KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — The Afghan way of war in 2021 comes down to this: a watermelon vendor on a sweltering city street, a government Humvee at the front line just 30 feet away, and Taliban fighters lurking unseen on the other side of the road.
When the shooting starts, the vendor makes himself scarce, leaving his melons on the table and hoping for the best. When it stops, selling resumes, to customers now all too rare.
“I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to sell the melons,” said the vendor, Abdel Alim, speaking to New York Times journalists while he kept an eye on a lane within Kunduz city from which he said Taliban had emerged. “Most people have left,” he said. “There is fighting all the time.”
374,000 in Afghanistan’s north, and several other provincial capitals as well, as the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban enters a new and dangerous phase. For weeks, the insurgents have captured vulnerable districts across the country’s north, sometimes without even firing a shot. And on Wednesday, the Taliban said they had captured an important border crossing with Pakistan, at Spin Boldak — the fourth crossing they have seized in less than a month.
taken by the insurgents in 2015 and then again in 2016. Both times, the insurgents were eventually pushed back by the Afghan forces with help from American airstrikes. It was here that an American gunship mistakenly blasted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2015, killing 42 people.
This time, the Americans won’t be coming. The battle for Kunduz has become an intimate fight between Afghan opponents at close range.
“Every night they come to these houses and fire on us,” said the chief of police of Kunduz’s Third Municipal District, Sayed Mansoor Hashimi, looking out at now-vacant dwellings all around his police station. “Slowly, slowly they are tightening the circle.”
The war in Kunduz is intertwined with the fabric of the city. Shopping trips are planned between bursts of war. Residents no longer pay sufficient attention, said Marzia Salam Yaftali, the medical director at Kunduz Regional Hospital. “They are wounded in the streets or in the bazaar,” she said.
At the hospital, Ezzatullah, 14, lay in one of the wards, his legs wrapped in bandages: He lost both his feet when a mortar landed as he was playing outside his house. Three members of his family, including one of his parents, were killed.
“I can’t go to school now,” he said. Asked what he saw as his future, he replied firmly: “I want to be a man, to rebuild my country.”
The war, and the enemy, are inescapable. “We have to live here. Where can we go?” asked Ezamuddin Safi, a telecommunications worker who had to flee his home inside the city in early July. He was passing the day inside a small downtown restaurant.
“My 3-year-old boy, he screams when he hears the firing. He’s tired,” said Mr. Safi, 25. “Taliban are everywhere.”
jostling for power that it took them a week just to announce that they had formed a committee to organize the president’s funeral.
For months, as Haiti fell deeper into crisis over Mr. Moïse’s rule, with protests upending the nation and Parliament reduced to a shell in the absence of elections, the Commission had been meeting regularly, desperate to come up with a plan to get the country functioning again. Health care, a working judiciary, schools, food: Their goals were at once basic and ambitious.
Now all the focus seems to be on who will emerge as Haiti’s next leader, said Monique Clesca, a former United Nations official, a promiment Commission member. But the group wants the country to think bigger — to reimagine itself, and plan for a different future.
While they are still hammering out their plans, Ms. Comeau-Denis was emphatic about one thing: less fighting and more collaboration. “Together, we can become a force,” she said.
Among the group’s biggest concerns is corruption, and members said they wanted an inquiry into how foreign aid had been squandered in Haiti. Three damning reports by the country’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes revealed in lengthy detail that much of the $2 billion lent to Haiti as part of a Venezuela-sponsored oil program, PetroCaribe, had been embezzled or wasted over eight years by a succession of Haitian governments.
The call by Haiti’s interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, for the United States to send troops to Haiti to help stabilize the country has drawn loud criticism from the civil society leaders, who do not want foreign forces to step in. The issue of foreign intervention is especially sensitive in a former slave colony that has suffered historically under the repression of colonial powers like France. The United States has sent troops into Haiti several times, and occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.
“We have racist whites who want to impose their own solution,” said Josué Mérilien, an activist who fights for better conditions on behalf of teachers.
Amid a continuing power struggle in Haiti and swirling questions about the country’s future nearly a week after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, there’s at least one thing that some people in the nation seem to agree on: a state funeral for the slain leader.
Haiti’s government says it is setting up a committee to plan a state funeral for Mr. Moïse “with the respect, solemnity and dignity attached to his rank as head of state.”
Monique Clesca, a Haitian pro-democracy activist and former United Nations official who has criticized Mr. Moïse’s leadership, said that while the president had been a deeply divisive figure, many Haitians felt it was imperative that the dignity of the office be respected.
“He was Haiti’s president. Even if we disagreed and thought he should be out of office, this is a former president who died, and there is respect for the office,” Ms. Clesca said. “Jovenel Moïse was not loved, and this is a guy who traumatized the country for the past few years. But in our culture the dead are sacred. A Haitian president has died, and we must rise above it all.”
Carmen Cajuste, 68, a grandmother in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, observed that Mr. Moïse was human, after all, and she wanted the president to have a big funeral. “He came out of here,” she said, touching her belly, before making the sign of the cross.
Still, while there is some support for a state funeral, Mr. Moïse had many detractors. There is also ambivalence in some quarters about how much respect to afford him given what his critics say was the suffering that he brought about.
Over the weekend, Claude Joseph, Haiti’s interim prime minister, said his priority was to investigate the assassination and to find answers. He commended the Haitian people for maintaining their calm, suggesting that the assassination may have been calculated to “push the population to revolt and carnage.”
Mr. Joseph declared a “state of siege” immediately after the assassination, effectively placing the country under martial law. In that period of 15 days, the police and members of the security forces can enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and “all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins.”
In recent days, the country has been convulsed by photos circulating on social media that purport to show the president’s corpse, and even his harshest critics have been angered over the pictures and their impingement on the dignity of the dead.
Last Wednesday, just hours after Mr. Moïse was assassinated in his residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s official government journal, Le Moniteur, published a government order declaring 15 days of national mourning.
The order called for the national flag to be flown at half-staff, and nightclubs and other establishments to remain closed. It “invited” radio and television stations to program circumstantial programs and music.
