The Taliban Won but These Afghans Fought On

One man spent his childhood within the foothills of northeastern Afghanistan dreaming of being a soldier for the U.S.-backed authorities. The different secretly utilized to a army academy — in opposition to his mother and father’ needs — decided to show himself on the battlefield.

Both went on to have storied careers throughout the battle and fled their nation alongside different commandos when the Taliban seized energy in August 2021. But final spring they returned, making their option to a protected home within the mountains of northern Afghanistan.

“We must stand up and defend our freedom, even in front of anything,” one of many males, Akmal Amir, stated in a video he recorded this spring from their hide-out.

The two males — Mr. Amir, 33, and Basir Andarabi, 35 — had bonded in exile over a shared resolve to retake their homeland. They knew it was in all probability not possible. But the Taliban takeover was so sudden, so surprising, they may not settle for defeat; it felt extra like a chapter within the battle than its epilogue.

So, clinging to the final glimmers of hope for a dream they shared, they launched into a mission that was virtually suicide: to overthrow the Taliban.

Mr. Amir and Mr. Andarabi have been each raised within the high peaks and river valleys of neighboring provinces of northeastern Afghanistan, and got here of age across the time the U.S. invaded the nation in 2001.

Mr. Andarabi’s household was among the many poorest of their district, mates and family stated, and he was identified for stealing apples and cherries from his major faculty’s backyard at lunchtime. Even as a younger boy, he dreamed of turning into a soldier, his mates recalled. To him, the army was an ideal equalizer in a extremely unequal society, a occupation the place, if he labored laborious and mustered his braveness, he might make one thing of himself.

He went on to guide a platoon of elite commandos, shortly incomes a repute for his unwavering dedication to his males. Even when he was meant to be on go away, he typically volunteered as a substitute to take part in army operations and frequently advised his males that if they may not convey peace to their homeland, nobody might, former colleagues stated.

In 2020, a video of him reprimanding an official who delivered much less food than promised to his males went viral on social media. Food “is the right of the soldier who fights in the dust in the far-flung districts, but here you are stealing” it, he said within the video. That second made him a face for talking out in opposition to the corruption that riddled the Western-backed authorities and hobbled its army’s efforts.

Like Mr. Andarabi, Mr. Amir was decided to hitch the army. After he graduated from high faculty and was accepted right into a college engineering program, the strong-headed teenager saved it a secret from his mother and father and utilized to a army academy in Kabul as a substitute. When he was supplied a spot there, there was no speaking him out of it, his family stated.

He graduated as a sergeant and have become identified for uplifting his males along with his humility and eloquence, and for making the locals the place his troopers served really feel relaxed, former troopers stated.

“He gave a sense of morale to his men and never considered himself above his soldiers,” stated a former colleague who most popular to go by his first identify, Nabard, as a result of his household nonetheless lives in Afghanistan.

When the Taliban made a lightning advance throughout the nation in the summertime of 2021, each males strengthened their resolve, even because the army they fought for crumbled and the Afghan officers they served underneath fled.

A selfie taken by Mr. Amir in Salang in 2023.Credit…Akmal Amir

When Mr. Andarabi heard that Taliban forces have been inching nearer to his hometown in Baghlan Province, he rushed there to guide its protection. He rallied a whole lot of individuals to take up arms in one other speech that made the rounds on social media. In the course of the combating, he was severely injured within the eye and despatched to India for medical remedy.

While he lay partially blinded in a hospital mattress, he obtained messages from individuals in his hometown begging him to avoid wasting them from the Taliban.

“Andarabi was asking: What should I tell them? Day and night, he was thinking about returning to Afghanistan,” his former colleague, Shamal, stated, additionally preferring to go by solely his final identify, as a result of his household stays in Afghanistan.

Around that point, Mr. Amir volunteered to depart his station in Kabul to battle in Helmand Province, the place there have been fierce clashes between Taliban forces and authorities troopers. After every week in Helmand, he headed to his hometown in Kapisa Province to guide the protection there after which to Panjshir Province — the ultimate holdout in opposition to the Taliban.

When Panjshir fell, he sneaked right into a mountainside hide-out, decided to maintain the battle alive. But with provides dwindling, he fled to neighboring Iran 4 months later, the place Mr. Andarabi had additionally sought refuge after being discharged from the hospital in India.

The two males linked in Iran as a part of a neighborhood of former Afghan commandos. By then, Mr. Andarabi’s once-warm demeanor was gone — a casualty of the Taliban takeover, his mates in Iran stated. All he talked about was retaking the nation. When different former commandos floated the opportunity of beginning a brand new life within the United States, he chastised them.

“When you go to those countries, who will protect your sister, your mother?” a buddy of Mr. Andarabi, Bashir Akbari, 32, recalled him saying. “What will happen to your honor?”

Mr. Amir and Mr. Andarabi bonded over their shared dedication to liberate their homeland and agreed to link up with one in every of a smattering of armed resistance teams pledging to overthrow the Taliban.

The most outstanding was the National Resistance Front, led by Ahmad Massoud — the son of a famend mujahedeen fighter — and several other former authorities officers. But the group was struggling to make floor.

Its few hundred rebels had bother getting weapons and different provides to their hide-outs in northern Afghanistan, resistance fighters stated. Many complained that they have been not often paid or not paid sufficient to maintain their households. Soon, accusations swirled that the leaders round Mr. Massoud have been siphoning funds for themselves.

But maybe the largest blow to morale was that Mr. Massoud had fled Afghanistan quickly after the Taliban seized energy.

“When someone raises the voice of resistance, he must sacrifice his life and property and be willing to sacrifice his life,” stated Major Sediqullah Shuja, who fought with the group for one 12 months.

Hearing such tales, Mr. Andarabi and Mr. Amir opted to hitch the one different well-established resistance group, the Afghan Freedom Front. While the group’s management was additionally exterior of Afghanistan, the rebels within the nation have been properly geared up and earned round $100 a month. It appeared, the lads advised their mates, that they’d a combating likelihood.

When the lads returned to Afghanistan this spring, they disguised themselves, rising out their beards and hair so it fell close to their shoulders. Mr. Amir advised family he was going to Turkey, confiding his true plans solely to his brother.

“Before going, he told me there was a 20 percent chance of survival,” stated Mr. Amir’s brother, Mohammad Hares Ajmal. “But he said, ‘There is no other way, and I have to go and free the people from the oppression of the Taliban.’”

The two made their option to a snowy hide-out close to the Salang Pass, a important mountain street that connects Kabul to northern Afghanistan. There, they linked up with round 9 different rebels with orders to construct an operations heart and coordinate a spring offensive between small groups of different rebels.

But weeks later, the Taliban’s expansive intelligence unit arrested two males from an area village who had been supporting the group with food and ammunition, in accordance with resistance fighters. The males later revealed that they’d confessed the placement of the hide-out, the fighters stated.

When the provision of food stopped, Mr. Amir and Mr. Andarabi realized one thing was amiss. They moved to a different hide-out close by, but as soon as the Taliban army had been tipped off to their preliminary whereabouts, it appeared the group’s destiny was sealed.

Around 11 p.m. one night time quickly after, round 35 Taliban automobiles and a whole lot of troopers opened fireplace on their second hide-out — overwhelming the group. The firefight lasted till daybreak and killed each Mr. Andarabi and Mr. Amir.

Their deaths marked the tip of a spring offensive that by no means actually started in any respect. The battle was over. After 20 years, and a failed battle, the lads had misplaced once more.

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