Son of slain Afghan guerrilla leader launches anti-Taliban movement amid civil war fears
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 5, 2019
PANJSHIR, Afghanistan — The son of Afghanistan’s most famous anti-Taliban commander launched a movement against the insurgents here Thursday, amid Afghan fears that a U.S. troop withdrawal could spark civil war.
Ahmad Massoud, who shares his late father’s name, said the movement was inspired by the United Front — also known as the Northern Alliance — a multi-ethnic group his father helped lead after it was formed in the 1990s to counter the Taliban.
“[We] will follow his agenda and dreams,” Massoud told a crowd of several thousand who gathered at his father’s tomb for the launch of the movement.
“We are ready for any type of sacrifice and cooperation that leads to peace,” he said.
The movement was launched days after American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the U.S. had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban that would cut American troop numbers in the country by 5,000 and could lead to a complete withdrawal of nearly 20,000 international servicemembers.
On Tuesday, nine former U.S. ambassadors warned Afghanistan could witness “total civil war” if the U.S. and coalition countries withdraw before the Taliban agree on a peace settlement with the government in Kabul, which the Taliban has so far refused to negotiate with directly.
“The initial U.S. drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe they can achieve military victory,” the ambassadors said in an article published by the Atlantic Council.
If the Taliban were to advance militarily after a U.S. troop withdrawal and civil war ensued, as it did when the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, it “could prove catastrophic for U.S. national security,” the statement said.
Many Afghans have also criticized the deal, saying it has sidelined the government in Kabul and legitimized the insurgents.
“If the Taliban really want peace, it’s good, but we don’t trust them,” said Hashuatullah Mirzaye, 32, who traveled two hours to show his support for the new anti-Taliban movement.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed frustration with America’s longest war. He and other U.S. officials have insisted a complete withdrawal of international forces would be conditions-based. Although the full details remain unclear, the U.S. wants Taliban assurances that they will not harbor terror groups in Afghanistan.
Some Afghans said their fears of civil war and the Taliban returning to power haven’t been assuaged by the U.S. talks.
“The people need to be organized, to be ready for any kind of threat,” said Abdul Raziq, who attended Thursday’s event in support of Massoud.
Massoud, who trained at the British military academy Sandhurst, insisted the movement would be strictly political.
“But if the day comes where the other side does not have goodwill, the other side isn’t prepared to launch a genuine peace process, we might be forced to defend ourselves,” Massoud’s spokesman Ali Nazari said.
Thursday’s launch came almost 18 years since al-Qaida operatives killed Ahmad Shah Massoud, two days before the group carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The older Massoud, known as “The Lion of Panjshir,” prevented the Soviets and the Taliban from gaining control of the Panjshir Valley and is generally considered one of the greatest guerilla leaders of the 20th century.
U.S.-led NATO forces partnered with Massoud and the Northern Alliance after the 9/11 attacks to topple the Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.