Several thousand anti-Taliban fighters are reported to be holding out against the Taliban in a remote valley with a narrow entrance – little more than 30 miles or so from the capital Kabul.
It’s not the first time the dramatic and imposing Panjshir Valley has been a flashpoint in Afghanistan’s recent turbulent history – having been a stronghold against Soviet forces in the 1980s, and the Taliban in the ’90s.
The group holding out there now – the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) – recently reminded the world of the valley’s strength.
“The Red Army, with its might, was unable to defeat us… And the Taliban also 25 years ago… they tried to take over the valley and they failed, they faced a crushing defeat,” Ali Nazary, the NRF’s head of foreign relations, told the BBC.
The long, deep and dusty valley stretches about 75 miles (120km) – south-west to north-east – to the north of the Afghan capital Kabul. It is protected by high mountain peaks – rising 9,800ft (3,000m) above the valley floor. They are an imposing natural barrier – protection for the people living there.
There is only one narrow road in, which winds its way between large rocky outcrops and the meandering Panjshir River.
“There is a mythical aspect to the entire area. It’s not just one valley. Once you get into it there are at least another 21 sub valleys connected,” says Shakib Sharifi, who lived there as a child, but left Afghanistan after the Taliban took control.
At the far end of the main valley, a trail leads up to the 4,430m (14,534ft) Anjoman Pass and heads further east into the Hindu Kush mountains. The armies of Alexander the Great and Tamerlane – the last of the great nomadic conquerors of Central Asia – both passed this way.
“Historically, the Panjshir Valley was also known for mining – including semi-precious jewels,” says Elisabeth Leake, associate professor of international history at the University of Leeds.
Today, the valley has hydroelectric dams and a wind farm. The US helped in the construction of roads and a radio tower that receives signals from Kabul. The former US airbase at Bagram – originally built by the Soviets in the 1950s – is also a short distance from the mouth of the valley.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are reported to live in the valley. Most speak Dari – one of Afghanistan’s main languages – and are of Tajik ethnicity.
The Tajiks make up about a quarter of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million people – but the Panjshiris don’t look towards Tajikistan, one of Afghanistan’s northern neighbours. Instead they have their own local identity.
Mr Sharifi – who until recently was the director general for planning at the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture – describes the Panjshiris as brave, “perhaps the bravest in Afghanistan”. He says locals are irreconcilable with the Taliban – and have “an element of belligerence – but in a positive way”. Historical victories against the British, Soviets and Taliban simply “emboldened people further”.
After the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, the valley was promoted from a district to a province. It’s one of Afghanistan’s smallest.
“The decision to make it a province in its own right was controversial,” says Dr Antonio Giustozzi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Panjshiri fighters had a lot of power in the early 2000s, he explains. They had helped recapture Kabul and became “number one stakeholders”.
Panjshiri leaders were given prominent positions in the government and military. The valley became autonomous and was the only province in Afghanistan where local governors – rather than people from outside of the area – were appointed.
“Normally, governors had to be seen to be more loyal to the government than the local population,” says Dr Giustozzi. “Panjshir was a special case.”
According to Dr Giustozzi, there are “probably hundreds” of similar valleys in Afghanistan. But it’s the valley’s closeness to the main road north from Kabul that “gives it great strategic importance”.
The valley entrance is not far from where the main highway from Kabul leaves the flat plain and rises high into the mountains towards the Salang Pass – a tunnel taking traffic to the northern cities of Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif.
Mr Sharifi says Panjshir’s significance is down to a potent combination of factors.
“It’s not just because of dozens of remote fighting positions in the valley, it’s not just because of the mountainous geography, it’s not just because of the immense pride the people of Panjshir take. It’s all of them. Individually, these factors could apply to many places across Afghanistan.”
In this latest standoff, the valley is believed to also be home to large stockpiles of weapons. Fighters based in the valley were meant to have disbanded over the past 20 years and hand over their arms. “But there are still stockpiles there,” says Dr Giustozzi.
“Afghan officials with connections to Panjshir also moved more guns there because they were worried about presidents’ Karzai and Ghani, but in the end it was the Taliban they needed to be worried about.”
