Ahmad Shah Massoud Part 3


His story will take us up to 9/11The intent is to offer leaders with information they may find useful.

The wisdom of Sun Tzu as expressed in the “Ping-fa” or “The Art of War” said it best. The revered old Chinese sage repeated advice was “know yourself” and “study your enemy.” These blogs are an attempt for all of you to know a little more about the heritage of the National Guard during our nation’s times of national emergency and the enemy we are fighting in Afghanistan.

From Last Time:

Soviet-Afghan War

Ahmad Shah Massoud was named “The Afghan who won the cold war” by the Wall Street Journal in 1989. He defeated the Soviet Red Army nine times in his native Panjshir Valley.

During the Afghan Civil War

After the war the mujahedeen warlords took over Afghanistan. In response to the warlords’ terror the Taliban came to power and swept through the country. Soon the terror of the warlords was replaced by the tyranny of the Taliban repressive rule, inspired by the 10th Century version of Islam practiced by Osama Bin Laden and spread by Saudi Arabia during the Soviet-Afghan War.

The Taliban seized Kabul on September 27, 1996, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Massoud and his troops retreated to the northeast of Afghanistan.

The Taliban comes to Kabul

At the gates of Kabul, the Taliban tried to negotiate with Massoud, but he refused to accept their terms and withdrew to his own northern mountains again, where he had fought and defied the Russians. So began the next civil war, between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance of Massoud, the Tajik, and Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek. It was November 1996.

Only Pakistan, who had organized it, and Saudi Arabia, who paid for it, recognized the new, strange government of Afghanistan. Far to the south, an airplane landed. It brought back a tall Saudi who had fought in the caves east of Kabul in the legendary Tora Bora (Forsyth 2007).

The rich Saudi paid immediate obeisance to Mullah Omar, paying huge tribute in money and equipment, and thus securing his lifelong loyalty. It was through this tribute that he was allowed to open terrorist camps. These same camps would train the hijackers of planes over America on the morning of 9/11 (Tanner 2002).

Almost the first act of the Taliban in Kabul was to drag the toppled ex-president Najibullah from his United Nations house arrest, torture, mutilate and execute him, hanging his corpse from a lamppost. That set the tenor of the rule to come.

The tactically brilliant Massoud had counterattacked and again caused huge losses to the less competent Taliban. Throughout Afghanistan there had been massacres carried out by the unforgiving and fanatical Taliban (Moore and Lennon 2007).

At Mazar-e-Sharif, where first the native Hazara had risen in revolt and killed six hundred Taliban. This was after the brutal beating of a Hazara shop keeper for cutting his beard, an offense in Wahabbist Islam. The avenging Taliban had gone back and butchered over two thousand civilians (Tanner 2002).

Massoud fought to unite his homeland once and for all, and over the next five years his alliance had been beaten back to two small and obscure enclaves. It was truly a battle of epic proportions of a modern- day David- Massoud against an unforgiving brute Goliath- the fanatical masses of the Taliban.

With less than 5,000 fighters at any one time and 10 tubes of artillery and five aging helicopters, Massoud had held off the Taliban’s fanatical army of more than 50,000 volunteers for five years. Odds of 10 to 1 with ten tactical victories in that time but with not enough soldiers to hold the land he won in battle after battle, he was slowly beaten back (Tanner 2002).

In the end the holdout areas were a group of Hazara resistants, bottled up in the mountains of Dara-i-Suf, and the other was Massoud himself, in the impregnable Panjshir Valley and the northeastern corner called Badakhshan. With little outside help he held off the tide of the Taliban took over the remaining parts of Afghanistan.

By 1998, Massoud remained the only main leader of the North Alliance in Afghanistan and the only leader who was able to defend vast parts of his area against the Taliban. Most major leaders including the Islamic State’s President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and others were living in exile.

The Taliban repeatedly offered Massoud a position of power to make him stop his resistance but he always declined. In contrast to the time of chaos in which all structures had collapsed in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan, Massoud was able to control his troops very well during the period starting in late 1996. Human Rights Watch notes no human rights crimes for Massoud’s troops in the areas he controlled in the period from October 1996 until his assassination in September 2001.

He bravely continued to lead his guerilla warriors into battle until he was killed in a suicide attack by Al Qaeda operatives posing as foreign journalists. He died on September 9th, 2001 – just two days before the attack on the World Trade Center (Forsyth 2007).

The man whose charisma had held together the cause of the useless Rabbani, whose cleverness as a guerrilla fighter had caused the Soviets to revere him and whose generalship had carved Taliban forces to pieces, was no more. Massoud wrote a battle plan to destroy the Taliban and waited for the United States to join him. His battle plan survived to defeat Mullah Omar and reunite the nation under Karzai.

Massoud’s Legacy

Massoud’s personal mysticism led him to fight without hatred, bitterness, or spirit of revenge, regarding armed conflict only as an imposed and necessary evil in order to defend his people’s freedom, certainly not as an end in itself to be enjoyed as bloodlust or intoxication with power.

He always provided protection for humanitarian relief in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances, looked for reconciliation with defeated enemies, and invariably treated his war prisoners with humanity and dignity as the Koran dictates that true Muslims do.

Such moral integrity, I believe, in the midst of warfare ranks Massoud as one of the very few “Philosopher Kings” in history, that is, men who have been forced to wage war so as to protect their nation and people, but who detested war in itself and sought no personal political gain in doing their duty to their utmost.


Broadwell, Paula. All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Kaplan, Fred. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Kaplan, Robert D. Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Moore, Robin, and Michael Lennon. The Wars of the Green Berets: Amazing Stories from Vietnam to the Present . New York : Skyhorse Publishing , 2007.

Naylor, Sean. Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Afghanistan’s Operation Anaconda. New York: Penguin Group, 2005.

Stewart, James B. The Heart of a Soldier. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Tanner, Stephen. Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban . Philidelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2002.

West, Bing. The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan. New York: Random House, 2011.



The Picture

The picture is the Lion wearing a Pokol- an Afghan beret- tilted back on his head with a too large camo jacket and khaki trousers stuffed into worn and tattered Russian combat boots. He is leaning forward, one eyebrow cocked, his face furrowed in concentration, as though he was respectfully listening to someone. His mahogany and serious face lighted with a rare smile at the simple, rare, and forbidden pleasure of being able to take a rest during his long years of war.