiation with a regime whose hardliners adopt ever more extreme positions to maintain their rule as conditions in the country worsen. Containment is the main policy the diplomatic and physical isolation of a regime that has exported drugs and terror to all its neighbours. One instrument of such containment has been to pin down Taleban fighters militarily, and Masood was, in the end, the only warlord left able to hold out.
The other means of enforcing pariah status was the withholding of diplomatic recognition. As long as Masood held on to a sliver of territory, that policy was credible at the United Nations and in most capitals. But if all Afghanistan falls to the Taleban, it will be hard for countries such as Britain, where recognition depends not on ideology but on a governments degree of control, to ignore the Taleban victory or to oppose the removal of the opposition from the overseas embassies and the UN. With Masood seriously wounded or dead, the opposition could swiftly collapse. All the more reason, therefore, for Pakistan, one of three countries recognising the Taleban, to demand of the monster it has bred a minimum of human rights.
Afghan warlord 'killed' by bombers
FROM ZAHID HUSSAIN IN ISLAMABAD
AHMED SHAH MASOOD, the Afghan opposition leader, has been killed by suicide bombers posing as journalists, according to Russian and American reports yesterday.
First accounts said that he had survived Sundays attack at his residence in northern Afghanistan, but Tass, the Russian news agency, reported later that the leader of troops opposed to the Taleban regime had died while being taken to hospital.
An American official was also quoted as saying that it was believed General Masood had failed to survive when attackers detonated a bomb concealed in their video camera.
The generals supporters inside and outside Afghanistan denied reports of their leaders death and insisted that he was receiving treatment for minor chest, hand and leg wounds in Dushanbe, the capital of neighbouring Tajikistan.
Afghanistans opposition leaders accused Osama bin Laden and Pakistan of masterminding the attack.
Mehrabodin Masstan, the chargé daffaires at the Afghanistan Embassy in France, said: There was a moment when it was very difficult before the doctors arrived, and we were quite worried. When the doctors arrived and he was operated on and he was bandaged up, the situation stabilised. Mr Masstan suggested that General Masood might speak publicly today.
The generals brother Ahmed Wali, Afghanistans Ambassador in London, said last night: He survived the bomb, but has been unconscious for 1? days. He opened his eyes at 7pm local time (3.30pm BST). Doctors are very optimistic. Mr Wali said that because his brother had been unconscious it had been impossible to confirm or deny assassination reports.
Two Algerians posing as television journalists and Azim Suhail, a close aide of General Masood, were killed in the explosion at an opposition base in Kawaja Bahauddin in Takhar Province. General Masood was flown to Tajikistan. His brother said that he gave instructions to his commander before being taken to the operating theatre.
According to Mr Wali the suicide bombers were travelling on Belgian passports with a multiple Pakistani visa issued in London. The whole thing was organised by Pakistanis and some Arab circles, he said. Another leader of the opposition Northern Alliance accused the Taleban of sending the bombers into General Masoods territory.
The loss of General Masood, 49, would be a big setback to the opposition. It is a fractured collection of groups that fought each other when they ruled much of Afghanistan for four years until the Taleban militia swept them out of Kabul in 1996. A former Defence Minister, General Masood was the military chief of the anti-Taleban coalition. Its political head is the ousted Afghan President Rabbani. His deposed Government still holds Afghanistans seat at the United Nations and is recognised by several nations.
General Masood, an ethnic Tajik, became known as the Lion of Panjshir because of his resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979-89. The Taleban failed to take his headquarters in the Panjshir Valley. He repeatedly accused Pakistan and bin Laden of sending fighters to reinforce Taleban forces. In his last interview, in the Far Eastern Economic Review, he said that he never stayed in the same place for two nights.
Fortune could not favour the brave for ever
ANTHONY LOYD ON THE LION OF PANJSHIR
IT WAS November last year, and little seemed to have changed in Ahmed Shah Masood since Id first met him in 1996. He still looked like a young Bob Marley. His tukul cap was at the identical devil-may-care angle of four years earlier.