Two days later, the interim prime minister, Mr. Joseph, released a video on Twitter praising Mr. Moïse’s legacy.
“He believed in change that would last,” read one of the captions of the video, which showed images of Mr. Moïse mingling with crowds while a nostalgic piano soundtrack played.
“Rest in peace President,” Mr. Joseph wrote.
The planning for the funeral comes as Haiti is facing a political crisis with several rival claims to power. Two men are competing for the job of prime minister even as Haiti’s democratic institutions have been severely hollowed out. And the president of the Senate has also been jockeying for power.
Mr. Moïse had planned to remove Mr. Joseph as prime minister, naming a replacement who was supposed to have been sworn in last week.
Mr. Moïse had presided over a country shaken by political instability, endemic corruption and gang violence. His mandate was contested, with opponents saying that his five-year term should have ended in February. But Mr. Moïse had insisted that he had more than a year to serve, arguing that his term did not begin until a year after the presidential election, amid accusations of voting fraud.
Nearly a week after Haiti’s president was gunned down in his bedroom, the country is still wracked by questions over who was behind the killing, and their motives. And even as a state funeral is being planned for President Jovenel Moïse, political leaders are battling over who should lead the shaken nation.
Now, as a sprawling multinational investigation broadens, with suspects stretching from Colombia to Florida, the Haitian authorities have turned their focus to a little-known doctor who they said coveted the presidency. But how he might have managed to set in motion such an ambitious plot — involving perhaps two dozen heavily armed mercenaries recruited from abroad — is not easily explainable.
Our correspondent Catherine Porter, who has reported on Haiti during about 30 trips over many years, has now landed in Haiti. Here’s what she saw on her arrival.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Green mountains peek through the heavy clouds below me, little farms clinging to their steep edges seemingly by magic.
Haiti is a beautiful country.
Flying into Port-au-Prince Monday evening, I thought of a Creole proverb: “dèyè mòn, gen mòn.”
Mountains beyond mountains. It is used to portray the endless difficulties in life.
The Haitian eye doctor seated next to me on the plane explained one of the expression’s meanings: Nothing is simple. There are always many layers.
We agreed it seemed a perfect expression for Haiti, and this moment in particular.
A president assassinated in his fortified home. Not one of his bodyguards reportedly injured. A group of Colombian ex-military commandos labeled by the police chief as the culprits, and a Haitian-born American doctor the alleged mastermind.
Yet, if they were specially trained army commandos, why did they not have an escape plan? Why would they have announced their arrival via a loudspeaker, alerting the whole neighborhood, and not been covert?
The first time I came to Haiti was after another devastating event: the 2010 earthquake. I have returned some 30 times since to report, and on a few occasions to visit friends.
The first thing I noticed leaving the airport this time was how empty the city seemed. The normally bustling, chaotic streets were barren of life.
It became clear quickly that it wasn’t just from mourning.
As dusk fell, our car was enveloped in darkness as though we were in the countryside, not in a city jammed with more than one million people.
Few lights shone from the concrete two-story buildings around us: The city was experiencing another power outage — an increasingly common phenomenon that President Jovenel Moïse, killed on Wednesday, had promised and failed to fix.
When we did see people, they were lined up at a gas station, sitting in their cars and tap-taps — local buses made from converted pickup trucks. My fixer, Harold Isaac, explained that the city’s violently warring gangs had essentially shut down one of the country’s main highways, separating the city from its main gas reserves, causing fuel shortages.
Then we went through the Christ-Roi neighborhood, where 11 people, including a journalist and well-known activist, were gunned down on the street one week before the president.
Pink bougainvillea tumbled over the high walls lining the streets, like flowers atop gravestones.
There were many complicated problems in Haiti before Mr. Moise’s horrific assassination. His death has simply added to them.
Dèyè mòn, gen mòn.
The accusation that a Florida-based doctor was a central figure in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti has been met with bewilderment by some who knew him and surprise by prominent Haitian Americans who said he was not known as a major political player.
At the same time, a university professor who met with the doctor twice last month said that he had spoken then of being sent by God to take over Haiti’s presidency.
About two dozen people have been arrested in the killing, and Haitian officials have placed the doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, at the center of an investigation that has stretched out from Haiti to Colombia and the United States.
The doctor’s brother, Joseph Sanon, said that he had not been in touch with him for a while and that he had no idea what was going on. “I am desperate to know what’s happening,” he said.
A former neighbor of the doctor’s in Florida, Steven Bross, 65, said, “He was always trying to figure out ways to make Haiti more self-sufficient, but assassinating the president, no way.”
In a telephone interview on Monday, Michel Plancher, a civil engineering professor at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, said he had received a call from out of the blue to attend a meeting with Dr. Sanon, who he was told was planning a political campaign.
Professor Plancher said he had never heard of the doctor but decided to attend the meetings, which were held at a home in the capital, after internet searches showed Dr. Sanon to be a pastor who had done charitable work.
The two men had a first meet-and-greet encounter on June 1, Professor Plancher said. The initial contact was followed a day or two later by an hourlong meeting with Dr. Sanon and a group of six to eight people. Both meetings happened in the same home in Port-au-Prince.
There, he said, Dr. Sanon outlined his political ambitions.
“He said he was sent by God. He was sent on a mission of God to replace Moïse,” Professor Plancher said. “He said the president would be resigning soon. He didn’t say why.”
Haiti’s national police chief, Léon Charles, has accused Dr. Sanon of playing a pivotal role in the assassination and wanting to become president, but offered no explanation for how the doctor could possibly have taken control of the government.
During a raid of his home, the Haitian authorities said, the police found a D.E.A. cap — the team of hit men who assaulted Mr. Moïse’s home appear to have falsely identified themselves as Drug Enforcement Administration agents — six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.
A YouTube video recorded in 2011 titled “Dr. Christian Sanon — Leadership for Haiti” appears to present Mr. Sanon as a potential leader of the country. In it, the speaker denounces Haiti’s leaders as corrupt plunderers of its resources.
As the authorities focus on Dr. Sanon’s actions in recent months, a clearer picture of his past is also coming into view.
