«MASTER OF MILITARY STUDIES TITLE: AHMAD SHAH MASSOUD: A case study in the challenges of leading modern Afghanistan. SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT ...»
forces. He correctly perceived the Taliban to be militarily too strong at this point to engage in a conventional military campaign. Thus, falling back on Mao’s dictums to fall back in the face of a stronger enemy Massoud withdrew and saved his forces. Massoud already was beginning to detect some weaknesses in the Taliban, however. He perceived their administration as being too brutal to the Afghan people and felt that the population would only abide the Taliban’s excesses for so long. He also felt Pakistan, who had been funding different Afghan factions for over 20 years, would not be able to continue to support the Taliban indefinitely. 69 Massoud’s strategy at this point was one of survival. As long as the Taliban didn’t decisively defeat him he was winning. He felt Pakistani funding wouldn’t last forever and the Taliban’s brutality against its own people would ensure continued support for Massoud in the future. 70
Northern Alliance. Massoud gave the Taliban a severe defeat at the Salang tunnel in February 1997, but the Taliban’s strategy of pay offs and bribes for subordinate commander’s defections continued to hurt Massoud’s operations.
Dostum also lost most of his frontline commanders as well during this period.
Most significantly, Dostum lost Abdul Malik for a reported 200 million dollars, causing Dostum’s retreat from Mazar-I-Sharif back across the Uzbek border with only 135 of his men. The city, which had been largely untouched during 18 Junger, 204-211.
years of war, was taken by the Taliban who subsequently murdered thousands of civilians.
coordinate a multi axis attack in June of 1997 that captured Pul-I-Khurmi, Jabalus-Serang, the south end of the Salang Pass, and finally on 20 July, Bagram airbase and Charikar. The Taliban finally halted Massoud’s advance 25
Alliance once and for all. 15,000 Taliban fighters launched an offensive against Massoud’s forces with the intent of finally destroying the Northern Alliance in order to legitimize the Taliban administration. The Taliban forces were comprised of a mix of central Asian Mujihadeen, Arab fighters, and Pakistani regular army and special operations units. The Taliban offensive bypassed Massoud’s traditional Panjsher valley stronghold and drove straight for the Tajikistan border to cut Massoud’s strategic supply line. Massoud received the vast majority of his supplies from Russia, India, and Iran through a tenuous supply line that extended from Tajikistan, through the mountains, and finally to Massoud’s base camps. The Taliban offensive successfully advanced east along the border until Massoud finally stopped their advance along the Kowkcheh
Following this operation, the Northern Alliance’s war against the Taliban Susan B. Glasser, “After 2 Decades, a warlord Keeps Up the Fight”, Washington Post, 11 October 2001, A16.
became a static war of position with the Alliance controlling about ten percent of the country north of Kabul. Massoud was unable to undertake large-scale offensive operations due to a lack of manpower, equipment and funding when
Al Queda cannot be overemphasized. Massoud, as a nationalist, must have viewed both the Taliban and Al Queda as outside negative influences on Afghanistan. Pakistani sponsorship of the Taliban and the Arab and central Asian make up of the Al Queda ensured there could never be any peaceful coexistence between Massoud and his adversaries.
military force capable of counterbalancing Massoud’s forces was the Al Queda 055 brigade equipped with state of the art equipment and numbering somewhere between 500-2000 Arab fighters. 74 While the Taliban realized that an alliance with Bin Laden made them an international pariah, the Taliban leadership viewed Al Queda support as being central to their continued survival and thus the lesser of two evils.
fade during the later stages of the civil war and this may have had some effect on his ability to carry out successful operations against the Taliban. The atrocities that the various factions committed during the civil war and the associated Muslim on Muslim inter-factional violence may have cost Massoud Michael Rubin,”The US Can Collapse the Taliban”. The Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Sept 2001, 3.
the moral high ground when compared to the Taliban. Massoud’s inability, as a member of the Rabbani government, to provide the people basic goods and services and his inability to wrest control of the countryside from the warlords
Realizing that he was significantly outnumbered and out resourced, he withdrew to his stronghold in northeastern Afghanistan and undertook a campaign more reminiscent of his Panjsher days against the Soviets than his more conventional campaigns of the Afghan civil war. In the face of overt Pakistani support to the Taliban and the significant pan-Arab manpower, equipment, and funding
Given Massoud’s reputation as a tactician, strategist, and administrator both during the war with the Soviets and during the Northern Alliances campaign against the Taliban, why was Massoud a failure at the national leadership level? The answer lies in the two problem areas highlighted in the preceding chapters; the influence of Pakistan, and ethnicity and the Afghan societal structure.
Pakistan will be reticent to allow any administration to govern within Afghanistan that is not sympathetic to Pakistan’s regional security objectives.
Massoud, as an ethnic Tajik and Afghan nationalist, was never interested in Pakistan’s regional security problems, and resented Pakistani interference in Afghan affairs. Massoud appeared to go out of his way at times to prove his independence of Pakistani control and in response Pakistani policy regarding Massoud evolved from one of marginalization during the Jihad to possibly in the end one of political assassination. There was never any common ground between Pakistan and Massoud, especially following the Jihad against the Soviets.
Massoud was also a victim of his own ethnicity, Afghan societal mores, and the thirst for power between the various factional leaders. As previously discussed, following the Jihad against the Soviets, ethnicity and a quest for personal power became the dominant themes during the Afghan civil war. It was a zero sum game and therefore what was good for Dostum’s Uzbeks must be bad for Hekmatyar and his Pushtuns and Massoud and his Tajiks and vice versa.