Yet he was very tired, slipping in and out of sleep in the passenger seat of his four-wheel drive as we returned from the front, his lolling head threatening to crash into the door of the vehicle as it bounced over the rough terrain.
When I asked him about a junior commanders setback during a failed attack, however, he erupted. He just went and attacked without even asking us at headquarters, Masood snapped. Then he called the next day to say he had been driven back and lost 12 commanders. The issue of cohesion was always sensitive with Masood. It was the 48-year-old Tajiks Achilles heel.
Nevertheless, something appeared to have preserved him from overall defeat time and time again. His first name translates as lucky and his life had been spent astride the bronco of Afghan fortune.
Born in the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, the son of an army colonel, he was educated at the French college in Kabul. Two years after King Zahir Shah was deposed and exiled in 1973 by his cousin Muhammad Daud, Masood, still a student, led a revolt. It was crushed bloodily and Masood, with a bullet-wound to the leg, escaped to Pakistan.
Returning, he fought the Soviet forces throughout the 1979-89 occupation and gained a reputation as the most tactically advanced of any Mujahidin commander. He survived ten Soviet offensives.
In 1992 he led his fighters into Kabul, overthrowing the communist President Najibullah. It was the high point of Masoods career as a guerrilla commander. Made Minister of Defence by President Rabbani, he thwarted hostile opposition forces and held on to the capital until defections allowed the Pakistani-backed Taleban into Kabul in 1996.
Then Masoods fortunes began to slide. Repeated betrayals cost him dearly and by summer this year his coalition was hanging on to no more than 10 per cent of Afghanistan, the forgotten heroes of the Cold War left to fight on alone against the numerically superior and better equipped Taleban.
By his own admission, the experience left Masood with his demons. I have had so many worst moments in my life that I cant remember the worst, he told me bleakly last November. Also regrets: I have many regrets, regrets for things I have or have not done in the war, regrets that when I had Kabul I could not have done better for the people.
More than anything he regretted his inability to maintain unity in his ethnically divided coalition army. Though he could always rely on his Panjshiri troops, the loyalty of his Hazara allies and Uzbeks commanded by General Abdul Rashid Dostum was always open to question. His supporters idolised him as The Lion of Panjshir; critics slated him as a nepotist who favoured Panjshiris over others.
Yet he remained all that stood in the face of a total seizure of the nation by the Taleban. In a cruel twist, the Taleban were supported by Osama bin Laden, a figure Masoods own people are said to have let into Afghanistan in the early 1990s after his expulsion from Sudan. Of his few mistakes this may have been Masoods most fateful, given the likelihood that his assassin was one of bin Ladens protégés. If, indeed, a suicide bomber has ended his run of luck, then the blast will have removed the most dynamic, charming and charismatic figure from play in the worlds wildest war zone. Anthony Loyd on the Lion of Panjshir
Fears as last resistance falters
COMMENTARY BY ZAHID HUSSEIN
THE veteran commander, Ahmed Shah Masood, has been the last bulwark of resistance against the Taleban militia, which controls 90 per cent of Afghanistan.
He held together the fractious opposition Northern Alliance defending bastions in northern and central Afghanistan. His absence is likely to result in its disintegration, opening the way for the Taleban to sweep through the rest of the country.
Afghanistan under the sole control of the extremist Islamic fundamentalist regime would have serious regional repercussions, increasing the threat of radical Islam spreading to neighbouring countries.
A prime concern for the international community is terrorism emanating from Afghanistan. Already the country is a haven for Islamic extremists from elsewhere.
From his base in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist, would pose a greater threat. His power has apparently grown through his links with hardline military commanders in the Taleban leadership and his influence has been further strengthened by their increasing dependence on Arab fighters. With Pakistanis, they constitute a crucial part of the Taleban war machine. Most observers expect the Taleban to adopt a more defiant stance against United Nations demands to extradite bin Laden.
