U.S. and Afghan officials claim Ahmad Massoud the son of Afghanistan’s most celebrated anti-Taliban resistance leader has escaped into neighboring Tajikistan, less than a month after vowing to defend his homeland against militants.
Ahmad Massoud, son of the late Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, fled to Tajikistan shortly after the Taliban seized control of the Panjshir Valley in September 6, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, a Pentagon consultant, and two former senior Afghan government officials.
Massoud was joined a few days later by Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan vice president and longtime intelligence chief, who left Afghanistan by helicopter, the senior U.S. official and two former Afghan officials said.
The retreat of the two key Afghan resistance figures contradicts public claims that they are still in Afghanistan and holding out against the Taliban and signals a remarkable shift in their fortunes: For the first time in decades, the United States government and the CIA do not appear to be backing them. Massoud and Saleh are both seeking military aid and equipment from the West, but the Joe Biden administration is not supporting them and has given no indication of whether it will provide future assistance, according to the two former Afghan officials and a retired U.S. intelligence official.
Neither Massoud nor Saleh has been seen in public since the Taliban took Panjshir. Both come from the mountainous northeastern province, a perennial base of Afghan resistance, first against the Soviet Union and later the Taliban.
Massoud is currently in a “safe house” in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, according to a former senior Afghan government official who spoke with him last week, while Saleh is in a nearby location.
Saleh last tweeted on September 3, as the Taliban began encircling Panjshir. In an accompanying video, he dismissed reports that he had already fled Afghanistan as “totally baseless”.
“The RESISTANCE is continuing and will continue,” Saleh tweeted, adding, “I am here with my soil, for my soil & defending its dignity.”
On Monday, Ali Maisam Nazary, a spokesperson for Massoud, told The Intercept that Massoud “is inside Afghanistan … in an undisclosed location”, while Saleh could not be reached for comment.
Saleh, who once worked as an aide to Ahmad Shah Massoud and served many years in senior positions in Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government, tweeted last month that he was the legal successor to former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, citing Ghani’s decision to flee to the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. has long supported opposition groups in Afghanistan, going back to the CIA’s role in arming Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviets under President Ronald Reagan. Ahmad Shah Massoud, a legendary resistance commander, received CIA funding under Reagan and subsequent U.S. administrations, as his militia ousted the Soviets from Kabul and later led the opposition to the Taliban. Massoud was assassinated by Al-Qaeda operatives two days before the 9/11 attacks.
Source: The Intercept