The man heading the anti-Taliban force in the valley is 32-year-old Ahmad Massoud – son of revered resistance leader from the 1980s and ’90s, Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Massoud has said his fighters have military support from members of the Afghan army and special forces.
“We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post.
His father, nicknamed the “Lion of Panjshir”, was a mujahideen commander who thwarted both Soviet and Taliban forces. Panjshir itself means “five lions”.
The son of an Afghan army general, Ahmad Shah Massoud was born in the valley. His portrait can still be found in many places throughout Panjshir Province and in Kabul – from monuments to billboards and shop windows.
Because of him, the Panjshir valley become a centre of anti-Communist resistance, after the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) won power in 1978 – and the Soviet Union moved in forces a year later.
“He became the public face of resistance in the Soviet-Afghan war,” says Prof Elisabeth Leake from the University of Leeds. “He had charisma and actively engaged with Western media. He was also one of the main resistance leaders with whom the Soviets were willing to negotiate – which made him so significant.”
For that time, says Dr Giustozzi, Massoud was different from other rebel leaders. “He was educated, could speak French, talked softly and was charming. Other commanders came across as rough, illiterate and gung-ho.”
He was assassinated in 2001 by the al-Qaeda terror group, two days before it attacked the United States on 9/11, and declared a national hero by President Hamid Karzai.
However, some say the mujahideen leader was a war criminal. According to a 2005 Human Rights Watch investigation, “Ahmad Shah Massoud was implicated in many abuses” carried out by military forces under his command during the wars in Afghanistan.
Between late 1980 and 1985, the Soviets launched at least half a dozen assaults on the valley – on the ground and from the air. Russian fighters had little experience of the terrain and were often left exposed to ambushes.
The Soviets “received a thousand wounds” from the left, right and centre – says Mr Sharifi. One man – known as Mr DHsK after the Soviet machine gun he touted – used to hide under a rock and shoot at them, but they could never find him “and that drove them crazy”.
He says some of the current commanders were around at the end of that era. “They were trained to stand alone at outposts without proper communication from headquarters. They knew how to wait it out and inflict pain.”
Dr Giustozzi says the Soviets did manage to secure a stronghold in the valley for a time – but it didn’t last long.
“The Russians couldn’t see the point of staying and keeping an army there was quite a challenge,” he says. “They wanted to protect the main north-south highway, but fighting just broke out in other areas nearby.”
Weapons, tanks and aircraft were left to rust in the Panjshir Valley – legacies of the Soviets’ failed military campaigns.
Ahmad Massoud was 12 when his father died. He studied in London, and trained for a year at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
“He has his father’s charm but he is untested as a military leader,” says Dr Giustozzi. “He also needs the skills to negotiate any potential power-sharing deal at a national level. Because he’s a new figure and doesn’t have much to lose – unlike some older government figures – he could be more demanding in discussions.”
What will happen next in the valley is hard to gauge, says Prof Leake.
“He is obviously very aware of his own heritage and his father’s historical significance – we can see him continuing on this legacy of international engagement.
“But this time, the story is different. The Taliban has taken major cities and towns nearby – and supply chains have been disrupted. That changes the balance.”
Massoud himself has asked for backup.
“If Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face staunch resistance from us… Yet we know that our military forces and logistics will not be sufficient,” he wrote in his Washington Post article.
“They will be rapidly depleted unless our friends in the West can find a way to supply us without delay.”
More on the Afghan crisis
Every Day, Biden Smells Like More of a Loser
With a hint of confusion in his eyes and a whiff of failure in the air around him, Joe Biden is watching his approval ratings continue to plummet to the point where just 42 percent of Americans approve of his job performance.
Which makes sense, since at least so far Biden really doesn’t seem very good at this whole being president thing despite dreaming of and preparing for it for decades. With his staff trying to hide him from the press, and his penchant for saying confusing things, Biden isn’t rhetorically equipped to talk himself out of this mess. He was elected on a simple mandate to not be Trump, but after promising not to do Trump things, doing his own thing has proven more difficult.
To some degree, he put himself in this corner. By governing as he campaigned (as a competent centrist), Biden might have locked in a governing majority of alienated center-right Americans along with his extant Democratic coalition. However, Biden chose to abandon efforts to transcend the current political paradigm, choosing instead to appease his base. Talk about a tragic plot twist.