Foreign involvement in the Afghan conflict would increase if the Taleban forces succeeded in taking opposition-held territory. Iran, Russia and former Soviet Central Asian states supply weapons and other military assistance to the opposition.
A further danger would be escalating tension between a Shia Muslim Iran and a hardline Sunni Muslim Afghanistan, which could develop into open conflict.
Russia, which accuses the Taleban of supporting Chechen Muslims fighting against its troops and which fears the spread of Islamic fundamentalism to the Central Asian states, plays a crucial role in enabling Iranian military aid to reach the opposition forces. It also provides direct assistance and support.
Iranian involvement in the Afghan conflict has deepened, not only because of sectarian and regional interests but also because of widening economic concerns. Tehran and Moscow have been compelled by their mutual fear of total Taleban control over Afghanistan to join hands, despite differing long-term interests.
Washington shares Moscows concern at the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and the prospect of Afghanistan becoming a centre for international terrorism, but it remains suspicious of Russias use of the Afghan issue to consolidate its military presence in Central Asia.
Pakistan is one of the three countries that recognises the Taleban regime. Declaring the survival of Taleban rule to be crucial to its security and regional interests, it allegedly provides Kabul with military aid, despite UN sanctions.
Afghanistan resistance leader feared dead in blast
By Ahmed Rashid in Lahore
THE leader of the Afghan resistance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was reported to have been killed or seriously wounded yesterday in a grave setback to hopes of toppling the extremist Islamic Taliban regime.
A US official said "we believe he's dead" but refused to give any further details.
Judged a brilliant guerrilla commander by his former Russian foes, Gen Massoud had long carried the West's hopes in Afghanistan.
Opposition officials insisted that he was only slightly injured during the attack on Sunday, but his brother said the explosion set off by a suicide bomber disguised as a television journalist caused serious injury.
Ahmad Wali Massoud, the Afghan opposition's ambassador to Britain, said yesterday: "His condition is stabilising, but he is still unconscious, the doctor says it will be 10-12 hours before we know."
Gen Massoud was giving an interview at his base in the Panjshir Valley to two Arabs posing as journalists when a bomb went off.
The explosives were believed to have been hidden in a video camera the men were using or was strapped around the body of one of them.
Sources in central Asia said the assassins began their journey from Kabul and crossed Taliban lines to enter territory of Gen Massoud's United Front opposition, interviewing several of its commanders before they reached his base.
Front commanders and Western diplomats in central Asia said Gen Massoud was treated for serious head injuries by Russian army surgeons in Tajikistan, where he was flown after the blast.
Front spokesmen denied that he had died and accused the Taliban, the wanted Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden and Pakistan of planning the assassination attempt.
The blast killed an aide, Azim Suhail, seriously wounded Massoud Khalili, the front's ambassador to India, and killed one of the bombers. Gen Massoud's guards shot dead the other bomber.
Aides said Gen Massoud talked to his commanders before the operation, giving them instructions and handing military command to his deputy, Gen Fakhim.
The Taliban chief spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, said the movement was not behind the incident, although it would be the biggest beneficiary of his death.
If Gen Massoud is dead or incapacitated for some time, the factional United Front, composed of minority ethnic groups opposed to the Taliban, could collapse, giving the militants complete control of Afghanistan.
The front controls only 10 per cent of the country, but in recent months Gen Massoud has succeeded in setting up new bases in western and northern Afghanistan while maintaining control of a small pocket of territory north of Kabul.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 Arabs under the command of Osama bin Laden fight for the Taliban, as does the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and thousands of Pakistani Islamic militants.
Arab militants under bin Laden have been held responsible for some of the worst recent massacres in the civil war, killing hundreds of civilians in areas controlled by the United Front.
