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Afghanistan Remembers The Lion Of Panjshir

President Karzai (center) at the memorial service in Kabul today (AFP) September 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Today is the fifth anniversary of the assassination of legendary Afghan field commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud.

Dubbed the "Lion of Panjshir," Mas'ud was one of the most effective military commanders in Afghanistan during more than 20 years of war there. But on September 9, 2001, he was killed, seemingly ending any hopes the Northern Alliance had against the Taliban.

September 9, 2001

Afghan Ahmad Shah Mas'ud fought against Soviet troops, Afghan government troops, and forces of the Taliban movement. He was briefly defense minister in the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani before the Taliban took control of Kabul and Mas'ud retreated to his familiar base of operations in the Panjshir Valley, north of the Afghan capital.

On September 9, 2001, men posing as journalists gained access to Mas'ud. When these men got close enough to Mas'ud, they detonated an explosive hidden inside a camera, killing him.

"Today is the ceremony of Afghanistan's martyrs, and especially it's the day of appreciation of an Afghan martyr who sacrificed himself for every inch of this country," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at a memorial service in Kabul today. "This martyr is Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, whom I knew very closely."

Mas'ud's brother, Ahmad, also spoke about the man who in life and death was the image of bravery to many in Afghanistan.

"Mas'ud was a phenomenon who struggled for right in a land of death," he said. "Mas'ud was resistance against terror, injustice, and cruelty. The memory of Mas'ud's strong steps will live in [our] memories. It is the memory of his loneliness and bravery, and in the end, a memory which no other power can claim in his absence, from our past, our present, or our future."

Rabbani, who was the leader of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and who appointed Ahmad Shah Mas'ud defense minister, also remembered his close friend.

"The resistance era was not an era of civil war. Some people unjustly spread incorrect propaganda that apparently the mujahedin, the Afghan people, the Jahadi parties differentiated between each other and opposed each other," Rabbani said. "While [in truth], that period was another phase of defending respect, independence, and defending [ourselves]."

Defeat Of The Taliban

Mas'ud's death seemed a crushing blow to the Northern Alliance, which at the time could only claim to be in control of five to 10 percent of Afghanistan. With the loss of the alliance's charismatic leader, it seemed only a matter of time, perhaps mere weeks, before the Taliban would finally overrun the forces opposed to the purist Islamic militia.

Northern Alliance soldiers pictured in November 2001, shortly before the expulsion of the Taliban (

Two days after Mas'ud's death, however, the terrorist attacks in the United States occurred. Taliban guest Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organization were quickly identified as the perpetrators of the attack, and the tide turned in Afghanistan. Barely two months after Mas'ud's death the Taliban fled Kabul and most of the rest of Afghanistan, and Mas'ud's forces entered the Afghan capital.

Today in the Panjshir Valley -- the "Valley of the Five Lions" -- people regularly visit the grave of the Lion of the Panjshir.

(Qadir Habib of the Afghan Service contributed to this report)

The 'Lion Of Panjshir'

The 'Lion Of Panjshir'
A portrait of Ahmad Shah Mas'ud adorning Kabul's international airport long after his 2001 assassination (AFP)

LARGER THAN LIFE Ahmad Shah Mas'ud gained international notoriety during the Taliban rule (1994-2001) as the leader of the only military group that the hard-line regime failed to crush. The public stature of the United Front (aka Northern Alliance) commander arguably reached its zenith after he was assassinated by Al-Qaeda killers posing as journalists on September 9, 2001. (more)


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