His deference to progressives was foreshadowed early on: first when he flip-flopped on taxpayer funding of abortion during the campaign, and then with the partisan passage of his COVID-relief bill in February. But real trouble arrived this summer, when he prematurely declared “independence” from the virus (followed by mixed messaging over boosters), and his Afghanistan withdrawal went dangerously sideways. Then it became clear that allowing progressives to hold his bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage would result in more than just a temporary delay.
One could argue that Biden’s decision to pander to the leftward flank of the Democratic Party caused or exacerbated the various crises he now confronts—ranging from the border crisis (his “compassionate” policies and rhetoric served as a magnet) to violent crime (it’s hard to blame Biden for this, though his party’s “defund the police” rhetoric didn’t help) to inflation, which is now tied with COVID as Americans’ biggest concern (Biden ignored Larry Summers’ warnings about overheating the economy). The current stalemate over his legislative agenda is the clearest example of this deference to progressives. And since his stalled legislative agenda feels especially like a self-inflicted wound, it’s worth spending a little additional time here.
Had Biden aggressively moved to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, he would likely have garnered dozens of Republican votes, and progressives would have likely either caved to his will or been shown to be impotent. This is my counterfactual analysis, at least.
Instead, though, Biden let progressives press him into (sort of) linking passage of the bipartisan bill with a $3.5 trillion social welfare reconciliation package. By trying to have it all, there’s now a chance that he could get neither.
Why would an experienced former senator and vice president—who spent his career working across the aisle—make this mistake? Here’s one hypothesis: Ideas have consequences. And the assertion has taken root that Americans are so polarized and ideologically sorted that persuasion is a fool’s errand.
Since Bill Clinton, every U.S. president has essentially bought into this premise, despite all of them except Trump having explicitly campaigned as game-changing uniters. Bush and Obama won re-election with this formula, which probably explains why it isn’t easily abandoned, even as the trajectory of America this time at least feels like it has been headed downard. Biden had a fresh opportunity to break the cycle, but he has instead followed the path of his predecessors.
That aside, his even more fundamental problem is a lack of competence. We saw this in Afghanistan, where the dubious decision to withdraw all U.S. troops was compounded by the hamfisted manner in which the withdrawal was executed. And this same lack of competence is evident when it comes to Biden’s stalled legislative agenda.
If Biden was going to make the foolish decision to link the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the reconciliation bill, he could have first made sure he had all 50 Democratic Senators on board.
It’s no surprise that Manchin, who hails from West Virginia, would pose a roadblock when it comes to passing the Democrats’ “green” agenda items, so discussions with him should have begun on day one. Instead, Biden and the Democrats tried to jam their own framework through—and retroactively sell it to him.
Of course, it’s even more complicated, since Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema is the other holdout. Unlike previous examples where duos like recalcitrant Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine could be won over simultaneously, Manchin’s problems with the bill (mainly climate related) are entirely different from Sinema’s (generally having to do with taxes). And don’t forget the fact that appeasing them too much could alienate other, more progressive, Democratic votes. This is just one big mess.
And the problem for Biden (and America) is that the problems keep piling up. China is menacing Taiwan and testing hypersonic weapons (Biden says we will defend Taiwan if they are attacked). Gas prices are up, with Biden admitting they’re not coming down any time soon. And then there is the ongoing supply chain crisis.
Biden’s problems are piling up so fast that it reminds me of lyrics from Hank Williams, Jr., “The interest is up and the stock market’s down. And you only get mugged if you go downtown.”
Those lyrics, recorded in 1981, reflected those dark times. It’s worth noting that Ronald Reagan went on to win 49 states, three years later.
Joe Biden better hope for a similar turnaround.
Jake Tapper Says Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Has ‘Issues’ After Her Rant On Bannon Vote
The House was voting to support the criminal contempt resolution against Donald Trump’s former White House strategist Steve Bannon after Bannon ignored a subpoena to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Greene blasted fellow lawmakers for not punishing Black Lives Matter protesters and singled out Cheney by calling her a “joke.” Cheney, in turn, said Greene was a “joke” who has pushed the wild claim that Jewish-funded “space lasers” were responsible for wildfires.
