Defiant Saleh vows new fight with Taliban

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Saleh became a key asset for the CIA

AFP August 17, 2021
Photo: Reuters

Afghanistan's defiant vice president made one thing clear as the Taliban seized control of the capital following the collapse of his government -- he will not surrender.

It appears he has retreated to the country's last remaining holdout: the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul.

"I won't disappoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with Taliban. NEVER," he wrote in English on Twitter on Sunday, before going underground.

A day later, pictures began to surface on social media of the former vice president with the son of his former mentor and famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud in Panjshir -- a mountainous redoubt tucked into the Hindu Kush.

Saleh and Massoud's son, who commands a militia force, appear to be putting together the first pieces of a guerilla movement to take on the victorious Taliban, as fighters regroup in Panjshir.

'Resist with all our might'

Famed for its natural defences, the valley never fell to the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s, nor was it ever conquered by the Soviets a decade earlier.

"We will not allow the Taliban to enter Panjshir and will resist with all our might and power, and fight them," one resident told AFP on condition of anonymity.

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Orphaned at a young age, Saleh first fought alongside guerilla commander Massoud in the 1990s. He went on to serve in his government before being chased out of Kabul when the Taliban captured it in 1996.

Amrullah Saleh has been one of the Taliban's most vocal critics for years

Photo: AFP/File

'We will continue our fight'

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Saleh -- then a part of the anti-Taliban resistance -- became a key asset for the CIA.

The relationship paved the way for him to lead the newly formed Afghanistan intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate (NDS), in 2004.

As NDS chief Saleh is believed to have amassed a network of informants and spies inside the insurgency. Saleh's rise, however, has not been without its share of dramatic stumbles.

In 2010, he was sacked as Afghanistan's spy chief following a humiliating attack on a Kabul peace conference.

Read: 'Coordination council' to oversee peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan: Karzai

A return to favour came in 2018 when he briefly oversaw the interior ministry after sealing an alliance with Ghani, who has now fled to an unknown location.

Saleh went on to become the former leader's vice premier.

His most recent political revival came as the US was preparing to exit Afghanistan and coincided with a series of alleged assassination attempts on Saleh by the Taliban.

His latest close call came last September when a massive bomb targeting his convoy killed at least 10 people in Kabul.

Smoke rises from the scene of the blast that targeted Saleh's convoy in 2020

Smoke rises from the scene of the blast that targeted Saleh's convoy in 2020 Najiba NOORI AFP/File

Within hours of the attack, Saleh appeared in a video with his left hand bandaged, promising to fight back.

"We will continue our fight," he said.


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