Dr. Sanon was born in 1958 in Marigot, a city on Haiti’s southern coast, and graduated from the Eugenio María de Hostos University in the Dominican Republic and the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., according to a short biography from the Florida Baptist Historical Society.
Public records show that Dr. Sanon was licensed to practice conventional medicine and osteopathic medicine. In 2013, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in Florida, a process in which people can liquidate assets to pay creditors. Dr. Sanon stated at the time of his bankruptcy filing that he was a doctor and the director of the Rome Foundation, a nonprofit involved in assisting people in Haiti.
And though Dr. Sanon was straddling two worlds, dividing time between his homes in Haiti and Florida, some in Miami’s Haitian diaspora expressed surprise when Dr. Sanon was named as a central figure in the assassination plotting.
“I never heard of this Sanon before,” said Georges Sami Saati, 68, a Haitian American businessman who is a prominent figure in Miami’s community of Haitian émigrés. “Nobody ever heard of him.”
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The retired soldiers trusted Duberney Capador because he was one of them: a former soldier who had spent years traversing Colombia, fighting left-wing guerrillas and other enemies in rugged conditions.
So when Mr. Capador, 40, reached out with a job offer — high-paying and important, he told them — many of the men jumped at the opportunity, and asked few questions.
The New York Times interviewed a dozen retired Colombian soldiers who were recruited for a potentially dangerous security operation in Haiti shortly before the president’s assassination last week. The soldiers interviewed did not end up participating — in some cases because they were part of a second wave of people who were supposed to arrive in Haiti at a later point, they said.
The exact relationship between Mr. Capador, the ex-soldiers and the death of the president is unclear. But Mr. Capador died in the aftermath of the assassination, and Haitian officials have 18 Colombians in custody in connection with the president’s death.
The narrative began with Mr. Capador, who retired from the military in 2019 and was living on a family farm in western Colombia with his mother. His sister, Yenny Carolina Capador, 37, said in an interview in Bogotá that Mr. Capador had received a phone call in April from a security company that asked him to put together a group that would “protect important people in Haiti.”
Mr. Capador took the job, and by mid-May he had flown with a military buddy to Haiti to find a home base for the men and gather supplies.
He also started recruiting his military friends and asking them to call their friends. He organized them in at least two WhatsApp groups, and told them to buy boots and black polo shirts and to prepare their passports.
Some of the men said they had been promised $2,700 a month.
Carlos Cifuentes, one of the men recruited by Mr. Capador, said he had been told that it would be a “long-term post, initially a year.” Mr. Cifuentes said he had been told he would be fighting drug trafficking and terrorism.
Others were told that they would be providing security for “dignitaries” and “important people.”
“All we know is that we were going to provide security in an exclusive area under the command of Mr. Capador,” said one recruit who asked that he not be named to protect his safety. “We weren’t interested in how long, or where, or the name of the person we were going to protect. For these types of jobs there are never any details.”
Two of the 12 people interviewed said they had been told they would be protecting a president.
Others said that they had struggled to find well-paid work after leaving the military.
“I’ve been out of the military for four years and I’ve looked for work,” said Leodan Bolaños, 45, one of the recruits. What he had found paid too little, he said.
Mr. Capador started one of the WhatsApp groups, called “First Flight,” on May 26. By early June, the first wave of men had arrived in Haiti, several of the ex-soldiers said.
“We’re doing well,” wrote a former soldier in Haiti to one of the recruits still in Colombia, “they’re treating us like they promised.”
But the second wave of men never arrived.
Haitian officials say that a group of assailants stormed President Jovenel Moïse’s residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, last Wednesday at about 1 a.m., shooting him and wounding his wife, Martine Moïse, in what the Haitian authorities called a well-planned operation that included “foreigners” who spoke Spanish.
On Monday, the head of Colombia’s national police, Jorge Luis Vargas, said Colombian officials had determined that at least two of the Colombian ex-soldiers found in Haiti, including Mr. Capador, had contact with a Florida-based company called CTU Security, run by a Venezuelan American named Antonio Intriago. But Mr. Vargas said nothing about Mr. Capador’s motives or the motives of the many men who followed him to Haiti.
Edinson Bolaños and Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.
The photos are horrifying. They seem to portray the body of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti laid out in the morgue, his left eye crushed in, the flesh of one of his arms torn by bullets, his mouth gaping.
A country already reeling from the assassination of its leader on Wednesday and the chaos that followed reacted to the images with horror and despair, afraid that the photos circulating on social media channels would rip the last shreds of dignity from both the person and the office he held.
Even his critics were outraged.
“Even if @moisejovenel was decried and declared a de facto president, let’s not go down to the level of dehumanization established by the @PHTKhaiti,” tweeted the journalist Nancy Roc, referring to Mr. Moïse’s political party. “Haitians are better than that.”
She was among many who beseeched others not to forward the photos that were circulating through the country’s buzzing WhatsApp channels.
Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister in charge of elections, said on Tuesday that the photos were of Mr. Moïse and that an autopsy had been carried out on the president’s body.
“The pictures that are circulating were taken at the laboratory by technicians during the scan,” Mr. Pierre said, referring to part of the autopsy procedure.
He did not say when the autopsy results would be made public.
Forensic experts consulted by The Times who reviewed the photographs said that rumors that Mr. Moïse had been tortured — which swirled around social media along with the photos — were unlikely to be true.
“I don’t see anything that looks like it would be typical of torture,” said Dr. Michael Freeman, an associate professor of forensic medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Freeman noted that an autopsy would be needed to determine conclusively whether Mr. Moïse was tortured, but the wounds visible in the photographs appeared consistent with gunshots.
“The fact that he’s not bound is a pretty strong indication that he’s not been tortured,” Dr. Freeman added.
Photos of dead bodies left on the streets are sadly regular fare in Haiti. But that the country’s leader would face the same wretched indignity seemed to underscore just how cheap life had become in the country.
The Rev. Rick Frechette, an American Catholic priest with the Congregation of the Passion order and a doctor who regularly treats Haiti’s poor in clinics in Port-au-Prince’s slums and in the hospitals he built in a suburb of the capital, said that for some of his staff members, the president’s brutal assassination had brought back memories of past violence.
