John Simpson: Afghans lay siege to Kabul airport to flee – others slip to join resistance

NS 1ec-8e2b-4fe35a4527f9">Taliban The wave of terror has entered Kabul. We already have reports of atrocities – torture, mutilations, murders. For many Afghans, and for millions of people looking to protect the West, the situation must be hopeless.

After more than four decades of reporting from Afghanistan, and seeing the Taliban rising, falling and now rising again, what is happening is very shocking.

And yet a week after the fall of Kabul, a strong resistance movement is taking shape in Afghanistan. At present it is only a thin shaft of optimism, but it is one that the West would like to hold and nurture.

Every day, as crowds of desperate people throng the airport hoping to board a plane to safety, others are quietly slipping away from the Panjshir Valley, a hundred miles to the northeast, to join the opposition.

John Simpson writes that after more than four decades of reporting from Afghanistan, and the rise, fall and now rise of the Taliban, I find what is happening is quite shocking.

Led by Amrullah Saleh, the former Vice President of Afghanistan, who took office after the weakened, broken President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, the movement has already attracted many generals, his staff and some soldiers.

They, and others, are starting to plan their next move.

Panjshir is a great base from which to fight a defensive campaign. Overlooking the forbidden Hindu Kush mountains and with narrow outlook ideally suited for ambush and sudden attack, the river valley stretches for mile after mile, opening into broad grasslands where its 170,000 people live.

During the Soviet occupation of 1979–89, the brilliant guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Massoud protected Panjshir from everything the Russians could throw at him. There were seven major attacks over the same years: heavy bombers, tanks, artillery, using all the latest equipment at the disposal of a super-power.

Each time the Russians eventually retreated, lost. The wreckage of their armored vehicles are scattered around the valley as monuments for the children to play.

The Taliban may be ruthless and determined, but they cannot match the Russians for firepower – not even with the vast amount of military equipment left behind by the Americans.

So far, when they traveled from the countryside to Kabul, they had faced little opposition.

The Afghan National Army, which had been so meticulously trained over twenty years by NATO soldiers, simply tore off their uniforms, threw away their rifles and went home.

Seeing photos of some of the Taliban atrocities and hearing people’s descriptions of what had been done, I was not surprised. Being an Afghan soldier was a cushy number. Their duties were generally fairly light, and the pay was good, except for those frontline soldiers deployed against the Taliban.

The potential for corruption and the ease with which supplies and equipment could be sold on the black market – often bought cheaply by the Taliban themselves – were enormous. The way the Afghan army acted was a longstanding motivation not to fight.

We have to wonder if America's withdrawal now marks the end of Western domination in the world.  A British soldier seen outside Kabul airport

We have to wonder if America’s withdrawal now marks the end of Western domination in the world. A British soldier seen outside Kabul airport

The Taliban, by contrast, are tough, agile backwoodsmen, largely untrained and uneducated. The movement was founded in September 1994 as an almost exclusively Pashtun force from the south and west of the country: fierce young, tall and skinny. Basically, most of them grew up in refugee camps spread across the Pakistani side of the Afghan border.

In 1996, in a field outside Kandahar, my television team and I watched the beginning of the Taliban’s original campaign to take over the country. In an extravagant ceremony, the first Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, took the carefully preserved cloak of the Prophet Muhammad out of his dargah and kept it with him to show to his thousands of followers.

People cried and chanted and threw up their turbans to touch the sacred relic, as in any major religious event of the Middle Ages. Within weeks the Taliban had captured Kabul from the more moderate Mujahideen.

The arrival of Taliban groups from the Kandahar region can be strange: they often decorate their eyes with kohl, paint their toenails and sometimes their fingernails, and walk around in gold-heeled sandals; Of course, armed with an AK-47.

Now, the movement has attracted thousands of volunteers from other parts of the country, convinced that the Taliban is the winning side.

The Taliban see themselves as soldiers of Sunni Islam. On their way to Kabul they attacked, tortured and killed an unknown number of thousands – the country’s third largest ethnic group, typically characterized by their Central Asian characteristics and their Shia Islam religion.

To the Taliban, they are heretics who need to be crushed.

Every day, as crowds of desperate people throng the airport hoping to board a plane to safety, others are quietly slipping away from the Panjshir Valley, a hundred miles to the northeast, to join the opposition.

Every day, as crowds of desperate people throng the airport hoping to board a plane to safety, others are quietly slipping away from the Panjshir Valley, a hundred miles to the northeast, to join the opposition.

Thousands smuggled my cameraman and me into Kabul in 1989, and many of them were killed trying to protect us from the pro-Soviet secret police.

Thousands are strong in the valleys to the west of Kabul, but they also make up a substantial part of the capital’s population.

They have benefited greatly from the Western presence. Now they have to bear the brunt of this. As a result, they too have started joining the protest.

In 2001, when Osama bin Laden planned and organized the 9/11 attacks from his comfortable home in Kabul, opposition to the Taliban was mostly in the provinces of the north, including the Panjshir Valley.

On 13 November 2001, with the help of US Air Force bombers, the Northern Alliance launched its attack on Kabul.

Last month my BBC colleagues and I took over an abandoned municipal building in the town of Charikar, just forty miles from Kabul. Before dawn on the 14th, we headed towards the city with the first wave of soldiers. When the Northern Alliance stopped at the border to reduce the bloodshed, my comrades and I went to Kabul on foot.

We were surrounded by crowds of people cheering on being freed after five years of cruelty, lack of food and frequent power outages. In the trenches lay the bodies of Taliban fighters killed by angry townspeople, and we saw those who remained were pulled out of their hideouts and dragged.

Seeing the joy around me at the defeat of the Taliban, I felt that they would never come back. It was one of the biggest wrong decisions I’ve ever made. But I could not imagine that Western powers would once again leave Afghanistan to such a strange, backward, cruel regime.

I have never seen a US president as careless about the lives and rights of others as Donald Trump, who in February last year signed an extremely weak peace deal with the Taliban; Or Joe Biden, who went with it weakly and made everything worse with chaotic pull-outs. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, which I also witnessed, marked the end of Russia’s position as a superpower.

We have to wonder whether America’s withdrawal will now mark the end of Western domination in the world.

Taliban will strengthen its power. Their vigilantes will arrest and kill those they suspect of serving the old regime, and when foreign journalists and cameramen leave the city, they will again impose their brutal interpretation of Islamic law and customs upon its residents. will apply.

Now though, President Biden will certainly order US special forces to continue operating in Afghanistan. The SAS and their Australian, French and German counterparts will quietly join them in working with the resistance.

A new version of the Northern Alliance will emerge from the Panjshir Valley, with which the tough, courageous Hazaras will fight; And at some point I believe they will drive the Taliban out of Kabul.

When this will happen, I don’t know. But for every major convulsion in Afghanistan for the 41 years I’ve lived in Afghanistan, I hope to be prepared to report on it.

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