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It Ain’t Over Yet........?

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It’s only a matter of when the attack comes. And when it does it could be the greatest battle, and possibly the bloodiest, that Afghanistan has ever seen. You see, thirty-three of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces fell to the Taliban over the span of two weeks in early August. But one region, has not. The sole area that has resisted Taliban encroachment since its inception, has been the province of Panjshir, located in a valley at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains.


The valley’s name translates to “five lions,” although other translations claim its name may refer to five mountain peaks located down the length of the valley. Led by the young Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, he claims to have some 9,000 available fighters, as well as hundreds of military vehicles and several helicopters and their American trained Afghan pilots. And while Panjshir’s defenders have been strengthened by the arrival of thousands of soldiers from the now-defunct Afghan National Army, Massoud’s position appears to be militarily indefensible. The valley is fully surrounded by Taliban territory and they are greatly outnumbered.


The leader of the resistance is the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the Lion of Panjshir, who led the strongest resistance against the Taliban from his stronghold in the valley northeast of Kabul until his assassination two days before Sept. 11, 2001. The valley is known for its natural defences, the redoubt tucked into the Hindu Kush mountains never fell to the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s, nor was it conquered by the Soviets a decade earlier, and is now Afghanistan’s last remaining holdout.


The elder Massoud built his formidable reputation by holding out against repeated Soviet offensives in the 1980s, using his wits and the high mountain ranges. He inflicted devastating ambushes on Russian supply convoys, even earning a grudging respect from several Soviet generals. T.E. Lawrence, the master of hit-and-run guerrilla warfare, would have been impressed with Massoud’s accomplishments. He would also warn the West about the threat of terrorism from al-Qaeda. But while Massoud’s famous father could rely upon overland supply lines into Tajikistan, today, Ahmad Massoud has no method of resupplying except flights over Taliban territory.


The younger Massoud also has little military experience, though he was educated at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in Britain and King’s College, London, and earned a degree in war studies before returning to Afghanistan in 2016. If and when, the Taliban launch a major offensive to take the region — and they will if talks do not succeed — they will also come up against many of the nation’s hardened, US-trained special-forces units, which did much of the hardest fighting against the Taliban during the conflict. When the US abandoned the Bagrain base, the commandos knew what was coming and headed to the Panjshir valley.


Politically, Panjshir’s position was also strengthened with the arrival of Afghanistan’s former vice president, Amrullah Saleh, who has since declared himself as the nation’s interim leader following the flight of President Ashraf Ghani to the United Arab Emirates. In the following days, other Afghan leaders, such as Defense Minister Bismillah Khan and Ahmad Zia Massoud, Massoud’s uncle and a long-time leader within Panjshir, have gone to the valley. Notorious Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum is also rumored to be present. At 67, the greying Uzbek militia leader is not quite in the fighting shape of his youth — he has just returned from medical treatment in Turkey — but his desire to be on the frontline does not appear to have dimmed.


And as the fight is coming, this time, the Taliban will be fully armed with weapons secured from abandoned stockpiles—new American guns, millions of rounds of ammo, armored vehicles, helicopters, missiles and more. All courtesy of the reckless withdrawal. While an early attempt to capture the province appeared to have been repelled by Massoud’s forces, with a loss of several hundred Taliban fighters, the Taliban remains in control of the surrounding areas, and appears to have retaken three villages near the entrance to the valley.


We’re waiting for some support,” Hamid Saifi, a former colonel in the Afghan National Army, and now a commander in Massoud’s resistance, said: “Maybe some countries will be ready to contribute to this great effort. So far, all the ones we talked to are quiet. America, Europe, and Russia, but all of them are quiet.’’ They even reached out to their bordering neighbor to East, China. But China is already negotiating with the Taliban for mining rights to Afghanistan’s vast deposits of rare earth metals desperately needed for technology. And China is also interested in building an oil pipe line through Afghanistan from Iran to China. That, and the lack of will of other countries to get involved is Afghanistan again, spells doom to the resistance. Only time will tell.

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