“People are traumatized and afraid,” he said.
And then there were those who believed the distribution of the photos was politically motivated, part of the struggle over who will govern the country in the president’s absence.
“Last night’s photos show how much they want to create a climate of violence and instability in the country after their heinous crime,” tweeted Danta Bien-Aimé, a nurse and former Fulbright scholar.
Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
An atmosphere of unease persisted in Haiti this week as investigators tried to make sense of the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, how the killing was plotted and what the motives were behind it.
Barely a week after withdrawing nearly all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Biden faces a strikingly similar dilemma much closer to home, in Haiti.
In Afghanistan, Mr. Biden concluded that American forces could not be expected to prop up the country’s frail government in perpetuity. His critics argue that the withdrawal makes Washington culpable for the collapse that seems likely to follow.
There is no threat of insurgent takeover in Haiti. But with the authorities there requesting U.S. troops to help restore order and guard its assets, Mr. Biden faces a similar choice.
Past interventions in Haiti suggest that another could forestall further descent into chaos. Those occupations lasted years, did little to address (and may have worsened) the underlying causes of that chaos and left the United States responsible for what came after.
Still, after decades of involvement there, the United States is seen as a guarantor of Haiti’s fate, also much as in Afghanistan. Partly because of that involvement, both countries are afflicted with poverty, corruption and institutional weakness that leave their governments barely in control — leading to requests for more U.S. involvement to prop them up.
Refusing Haiti’s request would make Washington partly responsible for the calamity that U.S. forces likely could otherwise hold off. But agreeing would leave it responsible for managing another open-ended crisis of a sort that has long proven resistant to outside resolution.
President Biden took office with bold warnings for Russia and China about human rights as he pressed democracies around the world to stand up against autocracy. But this week he is facing a string of similar challenges in America’s neighborhood.
On Monday, a day after huge protests across Cuba, Mr. Biden accused officials there of “enriching themselves” instead of protecting people from the coronavirus pandemic, repression and economic suffering.
By early afternoon, Mr. Biden has refocused on Haiti, urging its political leaders to “come together for the good of their country,” less than a week after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his bed.
The turmoil presents a potential crisis closer to home, with a possible exodus of Haitians as the Biden administration contends with a surge of migrants at the southwestern border. It is also forcing the White House to focus on the region more broadly after years of indifference — or limited attention — from previous Republican and Democratic administrations.
U.S. influence began waning in the region over the past decade as it turned toward focusing on terrorism in the Middle East and as Russia and especially China moved in to finance projects and offer political support and other incentives.
As Haitians continued to process a presidential assassination that has all the hallmarks of a sinister thriller, one baffling aspect of the killing dominated conversations in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora: How were the assassins able to so easily breach the presidential guard?
The Haitian authorities have summoned four of the president’s chief security officers for questioning this week as investigators try and understand how armed assassins could have entered a heavily guarded residence where Mr. Moïse was protected by dozens of officers.
Bedford Claude, the chief public prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, said that he had asked the police to interrogate all of the security staff close to Mr. Moïse including two key security officials, Jean Laguel Civil, who is head of the unit protecting current and former presidents, akin to the U.S. Secret Service; and Dimitri Hérard, the head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace, the seat of executive power in Haiti. The two were expected to be interrogated this week.
An employee at the National Palace, who is familiar with the investigation and requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about it, said that the night of the assassination, Mr. Moïse was supposed to have a force of 50 security guards at his residence. Instead, he said there were fewer than 10, all of whom have been arrested. “People here are baffled as to how that could have happened,” he said.
He said the president had made several calls from the residence the night of the assassination, including to Haiti’s top police official, but the precise timing of the calls was not clear.
Haitian security experts said that, given the magnitude of the crime, it was odd that the chief security officers were being summoned so late after the killing. They said they were concerned that some among the president’s security detail could have fled or tried to flee the country.
Manel Mauvais, the Haitian-Canadian director of Production Sécurité, a Montreal-based security company with 1,000 security agents and close ties to Haiti, said the delay in questioning the senior security guards underlined how the poor Caribbean nation was ill-equipped to conduct a professional investigation. The country is buffeted by lawlessness and violence, and the courts have barely been functional.
He said many Haitians abroad and in Haiti were viewing the investigation as a farce that seemed to be “just for show.” He said the security personnel should have been summoned within 24 or 48 hours of the assassination, before some could flee, or suspects could talk with each other to concoct false stories of what had happened.
“How can you do an investigation a week later and give people time to escape after such a major crime was committed?” he asked.
Some two dozen people have been detained so far in connection with the assassination.
Colombian officials said that some of the accused people had traveled to Haiti from Bogotá in May, flying to Panama, and the Dominican Republic before arriving in Haiti. The United States and Colombian officials said they would work with Haitian law enforcement to try and untangle the plot. The Biden administration officials have said that those efforts would include sending staff from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security to Haiti.
Conspiracy theories about the assassination were swirling in Haiti at supermarket lines, in cafes and bars, and on social media. One unsubstantiated theory was that the president was already dead when he was attacked. Another is that the Colombians were being framed for a plot they had no part in. Still another was that it was a plot from within the president’s own ranks.
KABUL, Afghanistan — In June, when the Taliban took the district of Imam Sahib in Afghanistan’s north, the insurgent commander who now ruled the area had a message for his new constituents, including some government employees: Keep working, open your shops and keep the city clean.
The water was turned back on, the power grid was repaired, garbage trucks collected trash and a government vehicle’s flat tire was mended — all under the Taliban’s direction.
Imam Sahib is one of dozens of districts caught up in a Taliban military offensive that has swiftly captured more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s districts, many in the north, since the U.S. withdrawal began in May.
It is all part of the Taliban’s broader strategy of trying to rebrand themselves as capable governors while they press a ruthless, land-grabbing offensive across the country. The combination is a stark signal that the insurgents fully intend to try for all-out dominance of Afghanistan once the American pullout is finished.
have begun to muster militias to defend their home turf, skeptical that the Afghan security forces can hold out in the absence of their American backers, in a painful echo of the country’s devastating civil war breakdown in the 1990s.
report. Some homes there were burned down by the Taliban, residents said.
