KABUL (Dailymail): Afghanistan’s vice president and the son of a dead military commander are rallying anti-Taliban forces in the last stronghold less than 100 miles from Kabul.
Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of his former mentor and famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, are putting together a guerilla movement in the Panjshir Valley – the only region not controlled by the Taliban.
It comes after the Taliban swept to power with a lightning conquest of Afghanistan culminating on Sunday when the group overran the capital Kabul, sparking widespread panic as thousands tried to flee.
Footage that emerged on Tuesday showed Massoud, accompanied by a heavily armed entourage, boarding an Afghan air force Mi-17, a Soviet designed military helicopter.
At least 15 people boarded the flight and were seen helping each other climb on to the military helicopter, thought to be taking off from within the Panjshir region.
Several of the group sported military uniforms, while others were seen in pakols – traditional round-topped woolen hats favoured by Ahmad Shah Massoud.
It was not immediately clear in the grainy footage if Saleh was on the flight with Massoud, though they were later pictured meeting in the Panjshir region to plan a counter offensive.
Saleh fled on Sunday to the valley, a mountainous redoubt tucked into the Hindu Kush that never fell to the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s or was conquered by the Soviets a decade earlier.
He has vowed not to surrender to the extremist group, writing on Twitter on Sunday: ‘I won’t dis-appoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with Taliban. NEVER’.
He has not posted on the site since, but is reportedly regrouping with fighters in the Panjshir Valley, where Massoud commands a militia force, and is preparing to launch a counter offensive against the Taliban.
‘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.
Other reports said Panjshir residents had raised the flag of the Northern Alliance – a united military front that fought a defensive war against the Taliban between 1996 and 2001.
Unconfirmed reports added thousands of Afghans from neighbouring provinces had fled to the valley, which is famed for its natural defences.
Such a battle would be the latest in Saleh’s long struggle against the Taliban as a onetime insurgent turned spy chief and later vice premier.
Orphaned at a young age, Saleh first fought alongside guerilla commander Massoud, affectionately dubbed the Lion of Panjshir for his role defending the valley, in the 1990s.
He went on to serve in his government before being chased out of Kabul when the Taliban captured it in 1996. The hardliners then tortured his sister in their bid to hunt him down, Saleh has said.
‘My view of the Taliban changed forever because of what happened in 1996,’ Saleh wrote in a Time magazine editorial last year.
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 vast network of informants and spies inside the insurgency and across the border in Pakistan, where Pashto-speaking agents kept track on Taliban leaders.
The intelligence Saleh gathered provided what he alleged was proof the Pakistani military continued to back the Taliban.
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.
Exiled into the political wilderness, Saleh maintained his fight against the Taliban and Islamabad on Twitter, where he fired off daily tweets taking aim at his longtime foes.
A return to favour came in 2018 when he briefly oversaw the interior ministry after sealing an alliance with president Ashraf Ghani, who has now fled to Oman.
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 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.
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 at the time.