Who is Amrullah Saleh? As Afghan prez cowers VP's guerrilla forces make heroic last stand
The vice president of Afghanistan has reportedly teamed up with the son of a legendary military commander to rally anti-Taliban forces in the nation's last stronghold less than 100 miles from Kabul.
Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of his former mentor and revered anti-Taliban warrior Ahmed Shah Massoud, are putting together a guerrilla force in the Panjshir Valley, which is reportedly the only region not controlled by the militant organization. This comes after the Taliban executed a hostile takeover of Afghanistan on Sunday, August 15, when they overran the capital Kabul, prompting thousands to flee the country.
Massoud was seen in footage that emerged on Tuesday, August 17, being accompanied by a heavily armed entourage as he boarded an Afghan Air Force Mi-17, a Soviet-designed military helicopter. The flight was boarded by at least 15 people as it took off from within the Panjshir region. While it wasn't immediately clear if Saleh was on the flight with Massoud, the two were later pictured in the valley meeting to plan a counteroffensive.
Saleh fled to the Panjshir valley on Sunday. The mountainous region tucked into the Hindu Kush never fell to the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s, and Saleh has vowed never to surrender to the extremist group. "I won't disappoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with the Taliban. Never," he tweeted on Sunday.
I will never, ever & under no circumstances bow to d Talib terrorists. I will never betray d soul & legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Masoud, the commander, the legend & the guide. I won't dis-appoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with Taliban. NEVER.— Amrullah Saleh (@AmrullahSaleh2) August 15, 2021
On August 17, Tuesday, Saleh tweeted that it was "futile" to argue with President Joe Biden on the Afghan crisis. "It is futile to argue with @POTUS on Afg now. Let him digest it. We d Afgs must prove that Afgh isn't Vietnam & the Talibs aren't even remotely like Vietcong. Unlike US/NATO we haven't lost spirit & see enormous opportunities ahead. Useless caveats are finished. JOIN THE RESISTANCE," he wrote.
It is futile to argue with @POTUS on Afg now. Let him digest it. We d Afgs must prove tht Afgh isn't Vietnam & the Talibs aren't even remotely like Vietcong. Unlike US/NATO we hvn't lost spirit & see enormous oprtnities ahead. Useless caveats are finished. JOIN THE RESISTANCE.— Amrullah Saleh (@AmrullahSaleh2) August 17, 2021
He has not posted since but is reportedly regrouping with forces in the Panjshir valley, where Massoud commands a militia, to launch a counteroffensive against the Taliban. Thousands of Afghans from neighboring provinces have reportedly fled to the valley, which is famous for its natural defenses.
Who is Amrullah Saleh?
Saleh was orphaned at a young age and has waged a decades-long battle against the Taliban as a onetime insurgent turned spy chief and later vice-premier of Afghanistan. He initially fought alongside guerrilla commander Massoud, who was affectionately dubbed the Lion of Panjshir for playing an indispensable role in defending the valley in the 1990s.
Saleh went on to serve in government before the Taliban chased him out of Kabul in 1996. At the time, Islamist hardliners reportedly tortured his sister in a bid to hunt him down. "My view of the Taliban changed forever because of what happened in 1996," he wrote in a Time magazine editorial last year.
Saleh became a key asset for the CIA after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when he was still part of the anti-Taliban resistance. The relationship led to the formation of the newly-formed Afghanistan intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate (NDS), in 2004. In his capacity as NDS chief, Saleh allegedly built a vast network of informants and spies inside the insurgency as well as across the border in Pakistan, where Pashto-speaking agents kept tabs on Taliban leaders. Saleh was able to gather intelligence that he said was proof the Pakistani military had continued to back the Taliban.
Saleh has maintained his fight against the Taliban over the years. He went on to become former President Ashraf Ghani's vice premier after sealing an alliance with his government. Saleh's most recent political revival came as the US prepared to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and there were multiple attempts on his life. Last September, a massive bomb targeting his convoy claimed at least ten lives in Kabul. The defiant leader, however, appeared in a video with his left hand bandaged within hours of the attack. "We will continue our fight," Saleh famously declared at the time.