“The Taliban burned my house while my family was in the house,” said Sirajuddin Jamali, a tribal elder. “In 2015, a military base was under siege and we provided food and water for them, but now the Taliban are taking revenge,” Mr. Jamali sobbed. “Do they do the same in any area the Taliban take?”
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the accusations of burning down homes was under investigation.
The group’s public responses, though rarely sincere, play directly into a strategy meant to portray the insurgents as a comparable option to the Afghan government. And they ignore the fact that local feuds drive large amounts of the war’s violence, outweighing any official orders from the Taliban leadership.
On the battlefield, things are shifting quickly. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and militia members have surrendered in past weeks, forfeiting weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles as the Taliban take district after district. Government forces have counterattacked, recapturing several districts, though not on the scale of the insurgents’ recent victories.
But little reported are Taliban losses, aside from the inflated body counts announced by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, with their base strength long estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters, depending on the time of year, have taken serious casualties in recent months, especially in the country’s south.
The casualties are primarily from the Afghan and U.S. air forces, and sometimes from Afghan commando units.
Mullah Basir Akhund, a former commander and member of the Taliban since 1994, said that cemeteries along the Pakistani border, where Taliban fighters have long been buried, are filling up faster than in years past. Pakistani hospitals, part of the country’s unwavering line of support for the insurgents, are running out of bed space. During a recent visit to a hospital in Quetta, a hub for the Taliban in Pakistan, Mr. Akhund said he saw more than 100 people, most of them Taliban fighters, waiting to be treated.
But despite tough battles, the weight of a nearly withdrawn superpower, and the Taliban’s own leadership issues, the insurgents continue to adapt.
Even as they seek to conquer the country, the Taliban are aware of their legacy of harsh rule, and do not want to “become the same pariah and isolated state” that Afghanistan was in the 1990s, said Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst.
“They’re playing the long game,” Mr. Bahiss said.
Reporting was contributed by Asadullah Timory in Herat, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost and Zabihullah Ghazi in Jalalabad.
By 2001, the United States had inherited rubble at the Bagram site. In January 2002, when the first American service member killed by enemy fire, Sgt. First Class Nathan R. Chapman, was sent home, there were no American flags to drape on his coffin, so a flag patch from someone’s uniform had to suffice.
By 2011, at the height of the American war, the air base had ballooned into a small city, with two runways, tens of thousands of occupants, shops and a U.S. military prison that became notorious. The thunder of jets and other aircraft, armed with hundreds of pounds of munitions that were dropped across the country, sometimes killing civilians, became a constant soundtrack for local residents throughout the conflict.
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The base was also more violently attacked over the years, often by Taliban rockets and mortars, but sometimes by other means. In one of the worst strikes, in November 2016, a suicide bomber sneaked onto Bagram Air Base, hidden among a group of workers. The blast killed four Americans and wounded more than a dozen others.
Other foreign forces that helped guard the base as part of the U.S.-led coalition, like those from Georgia and the Czech Republic, saw their own casualties during their deployments.
In 2014, as the United States concluded its first official drawdown after the surge of troops in the years before — which brought the number of American and other international forces into the country to well over 100,000 — Bagram began to shrink.
Local contractors were fired, troops left and the surrounding town of the same name went into a downward economic spiral. Many residents had been reliant on the base for employment, and others had sorted through the camp’s refuse for goods that could be sold or shipped to Kabul.
On a recent night raid, a Times photographer captured Afghanistan’s elite forces as they disrupted Taliban operations in one of the country’s most volatile provinces.
Photographs and Text by Jim Huylebroek
SOMEWHERE OVER HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As the city lights faded and the Soviet-era military helicopter banked over the fields and canals of southern Afghanistan one night in May, the Afghan commandos on board made their final checks, looking at maps and adjusting their weapons before turning on their night-vision goggles.
Their objective: to dismantle a bomb-making factory inside a squat mud-brick house in Chah Anjir, a village in Nadali, a district in Helmand Province that is completely under Taliban control.
Just days earlier, the Taliban had opened an offensive on Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. Afghan government forces had lost ground. The city was under siege. Frantic to relieve some of the pressure on the capital, security officials committed their most elite of the Afghan special operations forces to the province.
21,000 Afghans in the commando forces, with hopes to greatly expand the program.
more than 20 Afghan commandos were killed when their offensive operation to retake a district in the country’s northwest was derailed by a vicious Taliban counterattack.
The outcome of the May raid, documented on the special forces team leader’s cellphone, was considered a success: bomb-making materials were seized and destroyed. Four Taliban members were killed while his men took no casualties. How much that changed the broader battle’s outcome in Lashkar Gah is questionable, but it kept one of the Taliban’s deadliest tactics — roadside bombs and homemade mines — off the battlefield for a brief time.
The commandos returned to Bost Airfield, a civilian airport. But that night it turned into a temporary command center for the unit. Officials had set up television displays and radios atop its small terminal, under a starry sky as fighting echoed in the distance.
Inside the helicopters as the city came back into view, some commandos joked among themselves, others took forceful drags from cigarettes.
To keep tabs on the military situation on the ground, the U.S. military wants to continue using some version of what it calls the Combined Situational Awareness Room, where it coordinates with its Afghan counterparts (often over WhatsApp), funneling information and helping put air support and other forces into place on the battlefield. But it remains unclear where the command center would be, with options including the American Embassy or outside the country.
Though the Afghan Air Force has become increasingly capable in recent years, American drones and other surveillance aircraft still provide key targeting information. And U.S. strikes, though reduced under extremely restrictive rules of engagement, still occur as international forces depart and Afghan security forces struggle to hold ground.
U.S. military officials believe the United States will devote a significant number of reconnaissance aircraft to continue to help the Afghan forces but will limit airstrikes to “counterterrorism operations” only, a loose description that has been used in the past to justify a variety of actions.
With no bases to position aircraft close to Afghanistan, that means American aircraft will have to fly from bases in the Middle East or from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea to support Afghan forces or to conduct counterterrorism missions from “over the horizon.”
For prop-powered surveillance drones and planes, that means several-hour trips just to get to Afghanistan.
