I've often wondered what role Ahmad Shah Massoud might have played in post-9/11 Afghanistan had he not been assassinated a few days before the 2001 attack on America. I wondered again on viewing the picture of these soldiers today, particularly given Massoud's legendary military prowess and the importance of efforts to train Afghan troops, at a cost of some $6 billion per year.
The New Yorker's Steve Coll has a good description of the guerrilla fighter and his relationship to the United States in his excellent book Ghost Wars:
Ahmed Shah Massoud remained Afghanistan's most formidable military leader. A sinewy man with a wispy beard and penetrating dark eyes, he had be come a charismatic popular leader, especially in northeastern Afghanistan. There he had fought and negotiated with equal imagination during the 1980s, punishing and frustrating Soviet generals. Massoud saw politics and war as intertwined. He was an attentive student of Mao and other successful guerrilla leaders. Some wondered as time passed if he could imagine a life without guerrilla conflict. Yet through various councils and coalitions, he had also proven able to acquire power by sharing it. During the long horror of the Soviet occupation, Massoud had symbolized for many Afghans — especially his own Tajik people — the spirit and potential of their brave resistance. He was above all an independent man. He surrounded himself with books. He prayed piously, read Persian poetry, studied Islamic theology, and immersed himself in the history of guerrilla warfare. He was drawn to the doctrines of revolutionary and political Islam, but he had also established himself as a broad-minded, tolerant Afghan nationalist. (via NPR book excerpt.)
Meanwhile, back in the present: The AP reports on today's ceremony in Kabul:
The presence of coalition forces and allegations of Pakistani support for the Taliban featured prominently in speeches at a Kabul rally to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the death of legendary anti-Soviet guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. The ethnic Tajik commander was murdered by two al-Qaida members posing as journalists two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
"We thank the international community, but only Afghans, acting together here on the ground, can solve their own problems," said Massoud's brother, former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud.
For a view of modern Afghan history through NBC News television coverage, see this World Blog post.