At 22 years of age he was single and attending school in Kabul. The Soviets were already attempting to establish a Soviet-Marxist government in Afghanistan. Then in December 1979 after executing President Daoud and his family, the Soviet invasion began. The Soviets brutally attacked villages and provinces opposed to their presence. Because of these attacks, Major Shah opted to join the Mujahedeen and fight for his country’s freedom against the Soviet occupation.
With his family’s support, he left school and traveled to a Pakistan military training camp. After one year of intensive training, he returned to his home province of Panjshir as part of the Mujahedeen force. In one of his first engagements with the Soviet commandos, he claimed to have destroyed 5 helicopters with artillery using Soviet made mortars. Because of this action, he was promoted to the rank of commander by Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud commonly nicknamed the Lion of Panjshir and also known as the formidable leader of the Northern Alliance presented him a pistol and promoted him to commander status. As a commander, at any given time he had 300-1000 Mujahedeen fighters under his command.
The ANA Major and I discussed some tactics and military strategy used by the Mujahedeen against the Soviets. He confirmed when the Soviets would find an IED, at times they would gather around the explosive device for a group picture. Meanwhile one of his fighters would patiently wait for this opportunity and set off the explosive. The Major also explained how his Mujahedeen fighters would travel in small groups and ambush the Soviets, similar to the tactics used by the Taliban in attacking coalition forces today. The key to a successful attack was in planning. The Mujahedeen fighters would take advantage of the dense vegetation and hide among the trees so they could not be seen by the Soviet helicopters. They would also attack in early morning or evening when the helos were not present.
Major Shah and I also discussed the use of mines and IEDs as part of their arsenal. He explained how they would mask their mines or IEDs from the Soviet bomb sniffing dogs. His fighters would disguise the smell of the explosives by sprinkling spices and fish. The dogs disliked the smell and would avoid the mines. He said the Soviets never caught on to this tactic. Ironically it was a Soviet landmine that ended his Jihad with Massoud’s forces. He stepped on a landmine and the explosion tore through his feet, hands, and severely injured his left eye. According to him, American doctors in Panjshir treated his injuries. He still has visible scars on his hands and there is something noticeably wrong with his eye, but I didn’t want to pry any further.
The religious officer also made a point that their neighboring countries are interfering with the war. He specifically mentioned Pakistan and Iran. He alleged these countries are providing weapons and training to the Taliban. Judging by his demeanor, this obviously upset him to discuss this issue.
After our interview, he inquired if I would like to see the new ANA library. This was an opportunity I was waiting on. While walking, I was trying to think of some quote to say about the importance of a library. My initial thought was a Chinese proverb, “A book is like a garden in the pocket”, but after further thought, I figured this might be too hard for Omid to translate. Then I thought about the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A man is known by the books he reads”. This just didn’t seem fitting either, so I resorted to a quote from our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”.
The new library was shaping up. The walls were lined with book shelves made out of particle board and a reading station was positioned in the middle of the room. In one small corner of the room and on the shelves were all the English books I donated along with 99 books from the previous ANA library. The only problem they are facing now is security for the facility and having someone there to account for the books. Part of the remaining building is used for other functions and unless another wall is constructed, they cannot maintain security of the books. I was happy to see the library and the books, so the finer details of operation will have to be resolved among the ANA leadership. I get a sense this library will expand and won’t mysteriously disappear like the one at my former camp.
Tomorrow I am going to return to see the pistol gifted to him by Massoud and hope to explore in more detail about the Mujahedeen. My batteries died on the recorder, so I stopped the interview.