The factional leaders were able to wrap themselves in the flag of ethnicity and qawm to hold their factions together, but there appears to be no mistaking the fact that the factional leadership was in the game for their own personal benefit.
This pursuit of personal gain ensured that the compromise and respect for majority rule required to live under a democratic system of government would be unattainable for the Afghan people.
Given the two factors discussed above, the establishment of a smooth functioning representative government in Afghanistan may be impossible for any Afghan leader. For a military or political commander to exert lasting and impacting political influence across a geographic region whose borders were established by the territorial desires of a colonial power without any ethnic, religious, or tribal considerations is nearly impossible. Couple this with a western democratic system of government foreign to the societal beliefs of Afghan culture and the problem is compounded.
Based on an examination of Massoud as a military commander and the challenges he faced with Pakistan and the different Mujihadeen factions during his life, the following recommendations/observations are offered for future U.S.
military commanders operating in the region.
The U.S. government must stay engaged in the Afghan process. The United States cannot be allowed to repeat its 1989 mistake of disengagement from the region upon the withdrawal of the Soviets. This disengagement undercut the legitimacy of the Rabbani/Massoud government and provided neither a powerful arbitrator of Afghan political disputes nor a well resourced benefactor to assist in the provisioning of basic goods and services to the Afghan people. The 1989 U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan caused a power vacuum the Afghan resistance factions fought viciously to fill. This regional instability caused Pakistan to form and sponsor a movement in the form of the Taliban to counter this instability. The Taliban’s radical fundamentalism allowed Al Queda a safe haven to train and plan for terrorist operations resulting in the September 11th attacks. There are many reasons not to stay engaged in Afghanistan. Our reluctance to conduct “nation building” operations, our aversion to casualties, and the long term fiscal costs are all valid concerns.
Given the results of our last disengagement in the region, however, how can we afford not to stay?
The continued support of Pakistan as a military/political partner is vital to U.S. success. One of the main reasons for the Mujihadeen victory and the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 was the role of Pakistan. The Pakistani ISI provided funding, training, and safe haven to the resistance throughout the war. Pakistan must close down the border to Taliban and Al Queda movement as well as deny Islamic fundamentalist groups safe haven within its borders. Isolation, as seen in the British Malayan campaigns, is vital to any counterinsurgency effort. Pakistan must also ruthlessly cull rogue elements from within the ISI, as well as the military, that support fundamentalist agendas and groups.
The U.S. must also leverage the ISI’s knowledge of the Taliban and Al Queda to most effectively prosecute this campaign. The ISI knows the players, the tactics, the lines of communications, and the bases of operation. Full disclosure by Pakistan in these areas is vital to U.S. success.
Additionally, Pakistan must do something to regulate the educational curriculum within the madrassas, softening the prevalent radical fundamentalist doctrine with one in keeping with the more traditional teachings of Islam. The Pakistani madrassas are a breeding ground for terrorist organizations and they must be either shut down or the curriculum dramatically revised. Pakistan walks a fine line in this endeavor, however. While Pakistan must get the curriculum under control, they cannot be perceived as being insensitive to the fundamentalist without risking regime survival.
U.S. Forces must be sensitive to ethnic issues and understand the dynamics of Afghan culture and the history between the various factions. In the conduct of military operations, the U.S. needs to be cautious in regard to where the different Afghan elements will conduct operations. For example, in the conduct of Operation Anaconda, ethnic Uzbeks forces from the former Northern Alliance were brought into Paktia Province-an ethnically Pushtun area. This caused great animosity towards the U.S. and the Uzbeks and could possible reignite ethnically based military clashes similar to those seen in the civil wars of the 1990s. Whenever possible, local forces, under centralized government control should be utilized for military operations.
The factional leaders must be dealt with. Dostum and Khan are wildcards in the Afghan deck and must either be brought into the government as loyal government servants dedicated to the greater good, or they must be eliminated from the political/military landscape. The central government in Kabul has historically been unable to effectively control the countryside. The warlords cannot be allowed to exert influence and authority over the people of Afghanistan if the government is to succeed. This issue is critical to the success or failure of the Karzai government. If the central government attempts to force the issue militarily with the warlords, it will re-ignite a civil war. The U.S.
government will in the end probably offer Khan, Dostum and others, significant financial incentives to either join the government or leave the country.
The U.S. government must beware alliances of convenience. The Afghans are very comfortable with pragmatic alliances that are self-beneficial. Time and time again over the last 20 years, Afghan commanders have switched factions and fought for and against the Soviets, and for and against each other. For example, Dostum began his career as a General in the DRA in the Najibullah regime, supported Massoud in 1990, shifted allegiances to Hekmatyar in 1993, then to the Taliban in 1996, and finally back to Massoud in 2000. Prosperity and power are fundamental to continued alliances with the various ethnic groups, warlords and tribal communities.
Although Massoud failed in his bid for national leadership, there is still much to be admired about his life. He fought for his cause until the last day of his life, never leaving the fight for a comfortable life in the west. By all accounts (except those of Pakistan), he was the most effective, yet least supported of the major factional leaders. Finally, his leadership set the conditions for the success of the Northern Alliance and the United States against the Taliban and Al Queda after the Sept 11th attacks.
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