For jets based on aircraft carriers, that means frequent midair refueling stops. As land-based U.S. jets leave Afghanistan, United States forces are struggling to meet the demand for carrier-based aircraft because of an increased need for refueling tankers. For now, the jets onboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea can fulfill only around 75 percent of the requests over Afghanistan, a military official said.
Questioned by lawmakers last month about the challenges of countering terrorist threats in Afghanistan after American troops leave, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said, “It’s going to be extremely difficult to do, but it is not impossible.”
The Biden administration has approved three detainees at Guantánamo Bay for release to countries that agree to impose security conditions on them, including the oldest of the remaining wartime prisoners, lawyers and United States government officials said on Monday.
The approvals raised to nine the number of the 40 detainees currently at the wartime prison who have been approved for transfer to other countries. But it is unclear where the three men will go, or when, in part because the State Department has to make diplomatic and security arrangements with countries to take them.
Some of the other detainees who have been cleared for release over the years have been waiting for a decade for another country to agree to take them. In some instances, countries are asked to continue to jail the detainees or put them on trial. In most cases, they are asked to prevent them from traveling outside the country for at least two years.
Among those who have been granted approval is Saifullah Paracha, 73, of Pakistan, who was captured in Thailand in 2003. In addition to being the oldest of the detainees, he has also been described as among the sickest there, with heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Abdul Rabbani, 54, also a citizen of Pakistan, and Uthman Abdul al-Rahim Uthman, 40, a Yemeni. None have been charged with a crime by the United States in the two decades they have been in custody.
Of the other remaining detainees, 12 have been charged with war crimes, one of them has been convicted, and 19 are considered too dangerous for transfer to the custody of another country.
Word that the men were approved for release initially came from their lawyers, who heard about it from prisoners in attorney-client telephone calls. Two government officials confirmed the three release decisions, but on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
The decision to approve the three releases, one official said, was made early last week by the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretaries of defense, homeland security and state. All of them have representatives who sit on the Periodic Review Board, the organization that assesses the threat posed by the detainees.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al-Baluchi, with financial transactions in Pakistan after the attacks. Both men are accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks, a capital case.
returned to Pakistan last year in a deal with prosecutors to drop the case if he relinquished his status as a permanent resident of the United States.
Saifullah Paracha’s younger son, Mustafa Paracha, said in an interview last year that his father aspired to spend time with family upon his return to Pakistan, and a first concern would be to attend to his health care needs. Early in his detention, U.S. military doctors had airlifted a cardiac catheterization lab and surgical team to Guantánamo, but he refused to consent to the procedure out of concern about the quality of the medical care available to him there.
Typically, the Periodic Review Secretariat, which administers the board, publishes the justifications for making the release decisions on its website. The decisions usually include a recommendation for security assurance as well as the board’s recommendations for rehabilitation, repatriation or resettlement of the detainee who is approved for transfer. But it had not done so by Monday night.
Two districts in Afghanistan’s northwest offer a glimpse into life under the Taliban, who have completely cut off education for teenage girls.
By Adam Nossiter
Photographs by Kiana Hayeri
SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan — The order to shut down the girls’ schools was announced at the mosque, in a meeting with village elders. The news filtered through the teachers, in subdued meetings at students’ homes. Or came in a curt letter to the local schools’ chiefs.
Appeals to the Taliban, arguing and entreaties were useless. So three years ago, girls older than 12 stopped attending classes in the two rural districts just south of this low-slung provincial capital in Afghanistan’s northwest. Up to 6,000 girls were pushed out of school, overnight. Male teachers were abruptly fired: What they had done, provided an education to girls, was against Islam, the Taliban said.
All over Afghanistan the orders have been similar to those issued just 40 miles south of Jowzjan Province’s capital. In districts controlled by the Taliban, no more schooling for all but the youngest girls, with some few exceptions. The Taliban’s message: Teenage girls should be at home helping their mothers.
when the United States formally began its withdrawal, the Taliban have captured territory in practically every part of the country.
a triple bombing of a school in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, left dozens of schoolgirls dead. While the Taliban denied responsibility, the culprit sent a clear signal: Education for girls will not be tolerated.
But in Jowzjan Province’s south, the future has already arrived. The parallel universe that is now the lot of many Afghans is a vivid reality for the province’s education officials and teachers. With grim resignation, they must deal with the fate of neighbors living nearby, yet on the other side of the looking glass.
The Taliban control the districts of Qosh Tepa and Darzab — drought-stricken and impoverished agricultural lands that are home to about 70,000 people — and all 21 of these districts’ schools. They took charge in 2018 after fierce fighting with local Taliban renegades who had proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, as well as with government forces.
Taliban control notwithstanding, every month the districts’ teachers trudge to Sheberghan, the provincial capital, to collect their salaries, one of many anomalies in a country that is already under de facto control of two governments. Better to have to pay the teachers than close the schools. The city, dusty but bustling, is still in the hands of the central government, but like other provincial capitals it is an isolated island; the Taliban rule the roads, coming and going.
The provincial government still employs school chiefs for the captured districts. But local education officials must watch, helplessly, as Islamist insurgents front-load a heavy dose of religion into the curriculum, slash history instruction and keep the girls out.
The female teachers have been fired. The Taliban use free government textbooks, but they strictly monitor their use, and make sure the ones devoted to Islamic instruction get a heavy workout. And they punish teachers who don’t show up for work, docking their pay. There are no days off. The Taliban have accused teachers in these districts of spying, and of shaving their beards.
“‘If we don’t obey them, we will be punished,’” The education director of Jowzjan, Abdul Rahim Salar, recalled the teachers and principals telling him. “They were worried for their lives.’’
For the girls who escape to Sheberghan to continue their education, there is the sense of a baffling destiny imposed by the Taliban, narrowly avoided. Nilofar Amini, 17, said she missed the school she was barred from three years ago. She had arrived here in the provincial capital only four days before.
“I want to be educated,” Ms. Amini said, sitting with relatives in a room at a derelict shopping center.
Her high voice was muffled by the light blue burqa imposed by the Taliban even on teenagers — she wore it out of habit, though removed it after the interview. Ms. Amini described her life since the schools ban: “I have been sewing, making kilim rugs, handicrafts.”
