The Lion of Panjshir
Written by Nathan Gallahan   
Monday, 22 February 2010 20:53

Mazer-e Sharif | Day 15 – Today was our second travel day, which basically means Ken and I were stuck in air terminals all day. It did give us a chance to catch up on the Olympics though. Traveling Afghanistan is extremely difficult. I think the only thing more difficult is finding an internet connection.

One of the militaries sayings is hurry up and wait. This morning, Ken and I were in a mad dash to the terminal because we thought we were going to be late for the flight. We get to the terminal and sit for a few hours because the plane was late. Then they say “The plane is here! Everyone grab your kits!” So we again rush and throw our gear on and run to the bus, which speeds us to the other side of the airport. We discover a German cargo plane awaiting fuel and we sat on the flight line waiting for at least 90 minutes. The goal is to be ready for anything, not for anything to have to wait on you. It works, but

it can be aggravating.

Ken told me before our journey north ever began that he was so glad to finally be moving again. I told him you’re never out of anywhere until you land where your supposed to. I think I jinxed the flight, because it was supposed to drop off some passengers in Kabul, who now have a free vacation here because they couldn’t land due to weather.

We’re now sitting in northern Afghanistan. While we were south, I was dreaming of the cold weather. Unfortunately, it’s pretty warm here. The first thing I noticed was the mountains. In the south, they also had them, but they were more single massive eruptions of earth from the desert. Here in the north, it’s an actual range from horizon to horizon.

We had an opportunity to chat a little bit with the experts tonight about counter insurgency up here, and it’s a very different stage than it is down south. Security isn’t nearly as big of a deal. There are five provincial reconstruction teams up here. The Germans run two, and the Norwegians, Hungarians and a Finish/Swedish team all run one each.

The good news about northern Afghanistan is this area was never completely held by the Taliban and their infrastructure is a little better than the rest of the country because of their proximity to it’s northern neighbors. It’s also a melting pot of various ethnicities. Not all A fghans are the same, there are a lot of different ethnic groups, such as Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Turkmen. As much as I would like to sit and write about each of these ethnic groups, I simply don’t know about them yet. But now that I’m in an area that has a rich ethnic diversity, I plan to find out.

Before we begin our journey throughout Northern Afghanistan, I want to mention someone who had a lot of influence in this area. Ahmad Shah Massoud, or “The Lion of Panjshir”, is well known in these parts. He was an Afghan military leader who fought against the Soviets and is credited by many for helping to drive them out.

He was also the leader of the Northern Alliance, a group of Afghans who fought against the Taliban. For context, he has been named a national hero here and he was also murdered two days before Sept. 11, 2001. Al Queida and the Taliban hated him. Ken also had a chance to talk with a Canadian who was here in the very beginning, and he fought side-by-side with the Northern Alliance, before the Afghan National Army was created. Massoud and the Northern Alliance definitely warrant some internet searching tonight to really come to grips with their effects on Afghan history.

Needless to say, in the north, Massoud is loved, but I’ve heard a lot in the south hate him due to his brutality in the south during the civil war. I did ask three Afghans I met in the south about him, and they like him. But another Pashtun interpreter I met months ago didn’t.  He has mixed reviews, but definitely worthy of further reading. If anyone does do some research, it would be great to see some discussion on him and the Northern Alliance in the forums.

In a way, I feel as though the work the Northern Alliance did here to fight the Taliban and prevent the destruction of infrastructure has resulted in a relatively safe region today. I’ll be interested to see the progress being made here under these conditions.

While we’re out and about in the north, is there anything you want us to look into? Any questions you have? I’ll try my hand at more landscapes and maybe shoot a few panoramas for everyone because the country is absolutely gorgeous. Just let us know! I love working for all of you.

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Steve G said:

The Lion
If you go into most Afghan offices in the North, there will be the Lion's portait. Many times, hanging near President Karzai's. It is interesting to think what if Massoud's moxie stretched into the south enough? Would he be working with ISAF as president?
 
