Ahmed Shah Masud
The Lion of Panjishir
Masud was easily the greatest captain seen in the Afghan civil war on either side, both in reputation and command skills. He joined the Islamic movement as an engineering student at Kabul University. During the Soviet war he created the strongest and most independent rebel force in Afghanistan with the least international help. He read widely about guerilla war, politics, and the world in general, and while an Islamic fighter, he was more moderate than Hekmatyar, Sayyaf, and Ismail Khan. Presently, Masud is worshipped as a martyr and a patriotic saint.
Masud was strategically important because he controlled the Panjishir Valley. The valley is 40 miles long, has many side valleys feeding into it, and is a natural fortress with 80,000 inhabitants. It was close enough to dominate the mountain road that brought fuel and grain to Kabul from the Soviet Union. Masud’s first attempt to spark revolt in the valley failed, and he fled with a leg wound. But after the Soviets entered the country, the people were ready to fight. Based in the valley, Masud raided the Kabul supply road, taking one in five truckloads as booty, either by ambush or in checkpoint holdups. To protect the road, the communists invaded Panjishir nine times, each time encountering a tactically skilled and brilliantly led militia which destroyed their vehicles, subverted conscripts from the Communist Afghan army, and shot Soviet soldiers from the cover of rough ground.
Unlike the other mujahideen commanders, Masud rooted his militia in the community by working with a council of tribal elders. However, this made him vulnerable to pressure by Soviet punitive attacks on civilians. As a result, he entered into periodic truces with the Soviets, angering the CIA and the ISI, who were only interested in Soviet blood, not the welfare of the peasantry. In 1984, Masud evacuated the entire civilian population of the Panjishir before the Soviets attacked.
After he defeated Najibullah, Masud found it impossible to cooperate with the distasteful CIA-ISI proxy, Hekmatyar, and failed to create a national government. Mullah Omar drove Masud back to the Panjishir in 1997, but could not finish him off. Masud wrote a battle plan to destroy the Taliban and waited for the United States to join him. Although Osama had Masud murdered on September 9, 2001, his battle plan survived to defeat Mullah Omar and reunite the nation under Karzai.