How the U.S. Can—and Why It Must—Support Afghanistan's National Resistance Front –

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The Taliban’s newfound power directly threatens America’s security interests and leaves the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front in a perilous situation.
Inevitably, other resistance movements will spring up across parts of Afghanistan, which the Taliban will find difficult to control.
While President Biden left few good policy options for Afghanistan, the U.S. can and must start to engage with and support resistance movements in Afghanistan.
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Due to the actions of President Joe Biden and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban swept to power across Afghanistan in August. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Taliban controlled more of Afghanistan than it did in 2001.
Not all Afghans have capitulated to the Taliban, however. Despite the odds, the National Resistance Front (NRF), located in the Panjshir Valley, has formed to fight the Taliban.
While the actions of the Biden Administration have not left the U.S. with many good policy options to pursue in Afghanistan, the U.S. and the international community need to consider ways to support the NRF at this perilous time. While options are limited, this can be done by establishing formal contact with the NRF leadership; refusing to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan; helping to increase Internet speed, bandwidth, and secure communications equipment in the Panjshir Valley; providing the NRF with winter gear; and consulting and coordinating privately with Tajikistan, which harbors sympathies for the ethnic Tajik minority that comprises much of the NRF.
The Panjshir Valley is a predominantly ethnic Tajik region located 60 miles northeast of Kabul and is famous for its ability to resist outside aggression. It is strategically located in Afghanistan and is easily defended by its unforgiving mountains terrain and valleys.
During the 1980s, the Soviet army failed in numerous attempts to capture Panjshir. Although the Soviets would often capture much of the main valley and its villages, they always failed to capture the side valleys, which sheltered the resistance. In the 1990s, after the Taliban first swept into Kandahar and Kabul, the main resistance movement also began in the Panjshir Valley. The leader of this resistance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, famously stated: “I will resist even if the last region left is the size of my hat.”REF Massoud was assassinated in Takhar province by Al-Qaeda two days before 9/11.
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Today, Massoud’s 32-year-old son, Ahmad Massoud, is leading the new anti-Taliban resistance from Panjshir. The younger Massoud was only 12 when his father was assassinated. He holds degrees from prestigious schools in the United Kingdom and is also a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. While he did not enter Afghan politics in any meaningful way until 2019, he has put much effort over the years into building and expanding a bottom-up grassroots movement in Panjshir. This is paying off now, and he has a broad following due to his father’s legacy.
The exact number of former Afghan soldiers, commandos, and police that have made it to Panjshir to join the NRF is unknown, but estimates put the number at approximately 10,000 fighters.REF The status of their ammunition stockpiles is unknown. While Panjshir has plenty of water thanks to the many streams in the valley, food and other commodities may be in short supply. The Taliban has encircled the region and captured large sections of the main valley. It is estimated that the NRF controls all the side valleys, equal to about 60 percent of the province.REF The Taliban has blocked Internet connection and mobile phone service, meaning that any information that makes its way out of Panjshir is limited and often skewed in favor of the Taliban.
It is suspected that al-Qaeda has joined the Taliban in its attack on Panjshir.REF There have been allegations that Pakistani security forces have been involved in the Taliban’s offensive in Panjshir but these claims have not been verified.REF
While there has been no statement by the NRF outlining its short-term goals, analyzing the current situation alongside the historical parallels to the 1990s, one can draw some conclusions. In the short term, it is likely the NRF’s goals are:
The NRF faces a desperate situation against a determined and emboldened enemy. The NRF also feels abandoned by the international community, especially the U.S. The actions of the Biden Administration have not left many good policy options to pursue in Afghanistan. However, the Administration can start to put U.S. policy back on track. To do so, it should:
It should be obvious that it is against America’s security interests that the Taliban is now in power. With the emergence of a resistance movement in Panjshir, and the Taliban in control of Kabul, Afghans and the international community has returned to a similar situation as in the mid-1990s. It is almost inevitable that other resistance movements will spring up across parts of Afghanistan, which the Taliban will find difficult to control. The U.S. should start to engage with resistance movements in Afghanistan, and right now the only option is the NRF.
Luke Coffey is Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.
Director, Douglas & Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy
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