She added: “The girls there, they stay indoors all day. They can’t even visit relatives.” The Taliban have destroyed the cellphone towers; no chatting on phones.
Ms. Amini’s father, Nizamuddin, a farmer, sitting next to her in the shopping center, hinted at the consequences of the Taliban strictures against girls’ education: “I’m illiterate. It’s like I am blind. I have to be led by others. And so that is why I want my daughters to be educated.”
The Taliban’s policy on education for girls can vary, slightly. Local commanders make the decisions, reflecting the decentralization of a movement scholars like Antonio Giustozzi have described as a “network of networks.” Human Rights Watch noted in a report last year that though the Taliban commanders often permit schooling for girls up to age 12, it is unusual for them to allow it for older girls. Though in some areas, “pressure from communities has persuaded commanders to allow greater access to education for girls,” the report said.
But not many. And not in this part of Afghanistan.
A teacher in the district whose three teenage daughters are now barred from schooling said, “The situation is bad, and I feel badly for them. They don’t have anything to do.” He added that his daughters are just helping their mother with housework.
Encountered at the provincial school headquarters in Sheberghan, where he had gone to collect his salary, the teacher asked that his name not be used out of fear of retribution by the Taliban. He said his daughters keep asking when they can return to school.
“They wouldn’t let us study any longer,” said Fatima Qaisari, 15, at a dusty camp for refugees from neighboring Faryab province. She was 12 when her school was shut down.
Education officials here describe an environment of repression in which residents, parents and teachers have no opportunity to weigh in on the Taliban’s rigid and harsh policies.
“We’ve been in touch with them many times. But there has been no result,” said Abdel Majid, the head of schools in Darzab.
“They tell us, ‘Our government doesn’t want us to teach girls,” he said. “Nobody can disobey them.” The Islamic State faction destroyed some of his schools; others don’t have windows.
At first, Mr. Majid told many of the girls to “play a game” with the Taliban, and pretend they were younger than the cutoff age. “After a year, they warned me that I should stop it,” he said.
He and others have been told that the girls’ schools would stay shut at least until the advent of what Taliban officials depict to bemused residents as the insurgents’ grail: a top-to-bottom “Islamic system,” in which there might be a place for girls’ education.
Shaiasta Haidari, the finance director for Jowzjan Province’s schools, said officials sent a letter alerting the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, of the situation. “Nothing has happened,” she said. “Of course, I am not happy.”
Not far away at the Marshal Dostum School — named after Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former vice president and local warlord whose portrait hangs everywhere in the city — a handful of girls from the Taliban-controlled districts are trying to make up for lost ground. On a recent morning, streams of their schoolmates, laughing girls in black and white uniforms, rushed past the flowered grounds, eager to begin the school day.
In the principal’s office, some of the refugees from Darzab and Qosh Tepa marveled at the senselessness of the Taliban’s decision to bar them from school. Several said they wanted to be teachers; one girl was hoping to study engineering.
Farida, 16, shook her head. “Their decision, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not even logical.”
Nabila, the teenager from Darzab, added: “The Taliban, they don’t have the brains to know that it is important for girls to go to school.”
Fatima Faizi and Kiana Hayeri contributed reporting.
KABUL, Afghanistan — On Saturday, the final day of a three-day national cease-fire for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Muslim celebration marking the end of fasting after the holy month of Ramadan, the killings in Afghanistan kept coming.
A Kabul traffic policeman was murdered Saturday morning, a day after a bombing at a Kabul mosque during Friday prayers killed 12 civilians, including the imam. A roadside bomb in Kandahar killed five civilians Thursday, among them three children. An explosion outside a shop in Kunduz that day killed two civilians, including a child.
But in this country, those scattered attacks represented a respite of sorts from the much more frequent and deadlier ones that have dominated for most of the year. Afghans took advantage, braving perilous city streets and provincial roadways to visit family members for sumptuous Eid al-Fitr feasts and celebrations.
This was the fourth such cease-fire since 2018, but the first with American and NATO troops withdrawing after two decades of war, leaving Afghans facing an ever more uncertain and unsettled future. The cease-fire came at a time of high anxiety, with terrified Afghans continuing to flee the country and Western embassies warning their own citizens to leave, too.
provincial director of an Afghan human rights commission was waylaid on the same highway and shot to death.
When Ms. Matin and her family approached the same area, Jalrez — known locally as “Death Valley” — she said she instructed her nephews, age 4 and 7, to stay absolutely quiet. The car radio was turned off.
“Everyone was silent — no one even breathed,” she said. She described Taliban gunmen on the roadside, “with their guns, long hair and eye makeup, they were everywhere.” But their car was allowed to pass in deference to the cease-fire, she said.
Mohammad Damishyar, a schoolteacher who lives in Bamian, rebuffed warnings from relatives to stay off the roads, even during the cease-fire. On Thursday, the first day of the cease-fire, he rode in a crowded taxi on a daylong drive through Taliban-controlled areas to celebrate Eid with relatives in Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan.
data compiled by The New York Times.
30,000 Taliban fighters were permitted to wander through government-controlled cities, embracing soldiers and police, visiting tourist spots and eating ice cream.
In announcing this year’s cease-fire on May 9, the Taliban expressly forbade such encounters.
“The Mujahedeen must not visit enemy areas nor permit entrance of enemy personnel into Mujahedeen controlled areas,” the Taliban statement said.
The Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani said its forces would comply with the cease-fire but reserved the right to defend against any enemy attack.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Western spy agencies are evaluating and courting regional leaders outside the Afghan government who might be able to provide intelligence about terrorist threats long after U.S. forces withdraw, according to current and former American, European and Afghan officials.
The effort represents a turning point in the war. In place of one of the largest multinational military training missions ever is now a hunt for informants and intelligence assets. Despite the diplomats who say the Afghan government and its security forces will be able stand on their own, the move signals that Western intelligence agencies are preparing for the possible — or evenly likely — collapse of the central government and an inevitable return to civil war.