Last week the Taliban launched a major offensive against the front outside Kabul and in Takhar province in the north-east.
An estimated 25,000 Taliban troops, including some 10,000 Arab, Pakistani and Central Asian Islamic militants are now likely to step up their offensive, in the hope that the attack will cause a collapse of morale among Gen Massoud's troops.
His forces have been bolstered recently by greater military support from Iran, Russia and India and Tajikistan has given him a military base to supply his troops in Afghanistan.
Gen Massoud was one of the first to begin resistance against the Communists who seized power in Kabul in 1978 and then a year later fought Soviet troops who invaded Afghanistan and occupied the country for nearly a decade.
Russian generals said he was the best Afghan Mujahideen commander they faced during the war. His forces seized Kabul in 1992, after the Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of the Communist regime.
He was defence minister under his ally President Burhanuddin Rabbani until they were pushed out of Kabul by the Taliban in 1996.
Massoud had aura and assurance that set him apart
By Sandy Gall
I FIRST met Massoud in 1982 when the Russians were bombing the Panjshir, his home valley 100 miles north-east of Kabul.
We had walked in from the Pakistan border for 12 days and had arrived at a village called Tanbonnah. Some of the trees were shattered by bomb blasts and a deep green pool in the river below was in fact a bomb crater.
About 7.30 next morning a small group of men came through the trees towards the house. One, in front, flat Chitrali cap on the back of his head, khaki combat jacket and trousers and black Russian boots, was Massoud.
He had an air of authority and assurance. He was 28. I was aware even then of an aura, a mystique, that seemed to set him apart. As I shook his hand, I noticed above all his eyes, quick and intelligent.
A Russian jet whined overhead and immediately Massoud and his entourage walked to the shelter of the house and we all sat down.
Massoud sat in the corner rapidly reading letters and messages and equally rapidly writing replies. He had no radio and messages went by runner.
Afterwards he talked to the assembled locals. He struck me as a good listener. At the end of each conversation he would say a few words as if giving instructions. There was never any argument.
It was several days before we saw Massoud again. By this time we had seen the Russians bombing all around us and a few days later the Russian ground attack started.
Massoud told us the Russians' tanks and infantry were only just down the valley and we had to hurry. We climbed up the steep side of a mountain and crawled inside a small cave.
Massoud appeared eventually and joined us, not at all put out by the Russian advance, reeling off facts and figures. He left soon afterwards to supervise the battle.
During the long hours until we made contact with Massoud again his brother Yahya told me his story.
The son of an Afghan colonel, he had always wanted to be a soldier, but after studying at the Istiqlal Lycee in Kabul he enrolled in the Polytechnic to study engineering.
In 1975, when he was 21, he took part in a failed coup and had to flee to Pakistan, where he was trained by the army in guerrilla warfare.
Early in 1979 before the Russian invasion, Massoud returned to Kabul and went underground. In June that year he left for his native Panjshir and by the time the Russians invaded in December he had already formed a resistance movement to fight the Afghan Communist government.
By December 1982 he had survived five Russian offensives, had built up a guerrilla army of 300 and was beginning to get British help. He even came to Britain to be taught mountain warfare by the British Army.
Years later I travelled into Kabul with him on top of a Russian APC manned by fearsome-looking Uzbeks. On the outskirts of Kabul the convoy stopped and everyone got out to pray.
Even on that day, perhaps the greatest of his life, he spent an hour before the final drive into Kabul talking about the war.
Kabul turned out to be a poisoned chalice with too much infighting and dissension among the alliance partners. In the end in 1996 Massoud was forced to withdraw by the Taliban, their army heavily supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Kyodo news agency: Taliban launches offensive on 2 fronts
Encouraged by reports that their key military opponent has been killed or critically wounded in a bomb attack, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia on Tuesday launched a major offensive on two fronts in northern Afghanistan, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) has reported.
The offensive is focused on old Bagram road, 55 kilometers north of Kabul, and Mahmood Rauqi in Kapisa Province adjacent to Panjsher valley, the stronghold of guerrilla commander Ahmad Shah Masood, the report said.
Taliban jets were bombing enemy positions on the two fronts to assist ground forces, AIP said.
The report quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying that conflicting reports about the fate of Masood have demoralized his troops, who are without any commander and central command.
Masood was critically wounded Sunday when a bomb concealed in a video camera exploded as he was giving an interview to two Arab journalists at his residence in Khwaja Obaid in Takhar Province, northern Afghanistan.
Russian news agencies have reported that Masood did not survive the attack but his spokesman denied the reports and said he was recuperating somewhere in Afghanistan.
The spokesman accused the Taliban, Arab dissident Osamu bin Laden and "others" of masterminding the plot to kill Masood.
The Taliban earlier denied any involvement in the attack on Masood.
2001 Kyodo News (c) Established 1945
Today, General Dostum's militia recaptured Mazar-e-Sharif for the Northern Alliance, with the strength of the U.S. military, President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld clearing the way.
Two months after the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood, the Taliban are becoming an endangered species.
The Taliban benefited for a few weeks.
I read a lot of news, most everything you post (over the years) is interesting and from an obscure source I missed. Thanks again...(v2.6 is great.)
BUMP! Excellent! I'm consistently amazed by the dedication and talent of the people in this forum. Thank you, Hal.
Thanks folks. This was a thread I'll never forget.
Thanks for bumping this.
It's incredible to go back to what's almost 4 years ago--knowing what we know now. Almost eerie.
Masoud Rahid Osama Yasir all cut for the same cloth---the fabric of the ideology of Muslim terrorism.
The war must continue and will of only America understands the awful alternatives.
Thanks for the reminder.
Fifth Anniversary Bump
Wow. This is worth a bump.
Well before our FReeping start, what we didn't know then ;-)
Thank you for this. I'm finding that there is so much I did not know about before 9/11 occurred. After watching 9/11 last night, I saw this guy in a new light.
Are you aware of any good books on the "Lion"
There must be some books about him, but I'm not aware of them. The portrayal of him in "Path to 911" was outstanding.
Several years ago, there was a Travel Channel special about Massood, with interviews conducted by Robert Pelton Young, if you can find them.
Did they mention in the "path to 911" the installation of bin Laden as defense minister of Afghanistan a month prior to 911?
Before I viewed The Path To 9.11 I did not realize his extensive and invaluable interaction with the CIA in the hunt for UBL.
Here's a link to a page on amazon.com if anybody else is interested. On a related note, there is an excellent book about the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan called "Charley Wilson's war". Charley was a congressman from east texas who was a champion for the Mujahadeen.
It was good,thank you for your work,fatima
I believe Charlie Wilson's War will be released as a movie soon.
HAL... Wow... please... if you have a list. Ping me to it. I knew Masood was important, after watching Path to 9/11 it really opened my eyes. BUT, seeing what you had before 9/11 I want to study this man.
Thank you for posting these. Probably not a lot of people got to read them live, as it were.
As an aside... .Whoever played him in Path to 9/11 did a fantastic job.
Ok, watched part 2 way past my bed time... Have to go back to work in the morning.
HAL- thank you for letting me know more about this man.
The actor did a great job. He got the best line of the film and he was the best looking guy in there too.
As I mentioned above, after I posted this article in the early morning hours of 9/11, I went to bed terribly depressed about the death of Massood.
I'll add a bit more about that night - I had a terrifying nightmare about the end of the world, and all of humanity was in a hellish agony and suffering. Then my wife woke me up and told me that the World Trade Center was on fire. I turned on the television just before the next plane hit the other tower, and it was like my nightmare had come true.
Fortunately, the world did not end - but I had trouble sleeping again on this anniversary.
Great book. You're right...a movie seems to be in the works.