“Congressman Raskin and Congresswoman Cheney are talking on the floor and, according to my sources …. Congresswoman Greene goes over to them and she starts screaming at them,” Tapper said to his CNN co-hosts.
“Look, I’m not a licensed psychologist, I don’t know her, but her behavior suggests somebody that has real issues, that is not tethered to reality or basic standards of decent behavior,” Tapper said.
He also referred to Greene’s conspiracy theory that “wealthy Jewish Americans were using laser technology to cause fires in California for some financial incentive.”
“I mean, it is a deranged anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, and yet that is somebody with whom many Republicans are siding,” Tapper added.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene and Liz Cheney really represent the two doors for the Republican Party right now. Which one does the Republican Party want to emulate?” he asked.
Greene is known for her outbursts. Last month, she yelled at a group of Democrats as they held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol about legislation to guarantee the right to an abortion. Greene loudly interjected that “unborn women” have a “right to life.”
Check out Tapper’s remarks in the video clip up top. His comments about Greene begin at about 0:36.
Also on HuffPost
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
Biden proves himself unaware of basic economics during Baltimore town hall: 'The Five'
Family’s new dog attacks and kills 7-year-old boy, Oklahoma cops say. ‘Gut-wrenching’
A 7-year-old boy was killed Wednesday when his family’s new pet dog attacked him, Oklahoma officials say.
Deputies in Creek County were dispatched around 7:20 p.m. Wednesday for reports of a missing child, the sheriff’s office said. Fifteen minutes later and not long after deputies arrived on the scene, a family member found the body of the boy, according to the sheriff.
The boy was identified by KOCO as James McNeelis, who was playing outside with the dog before it attacked him. Family members told KJRH the dog was a sheltie-corgi mix and they only had it for three weeks after rescuing it as a stray.
Shannon Edison, a neighbor of the family, described the incident as “gut-wrenching” in an interview with KOTV.
“We knew something was wrong. As a mother, you know that scream, if anybody has ever heard that scream, you know that scream,” Edison said. “Something was catastrophically wrong.”
The sheriff’s office said an animal control facility has possession of the dog.
Joey Logano not sure fighting is "ever the right way"
Matt Gaetz Gives Himself, Boebert And Taylor Greene A Nickname And It Doesn’t Go Well
Ashanti’s Seductive Bikini Video Ignites a Social Media Commotion, Fans Bring Up Singer’s Ex Nelly
The singer, who turned 41 last week, is currently in the Bahamas with friends as she commemorates her birthday.
In the short clip first posted by her stylist Tim B, Ashanti was seen enjoying the festivities as she danced on what appears to be a boat in a beaded turquoise bikini complemented with a tiara and two ribbons pinned to her swimsuit straps.
When “The Shade Room” posted Ashanti’s bikini video on the site’s Instagram page, many flooded the comment section with remarks about her ex Nelly. A few even brought up the infamous hug that occurred between the two last month.
“Y’all better stop before Nelly come thru the phone screen to ask for a Hug.”
“Nelly bout to walk across the Atlantic to get a hug.”
“No wonder Nelly went for that hug trying to rekindle a flame that’s been blazing by itself.”
“Nelly somewhere snatching that band-aid off.”
“Nelly somewhere figuring it out.”
In addition to the Nelly statements, Ashanti commented that the video was all in good fun by saying, “My birthday month!!”
Last week on Oct. 13, Ashanti celebrated her actual birthday by going to dinner with family and friends in New York. The singer also took Instagram to explain how priceless it is to celebrate life with those you love.
She said, “Super overwhelmed with the birthday wishes. I’m grateful to God that I wake up to so much love…and so many blessings. Incredibly grateful for another year. One thing we’ve all seen is that tomorrow isn’t promised… Being surrounded by friends and family, celebrating life is priceless. Thank you to each and everyone of you for all the love!!! I genuinely appreciate it from my heart 10/13.”
Every Day, Biden Smells Like More of a Loser
Jake Tapper Says Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Has ‘Issues’ After Her Rant On Bannon Vote
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