Courting proxies in Afghanistan calls back to the 1980s and ’90s, when the country was controlled by the Soviets and then devolved into a factional conflict between regional leaders. The West frequently depended on opposing warlords for intelligence — and at times supported them financially through relationships at odds with the Afghan population. Such policies often left the United States, in particular, beholden to power brokers who brazenly committed human rights abuses.
Among the candidates being considered today for intelligence gathering is the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famed Afghan fighter who led fighters against the Soviets in the 1980s and then against the Taliban as head of the Northern Alliance the following decade. The son — Ahmad Massoud, 32 — has spent the last few years trying to revive the work of his father by assembling a coalition of militias to defend Afghanistan’s north.
Afghans, American and European officials say there is no formal cooperation between Mr. Massoud and Western intelligence agencies, though some have held preliminary meetings. While there is broad agreement within the C.I.A. and France’s D.G.S.E. that he could provide intelligence, opinions diverge on whether Mr. Massoud, who is untested as a leader, would be able to command an effective resistance.
The appeal of building ties with Mr. Massoud and other regional power brokers is obvious: Western governments distrust the Taliban’s lukewarm commitments to keep terrorist groups out of the country in the years ahead and fear that the Afghan government might fracture if no peace settlement is reached. The Second Resistance, as Mr. Massoud now calls his armed uprising force, is a network that is opposed to the Taliban, Al Qaeda or any extremist group that rises in their shadow.
Top C.I.A. officials, including William J. Burns, the agency’s director, have acknowledged that they are looking for new ways to collect information in Afghanistan once American forces are withdrawn, and their ability to gather information on terrorist activity is diminished.
But Mr. Massoud’s organization is in its infancy, desperate for support, and legitimacy. It is backed by a dozen or so militia commanders who fought the Taliban and the Soviets in the past, and a few thousand fighters located in the north. Mr. Massoud says his ranks are filled by those slighted by the government and, much like the Taliban, he thinks that Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has overstayed his welcome.
“We are ready, even if it requires my own life,” Mr. Massoud said in an interview.
Even the symbols at Mr. Massoud’s events harken back to the civil war era: old Northern Alliance flags and the old national anthem.
But for all of Mr. Massoud’s bluster at recent rallies and ceremonies, the idea that the Northern Alliance could be rebranded and that its former leaders — some of whom have since become ambassadors, vice presidents and top military commanders in the Afghan government — would follow someone half their age and with little battlefield experience to war seems unrealistic at this point, security analysts have said.
Today, supporting any sort of insurgency or building a resistance movement poses real challenges, said Lisa Maddox, a former C.I.A. analyst who has done extensive work on Afghanistan.
“The concern is, what would the second resistance involve and what would our goals be?” she said. “I fear folks are suggesting a new proxy war in Afghanistan. I think that we’ve learned that we can’t win.”
Even considering an unproven militia leader for possible counterterrorism assurances as international forces leave undermines the last two decades of state-building, security analysts say, and practically turns the idea of an impending civil war into an expected reality by empowering anti-government forces even more. Such divisions are rife for exploitation by the Taliban.
The United States had a fraught relationship with the Northern Alliance, making it difficult to collect intelligence in the country. The French and British both backed the senior Massoud in the 1980s, while the Americans instead focused mostly on groups aligned with Pakistan’s intelligence services. The C.I.A. connections with Mr. Massoud and his group were limited until 1996, when the agency began providing logistical help in exchange for intelligence on Al Qaeda.
One of the reasons the C.I.A. kept Massoud at arm’s length was his track record of unreliability, drug trafficking and wartime atrocities during the early 1990s, when Mr. Massoud’s forces shelled Kabul and massacred civilians, as other warlords did.
Now, various allied governments and officials have different views of Mr. Massoud and the viability of his movement. The French, who were devoted supporters of his father, see his efforts as full of promise to mount a real resistance to Taliban control.
David Martinon, the French ambassador to Kabul, said he has watched Mr. Massoud closely over the last three years, and nominated him for a for a trip to Paris to meet with French leaders, including the president. “He is smart, passionate and a man of integrity who has committed himself to his country,” Mr. Martinon said.
Washington is more divided, and some government analysts do not think Mr. Massoud would be able to build an effective coalition.
Eighteen months ago, Lisa Curtis, then a National Security Council official, met with Mr. Massoud along with Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. diplomat leading peace efforts with the Taliban. She described him as charismatic, and said he spoke convincingly about the importance of democratic values. “He is very clearheaded and talks about how important it is to preserve the progress of the last 20 years,” she said.
In Afghanistan, some are more skeptical of Mr. Massoud’s power to influence a resistance.
“Practical experience has shown that no one could be like his father,” said Lt. Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy minister in the Interior Ministry. “His son lives in a different time and does not have the experience that matured his father.”
Others in the Afghan government see Mr. Massoud as a nuisance, someone who has the potential to create problems in the future for his own self-interests.
Even if there are varying opinions of his organizational prowess, there is broad agreement that Mr. Massoud can help function as the eyes and ears for the West — as his father did 20 years ago.
Mr. Massoud, who was educated at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in Britain, returned to Afghanistan in 2016. He spent the next three years quietly building up support before he emerged more publicly in 2019 by holding rallies and mounting recruiting drives in the country’s north.
In recent months, Mr. Massoud’s rhetoric has grown tougher, lashing out at Mr. Ghani during a recent ceremony in Kabul, and his efforts to secure international support more aggressive. In addition to reaching out to the United States, Britain and France, Mr. Massoud has courted India, Iran and Russia, according to people familiar with his pursuits. Afghan intelligence documents suggest that Mr. Massoud is purchasing weapons — through an intermediary — from Russia.
But Europe and the United States see him less as a bulwark against an ascendant Taliban than as a potentially important monitor of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. A generation ago, Mr. Massoud’s father was outspoken on the burgeoning terrorist threats in the country. And even if the son cannot command the same forces as his father, perhaps he will be able to offer similar warnings.
As a young diplomat, Mr. Martinon remembers hearing about the late Massoud warning to the world during his April 2001 visit to France.
“What he said was beware, beware,” Mr. Martinon recalled. “The Taliban are hosting Al Qaeda and they are preparing something.”
Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington. Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul.