by Beth Bailey and Mikael Cook
When Mikael Cook and I were invited to a conference in Vienna hosted by National Resistance Front commander Ahmad Massoud, we were excited to hear more about the largest active resistance group currently engaging the Taliban on the battlefield. For the last five months, Mikael and I have highlighted the issues facing Afghans, veterans, and volunteers in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal through our new venture, The Afghanistan Project Podcast. We hoped the conference would give us insight into whether the Afghan resistance movement could somehow help resolve some of the moral injuries our guests often tell us they face as a result of the disastrous U.S. withdrawal. We wanted to see firsthand whether the NRF might be a beacon of hope for Afghans who long to be free of Taliban rule.
Mikael headed to Austria, our questions in tow. He was energized by the atmosphere as Afghan men and women, former members of the Afghan government, and NRF fighters fresh from the battlefield mingled with one common goal: discussing the path to a democratic future for Afghanistan.
On April 27, Massoud gave his keynote address about the intolerable changes that had taken place in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ascent to power. The NRF commander focused on three of the myriad changes the Taliban have made to turn Afghanistan into what he called “a wretched place for its inhabitants.” Massoud said the group’s restrictions on women’s and girls’ participation in Afghan society amount to “gender apartheid,” and although Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls cannot attend school after the sixth grade, he lamented that the international community is indifferent to their suffering. Despite the Taliban’s assurances that terrorism would not take root in Afghanistan under their regime, Massoud said that “many regional and international terror groups” have safe haven in the country and “have considerably enhanced their operational capabilities.” Finally, he explained that the Taliban are redesigning the educational system to teach young boys their deeply misogynistic and narrow-minded version of Islam, and “achiev[e] the Taliban’s extremist and terrorist goals.”
National Resistance Front of Afghanistan. Source.
Though Massoud called on the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to actively speak out against the Taliban and requested that the International Criminal Court try members of the Taliban accused of war crimes, he spoke as though he presumed that no aid would come to Afghans from the international community. Afghans are “alone and abandoned in the world,” Massoud said. “Our people decided to live, even if that life is short.” He urged Afghans from every ethnic background and belief to come together with the NRF to present a united front against the Taliban.
Massoud also reminded the audience that the NRF has only resorted to military resistance because the Taliban rejected their requests to engage in a discussion about creating a representative government that reflects the desires of the Afghan people. If the Taliban were to reconsider its stance, Massoud said that the NRF is “always ready for dialogue.”
When the press conference ended, Mikael met with Massoud one-on-one to ask the commander about America’s role in assisting the NRF, especially through the U.S. president. Lamenting that President Joe Biden’s withdrawal “led to the disaster that occurred,” Massoud told Mikael that the next U.S. president should “bring the NRF to the table for discussions on Afghanistan’s future.”
Mikael also asked Massoud how American veterans can support the NRF’s continued fight in Afghanistan. Massoud responded with an anecdote about a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who told him tearfully that the devastation in Afghanistan “is not what he fought for.” Acknowledging the depth of veterans’ feelings about the state of affairs in Afghanistan, Massoud said veterans can fight the unacceptable status quo there by advocating for the NRF and raising their cause with their local representatives.
Taliban fighters in a captured Humvee after the Fall of Kabul, August 2021. Source.
‘Legend,’ the Afghan-American U.S. Army veteran founder of nonprofit group Vets4NRF, later sat with Mikael to provide more specific details about the NRF’s resourcing and needs. Legend said that the NRF has plenty of willing fighters on the ground. He claimed that the group “has the ability to stage a coup from inside the Taliban [and] take over Bagram Air Field. However, we don’t have the resources to hang onto it for more than a few days.” Legend said the NRF needs drones, sniper rifles, and ammunition to enable their fight against the Taliban.
Legend also explained that he believes that the withdrawal left many U.S. veterans “wondering if their service or sacrifice mattered.” Legend believes that their service mattered and that NRF’s fight is an extension of the battles our veterans participated in. While the NRF is “continu[ing] your fight today against our common enemy,” Legend said the NRF hopes that American veterans will “be our voice.”
Mikael returned from Vienna passionate about supporting the NRF’s cause. In a recent episode of The Afghanistan Project Podcast, he explained that he “just [doesn’t] see another path forward right now besides the NRF.”
Beth Bailey and Mikael Cook co-host The Afghanistan Project Podcast, which takes a deep dive into post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Mikael is a veteran of the U.S. Army who deployed to Afghanistan from 2019 to 2020. Beth is a former civilian intelligence analyst for the Department of the Army and is a freelance contributor to Fox News Digital and The Washington Examiner.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.