Ahmad Massoud: ‘I’m 100% sure I can topple the Taliban’

It’s fighting season in Afghanistan again. When the Americans were in charge, after the poppy fields had been harvested in late spring, and the madrassas in Pakistan that supplied the Taliban with fanatical soldiers had finished for the term, the Islamists kicked off the fighting. Between 2001 and 2021, around 200,000 people died, including 453 Britons. Now an insurgent group called the National Resistance Front (NRF) are starting the annual springtime assaults, this time against the Taliban government. ‘The Taliban do not possess the support of the mass of the people. We do’ ‘In the past 31 days, we have staged 31 attacks on Taliban, only in Kabul,’ Ahmad Massoud,

A war reporter bravely faces death – but not from sniper fire

When you are a foreign correspondent and have covered wars in dozens of countries, the last place you’d expect a threat to your life to come from is your own cells. Yet this was the predicament in which the New York Times reporter Rod Nordland found himself in July 2019. Despite close shaves in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central America and Darfur, he only really became aware of his mortality after collapsing with a seizure in India and discovering the existence of a ‘space occupying lesion’ (SOL) in his brain – a euphemism for a growth, benign or malignant. On transfer to a hospital in Manhattan, Nordland learned that his was

A Guardsman’s life as not as glamorous as it might seem

This book is the perfect present for the Guardsman in your life. It offers an authorised biography of the five regiments of Foot Guards and two of Household Cavalry from 1969 to the present day. In that half century the Guards have been under fire in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan, with much of the time also spent maintaining a presence in West Germany. These were busy years. Units of the Household Division took part in no fewer than 24 operational tours in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2013, many of them involving intense combat. At the same time, the Guards have also had to keep up

How dangerous is the Sunni-Shia schism?

In 2014, with the Middle East convulsed by the murderous, self-styled Islamic State, a Daily Mail reader wrote a letter to the editor which began: ‘Are you confused by what is going on in the Middle East? Let me explain…’ Aubrey Bailey went on to describe the dizzying complexity of diplomatic relationships thrown into turmoil: So, some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting our other enemies, whom we don’t want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win… And all this was started by us invading a country

The immigrant’s experience of Europe

Meet Ibrahim, from Syria. He fled Aleppo just before the bombs began to fall. A clean $4,000 in cash to a smuggler got him a fake passport and, voilà, a ticket to Europe – briefly in Greece, then in Germany (‘the people, they looked different’), now in Spain. Immigrant life was tough at first: the strange language, the alien norms, the overt racism. ‘He was not on their level. Just a refugee.’ Then a lucky break. He starred in a homemade porn video that went viral: ‘100 per cent real Arab bull.’ Next, he’s earning close to a seven-figure salary, owns a flash car and has women dripping off his

Isis is wreaking havoc in Afghanistan

The bomb tore through an examination hall in Kabul on Friday, where students – mostly minority Hazara, mostly young women – were sitting a practice test in preparation for university. Thirty-five were killed, dozens more injured. An unspeakable human tragedy. We don’t formally know who did it, but we can guess. Under the Taliban’s leadership, Afghanistan is a haven for terrorists. And the terrorists compete. The Taliban is, in my judgement, indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. Its eyes are still firmly placed on international terrorism: a campaign of domestic terror within Afghanistan against ‘enemies within’ – be they former members of the internationally-recognised Afghan government, or religious minorities, or campaigners for liberty

The agony and frustration of reporting from the Middle East

For 25 years, Abed Takkoush assisted foreign reporters like Jeremy Bowen when they arrived to cover the chaos and conflicts in Lebanon. He drove them around in his battered Mercedes, pointing out with grim relish the places where dark deeds had taken place: the assassinations, atrocities, kidnappings and slaughter of civilians that scar this mesmerising nation. During one Israeli onslaught in 1996, Abed sped past a gunship firing at cars on the highway between Sidon and Tyre, laughing with relief when shells exploded on the road rather than the car. ‘We laughed with him,’ writes the veteran BBC reporter. ‘It was a calculated risk. The alternative was turning back to

A shaggy drug story: Industry of Magic & Light, by David Keenan, reviewed

The Scottish writer David Keenan has published five novels in five years: This is Memorial Device (2017), For the Good Times (2019), Xstabeth (2020), last year’s magnum opus Monument Maker and now Industry of Magic & Light. At a comparatively modest 250 pages (Monument Maker weighed in at more than 800), it is practically a novella, or perhaps the sort of pamphlet one might once have picked up in a ‘head shop’ such as Compendium Books in Camden. The last book of Keenan’s I reviewed here I described as ‘either a cycle of novels or one vast fictional gallimaufry’ – to which I now approvingly add a third category. Industry

Afghanistan, one year on

Afghan women’s meetings on Zoom with their supporters outside the country often now end in tears as the stories of Taliban rule are too hard to bear. One prominent regional woman’s leader was beaten by her own younger brother. He said she could not go out on her own without a male relative and needed to cover more of her face and head. ‘I brought him up as if I was his mother,’ she said in shock and humiliation. This is self-policing of a society in fear. It is a year since President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, telling no one and precipitating the swift collapse of his government. Speaking

A letter won’t educate Afghan girls

Well, that’ll show ‘em. Liz Truss has released a joint statement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declaring themselves ‘united in our condemnation of the Taliban’s decision not to reopen secondary schools to Afghan girls’. Also united are the EU high representative and the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Italy, Japan and Norway. The authorities in Afghanistan issued an order earlier this week suspending the planned return to school of female pupils, citing the need for a decision on uniforms for girls that are compliant with ‘Sharia law and Afghan tradition’. Team Euro-America: World Police say the Taliban’s U-turn ‘contradicted its public assurances to the Afghan people and to

A Canadian’s experience of the migrant’s ordeal

No one boards an overladen dinghy and sets out across a choppy sea without very good reason. Laden into migrant boats go backstories as well as bodies: tales of war-hit homes and bloodied police cells, of empty larders and decrepit schools. But illegal migration is as much about what lies ahead as what’s left behind: the hope of a better life, the chance to start anew. That was certainly the case with Omar, a young Afghan taxi driver and former interpreter. Back when the Canadian-born freelance correspondent Matthieu Aikins first arrived in Kabul, the Corolla-owning Omar had been a single gung-ho guy about town. Seven years later, with foreign troops

Could an uprising succeed against the Taliban?

The social media accounts of the new so-called ‘National Resistance Front’ (NRF) in Afghanistan give the impression of a raging insurgency already taking place against the Taliban. The talk is of ‘intense clashes’, with the Taliban suffering ‘heavy casualties.’ There are exaggerated accounts of running battles and successful ambushes against the Taliban across the north and east of the country, in particular in the Panjshir Valley, a long narrow region surrounded by mountains on all sides, not far north of Kabul. It was here that the NRF first raised its flag last summer as the country collapsed in the face of a Taliban assault. That flag is one of the

Operation Save Big Dog and the real scandal of Boris’s leadership

There is a theory which states the primary reason for Boris Johnson’s political longevity is that there are simply so many scandals that the latest infidelity drives the last one from public consciousness before it really has time to sink in. ‘Who paid for his wallpaper? Meal delivery? He had a party while forcing the country into social isolation and atomisation? How many parties— what do you mean the police are investigating him?’ At this point, it seems like the revelation most likely to do him in will be the discovery that, at some point in the last two years, Boris Johnson sat quietly in a room and diligently worked

Most-read 2021: The shameful evacuation of Pen Farthing’s pets from Afghanistan

We’re closing the year by republishing our ten most popular articles in 2021. Here’s number five, James Kirkup on the Afghan doglift: Two stories on the Afghan evacuation today combine to leave me full of bewildered rage. The first, from the Times: Britain may have to leave 1,000 Afghan support staff behindUp to 1,100 Afghan citizens entitled to come to the UK are likely to be left behind as British forces withdraw from Afghanistan in the next 48 hours.The RAF was expected last night to complete the evacuation of 15,000 Afghan and British citizens from Kabul airport despite the terrorist attacks. The military will have pulled out by the end

What happens to Afghan migrants when they reach the UK?

Migrants continue to cross the Channel and to reach Britain by other means. But what happens once they arrive? The answer for many is a new life of boredom and endless waiting. Dotted around the south coast are hotels where these people are housed, hidden out of sight. I went to meet some of them. A dozen Afghan families have ended up at a hotel three miles from Canterbury. The new arrivals numbered about 35 in all, including children, and the hotel seemed delighted to welcome them. ‘We are proud,’ said a poster in the lobby, ‘to be part of the programme to resettle the Afghan community in the UK.’

Afghanistan: five shocking claims made by the Foreign Office whistleblower

Dominic Raab faced the media round from hell this morning. The former Foreign Secretary faced a series of questions about evidence published by a former Foreign Office official over the government’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis. Raphael Marshall – an Oxford graduate with three years in the diplomatic service – worked in the department’s special cases team during the evacuation efforts. In testimony given to the foreign affairs select committee published on Tuesday, Marshall has given an account of the dysfunction and chaos he says dominated the government response. Among the most eye-catching claims: 1. Animals were prioritised over humans During the evacuation, there was a very public row over

Afghanistan is starving to death and there is nothing the West can do

The scale of the human tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan is hard to comprehend. The economy has collapsed, some 20 million people face death by starvation and international agencies like the World Food Programme have already doubled their estimate of what they will need just to keep people alive. They are appealing now for a staggering $2.4 billion (£1.8 billion) to get food stocks into position and keep a pipeline of supplies into the country through the winter. There have been reports of parents selling their babies and there are scenes of daily humiliation as people pile up household goods in the street to try to sell for scraps of food.

Can Beijing buy the Taliban?

China is seeking a grand bargain from the Taliban: eliminate the groups Beijing says are stirring up trouble among its Muslim Uighurs in exchange for massive aid to rebuild Afghanistan. It sounds enticing for both sides as they sit down in Doha this week, but there are numerous questions about whether either can deliver, and a good chance that China will become the next imperial power sucked into the ‘graveyard of empires’. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy prime minister, and Wang Li, China’s foreign minister, are reportedly meeting in the capital of Qatar just as the Taliban faces a growing number of attacks from Isis-K, a provincial affiliate of

We should never have been in Afghanistan

Two important studies have been published this autumn on the apparent failure of our almost 20-year war in Afghanistan. In the Times Literary Supplement my friend Rory Stewart has been reviewing The Afghanistan Papers by Craig Whitlock; and last week I went along to the launch at the Frontline Club in Paddington of the BBC correspondent David Loyn’s The Long War, my copy of which has just arrived. Both look like brilliant accounts of what went wrong, both will surely prove useful guides to a lamentable episode in modern statecraft, but both — and Rory too in his own TLS assessment and recommendations — appear to me to be missing

How Muslim are the Taliban?

I first met Haji Mir, a tribal elder from Helmand, in Herat in western Afghanistan in 2002, not long after the fall of the Taliban. He had come to Herat to ensure the safety of Helmand under the new American-backed administration. At the end of the trip he protected us when we were stoned by a mob after filming a large outdoor event marking Eid. Mir was a decent local leader in a system that valued his skills. But when I tried to track him down ten years later, at the height of British military involvement in Helmand, I was told he had been targeted and killed by the Taliban.