He said that Qari Qudratullah, the new provincial governor, was meeting with elders to discuss a peaceful handover.

A Taliban military commission official, Mullah Hafiz Osman, later confirmed this was true, while Mr. Nazary, the resistance spokesman, denied the claim.

Behind the Panjshiri fighters flew the green, white and black flag of the Northern Alliance, repurposed to signify the National Resistance Front, which is led by Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shad Massoud, the leader assassinated in 2001. But villagers said that the Taliban had long been active in the valley, and that their takeover had been negotiated by some of the residents.

Outside the tomb of the elder Massoud, a young Talib, far from his home in Helmand Province in the south, performed his evening prayers.

Days earlier, photos of the partially destroyed tomb, in a dramatic hilltop mausoleum overlooking the valley, appeared on social media alongside accusations that the Taliban had ransacked the place. “This wasn’t our work,” one of the Taliban guards said. “Civilians broke in and smashed the glass.”

The site had since been repaired by the Taliban and was now in its original state. A group of guards stood around the tomb, and as evening fell, they stretched a green shroud over it and closed the doors for the night.

Outside the valley, those who had fled wondered if they would ever be able to return.

When the Taliban first entered Panjshir, Sahar, 17, and her family barricaded themselves at home, thinking the resistance would eventually chase the Talibs away. But the fighting steadily drew closer.

Neighbors started to flee, said Sahar, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity. Her uncle and cousin were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint near the village, she said, where they were beaten and ordered to turn over their weapons and the names of resistance fighters.

Last week, the family escaped through the mountains. They walked for five days, through remote valleys and over mountain ridges. Sahar fainted three times from dehydration, she said, and her mother had blisters and swollen feet. Her father, who is diabetic, nearly collapsed.

Eventually, they hitched a ride to Kabul, the country’s capital, where they had relatives with whom they are now living.

“We don’t know what will happen,” Sahar said by phone from Kabul. “We may never be able to get back.”

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York, N.Y. Wali Arian contributed from Istanbul, Turkey.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Shifting to Governing, Taliban Will Name Supreme Afghan Leader

On the second full day with no U.S. troops on Afghan soil, the Taliban moved Wednesday to form a new Islamic government, preparing to appoint the movement’s leading religious figure, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, as the nation’s supreme authority, Taliban officials said.

The Taliban face a daunting challenge, pivoting from insurgence to governance after two decades as insurgents who battled international and Afghan forces, planted roadside bombs and plotted mass casualty bombings in densely packed urban centers.

Now, with the Taliban’s rule fully restored 20 years after it was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the group is confronted with the responsibility of running a country of some 40 million people devastated by more than 40 years of war.

There are hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the country and much of the population lives in crushing poverty, all amid a punishing drought and a Covid-19 pandemic. Food stocks distributed by the United Nations will likely run out for much of Afghanistan by the end of September, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

$9.4 billion in Afghan currency reserves in the United States, part of a cash pipeline that had long sustained a fragile U.S.-backed government dependent on foreign aid. Funds have also been cut off by international lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, sending inflation soaring and undermining the weak national currency, the afghani.

Electricity service, spotty and unreliable in the best of times, is failing, residents say. Fear is keeping many people at home instead of out working and shopping. Shortages of food and other daily necessities have been reported in a country that imports much of its food, fuel and electrical power. A third of Afghans were already coping with what the United Nations has called crisis levels of food insecurity.

suicide bomber, and at age 23 blew himself up in an attack in Helmand Province, the Taliban say.

Mr. Baradar filled a similar role during the Taliban’s first years in exile, directing the movement’s operations until his arrest by Pakistan in 2010.

After three years in a Pakistani prison and several more under house arrest, Mr. Baradar was released in 2019, and then led the Taliban delegation negotiating the troop withdrawal deal reached with the Trump administration in February 2020.

Other key positions in the government are expected to go to Sirajuddin Haqqani, another deputy and an influential operations leader within the movement, and Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, who is the son of the Taliban’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the group until his death in 2013.

Mr. Haqqani, 48, who helped direct Taliban military operations, is also a leader of the brutal Haqqani Network, a mafia-like wing of the Taliban largely based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. The network was responsible for hostage-taking, attacks on U.S. forces, complex suicide attacks and targeted assassinations.

The political developments Wednesday injected a jolt of reality into the Taliban, whose members celebrated with gunfire and fireworks after the final planeload of U.S. troops and equipment soared away from the Kabul airport just before midnight Monday. On Tuesday, top Taliban leaders led journalists on a triumphant tour of the ransacked airport just hours after it had been occupied by U.S. troops.

100 to 200 Americans remain in the country, President Biden said Tuesday. Some have stayed by choice. Others were unable to reach the Kabul airport.

Tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted the United States or its international partners also remain stranded, according to estimates by U.S. officials. Many are permanent United States residents who were traveling in Afghanistan when the government and military collapsed with stunning speed and the Taliban seized control on Aug. 15.

Taliban officials have made repeated public assurances that Afghans with proper passports and visas would be permitted to leave the country, regardless of their role during the 20-year American mission in Afghanistan.

About 6,000 Americans, the vast majority of them dual U.S.-Afghan citizens, were evacuated after Aug. 14, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Tuesday. Early this spring, the American Embassy in Kabul began issuing warnings to Americans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, citing a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Mr. Blinken described “extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to depart the country.” He said diplomats made 55,000 calls and sent 33,000 emails to U.S. citizens in Afghanistan, and in some cases, walked them into the Kabul airport.

Mr. Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. government had alerted Americans 19 times since March to leave Afghanistan.

United Nations refugee agency recently warned that as many as half a million Afghans could flee by the end of the year, and urged countries in the region to keep their borders open for those seeking refuge.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for refugees, has estimated that about 3.5 million people have been displaced by violence within Afghanistan — half a million just since May. The majority of them are women and children.

On the Afghanistan side of the Pakistan border at Torkham, about 140 miles east of Kabul, some families in recent days have been huddling with their belongings, determined to flee the Taliban’s rule. There are also laborers from neighboring Afghan provinces who want to cross to earn a livelihood amid spiraling cash and food shortages.

Pakistan has said that it will not accept any more refugees from Afghanistan. Border officials are reportedly only allowing crossing by Pakistani citizens and the few Afghans who have visas.

While Afghan refugees living in Pakistan shuttled back and forth for decades without being asked questions, in recent years, Pakistan has made access more difficult, and built up a border fence 1,600 miles long.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Spy Agencies Seek New Afghan Allies as U.S. Withdraws

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.

View Source