Afghanistan‘s vice president and the son of a dead military commander are rallying anti-Taliban forces in the last stronghold less than 100 miles from Kabul.
Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of his former mentor and famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, are putting together a guerilla movement in the Panjshir Valley – the only region not controlled by the Taliban.
It comes after the Taliban swept to power with a lightning conquest of Afghanistan culminating on Sunday when the group overran the capital Kabul, sparking widespread panic as thousands tried to flee.
Saleh said on Tuesday he was in Afghanistan and the ‘legitimate caretaker president’ after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as it emerged he was massing troops and planning a counter offensive against the Taliban.
Footage that emerged on Tuesday showed Massoud, accompanied by a heavily armed entourage, boarding an Afghan air force Mi-17, a Soviet designed military helicopter.
At least 15 people boarded the flight and were seen helping each other climb on to the military helicopter, thought to be taking off from within the Panjshir region.
Several of the group sported military uniforms, while others were seen in pakols – traditional round-topped woolen hats favoured by Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Son of late military commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, Ahmad Massoud, (right) was spotted massing troops to launch a counter offensive against the Taliban from the Panjshir valley, north east of Kabul
Massoud was seen surrounded by at least ten heavily armed men as he plans a counter offensive against the Taliban from the Panjshir valley
Massoud was seen boarding a Afghan Air Force Mi-17, purportedly in the Panjshir valley
The last stronghold against the Taliban is Panjshir – a valley region famed for its natural defenses – only 93 miles outside Kabul
The Panjshir Valley, 100 miles northeast of Kabul, is the last stronghold against the Taliban and has never been captured by the group
It was not immediately clear in the grainy footage if Saleh was on the flight with Massoud, though they were later pictured meeting in the Panjshir region to plan a counter offensive.
Saleh fled on Sunday to the valley, a mountainous redoubt tucked into the Hindu Kush that never fell to the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s or was conquered by the Soviets a decade earlier.
He has vowed not to surrender to the extremist group, writing on Twitter on Sunday: ‘I won’t dis-appoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with Taliban. NEVER’.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Saleh said that it was ‘futile’ to argue with US President Joe Biden, who has decided to pull out US forces.
He called on Afghans to show that Afghanistan ‘isn’t Vietnam & the Talibs aren’t even remotely like Vietcong’.
A video of desperate Afghans trying to clamber on to a U.S. military plane as it was about to take off bore evoked a photograph in 1975 of people trying to get on a helicopter on a roof in Saigon during the withdrawal from Vietnam.
Saleh said that unlike the United States and NATO ‘we haven’t lost spirit & see enormous opportunities ahead. Useless caveats are finished JOIN THE RESISTANCE.’
Saleh, who is believed to be in the Panjshir Valley, said that he would never ‘under no circumstances bow’ to ‘the Talib terrorists.’
He said he would ‘never betray’ Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance who was assassinated by two al Qaeda operatives just before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
It came as reports claimed Panjshir residents had raised the flag of the Northern Alliance – a united military front that fought a defensive war against the Taliban between 1996 and 2001.
Unconfirmed reports added thousands of Afghans from neighbouring provinces had fled to the valley, which is famed for its natural defences.
‘We will not allow the Taliban to enter Panjshir and will resist with all our might and power, and fight them,’ one resident told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Saleh told a security meeting chaired by Ghani last week that he was proud of the armed forces and the government would do all it could to strengthen resistance to the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s vice president Amrullah Saleh (pictured on August 4, 2021) and the son of a dead military commander have rallied anti-Taliban forces in the Panjshir valley
Ahmad Massoud, the son of famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, is rallying forces with Saleh to launch a counter offensive against the extremist group from Panjshir
Legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud was affectionately the Lion of Panjshir for his role defending the valley, in the 1990s
Such a battle would be the latest in Saleh’s long struggle against the Taliban as a onetime insurgent turned spy chief and later vice premier.
Orphaned at a young age, Saleh first fought alongside guerilla commander Massoud, affectionately dubbed the Lion of Panjshir for his role defending the valley, in the 1990s.
He went on to serve in his government before being chased out of Kabul when the Taliban captured it in 1996. The hardliners then tortured his sister in their bid to hunt him down, Saleh has said.
‘My view of the Taliban changed forever because of what happened in 1996,’ Saleh wrote in a Time magazine editorial last year.
A day after the fall of Kabul, pictures surfaced on social media of Saleh (right) meeting with Massoud (centre, left) who commands a militia force in Panjshir
Other reports said Panjshir residents had raised the flag of the Northern Alliance – a united military front that fought a defensive war against the Taliban between 1996 and 2001
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Saleh – then a part of the anti-Taliban resistance – became a key asset for the CIA.
The relationship paved the way for him to lead the newly formed Afghanistan intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate (NDS), in 2004.
As NDS chief Saleh is believed to have amassed a vast network of informants and spies inside the insurgency and across the border in Pakistan, where Pashto-speaking agents kept track on Taliban leaders.
The intelligence Saleh gathered provided what he alleged was proof the Pakistani military continued to back the Taliban.
Saleh’s rise, however has not been without its share of dramatic stumbles. In 2010, he was sacked as Afghanistan’s spy chief following a humiliating attack on a Kabul peace conference.
Exiled into the political wilderness, Saleh maintained his fight against the Taliban and Islamabad on Twitter, where he fired off daily tweets taking aim at his longtime foes.
A return to favour came in 2018 when he briefly oversaw the interior ministry after sealing an alliance with president Ashraf Ghani, who has now fled to Oman.
A return to favour came in 2018 when he briefly oversaw the interior ministry after sealing an alliance with president Ashraf Ghani, who has now fled to Oman
Saleh went on to become the former leader’s vice premier. His most recent political revival came as the US was preparing to exit Afghanistan and coincided with a series of assassination attempts on Saleh by the Taliban.
His latest close call came last September when a massive bomb targeting his convoy killed at least 10 people in Kabul.
Within hours of the attack, Saleh appeared in a video with his left hand bandaged, promising to fight back. ‘We will continue our fight,’ he said at the time.