February 25, 2010
Votes: +0

CPWolfMan said:

Great Read
You are doing great work up there. Glad to see that you still have a place to wear your helmet. I come onto these blogs and I am always impressed with your writing. Keep up the good work.
 
February 25, 2010
Votes: +0

John Aldonas said:

U.S. Citizen
Just a big thank you to you both, half way through your thirty days. Having a son with the Marines in Helmand, it has given us a real picture of some of what he is experiencing.
 
February 24, 2010
Votes: +0

Memetalker said:

Afghan Media
What type of media is used where you go? Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, internet, etc? What is the usual "above the fold" content? - politics, health, local news, the war, Pakistan...? Is it free or gov't driven? Great idea you two have and are living it out. I look forward to "the rest of the story."!
 
February 24, 2010
Votes: +0

Kristin Swanton said:

Safety in the North and Ethnic DIversity
As I recall in the early years of the Afghan War, the northern area was extremely difficult to fight the Talban because the terrain is so challenging. I worked with the 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry, who are credited for helping to address this problem, but I still think of the North as a challenging area. I understand the South is more of a concern because of the ability to access save havens and resources from Pakistan, but has the situation in the North really improved that much? Your comments surpise me, but perhaps the North just seems calmer because you have been spending more time in the south.

You mention ethnic diversity, which is a really important aspect of Afghanistan to me. I would imagine that it is equally hard for the Taliban to gain support from various ethnic communities, but also hard for NATO and Iraqi forces to appease them. Have these communities come together as part of counter-insurgency efforts or nationalistic ideals, or have they remained more isolated? Thanks for letting me know!
 
February 23, 2010
Votes: +0

William said:

...
What's happening in Northern Afg guys? Is the insurgency there? Will any part of the surge be deployed up there?
 
February 23, 2010
Votes: +0

Jan Stephan said:

...
Hi Nathan,

I would love to know a few things about the German soldiers in Afghanistan as information about them is scarce here in Germany.
1) About half of the German people do not support the mission in Afghanistan. What are the soldiers thinking about their deployment?
2) Are the men motivated to do their job? Unfortunately, most Germans don't care about our troops and their experiences (some even hate them), how do our soldiers deal with this?
3) The German parliament is about to decide to send more troops (about 850). Do our soldiers support this decision or are we sending too little?
4) What are the Afghan people thinking about the Bundeswehr?

Please tell the Germans you talk to that at least some of us at home have not forgotten them and are thankful for their service.

Also, many thank to you and Ken for this blog! Afghanistan could be a beautiful country if the war stopped some day.
 
February 23, 2010
Votes: +3

Tommy Moore said:

...
National Geographic article here, and an excerpt: Thousands of people had died in the rubble of the World Trade Center, victims of the same extremist perversion of Islam that Massoud had been fighting.

Like all Americans, I was worried about further attacks. And I was saddened that the most powerful military in the world was contemplating a campaign against one of the poorest nations on Earth. The irony was that there appeared to be no Afghans among the 19 hijackers.




It seemed to me that Osama bin Laden had ordered the attempt on Massoud's life before going ahead with his attacks on New York and Washington. He would not have dared provoke the United States the way he had, I believed, were Massoud still alive to make use of the military aid that might have finally been offered to him.
 
February 23, 2010
Votes: -1

Tommy Moore said:

Its a bit on the propaganda side, but its a start, and an interesting read.
http://www.massoudhero.com/English/biography.html
 
February 23, 2010
Votes: +0

Basinah said:

...
Hurry up and wait. Right up there with Stand by to Stand By.

What do the Afghan people think "success" and "Winning this war" will look like, and mean to their daily lives? ( Just a simple little question!)

Much thanks to you and Ken for what you are doing. As a MilSpouse, these glimpses into the reality of "over there" mean a lot. Blessings on you both, and on your journey.
 
February 23, 2010
Votes: +0
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