The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 18, 2001
A warrior for 20 of his 30
10, he fought the Soviets. Now, with a new generation, he fights the
War With Terror
Afghanistan - At midday yesterday, a war-weary soldier named Mirza Khan
and his Northern Alliance comrades saw their first daytime American air
strike, at a Taliban target just four miles away.
plane swooped in out of the west, its roar and the explosion from two huge
bomb blasts apparent before the streaking jet was seen banking up over a
mountain, returning to the west. The Northern Alliance soldiers here did
not know the target, but they hoped it was an enemy encampment.
weeks, the alliance has been urging U.S. strikes on the Taliban forces to
allow alliance soldiers to attack the capital, 25 miles away.
of those infantrymen poised to attack is Khan. He joined the jihad against
the Soviets at age 10. He lost his right foot to a Russian land mine when
he was 17. Now, looking much more weathered than his 30 years, he is still
posted at the front line of Afghanistan's endless civil war.
have known war all my life," said Khan, one of the many older Afghan
soldiers who serve beside a new generation of mujaheddin, or holy
yesterday passed the time in a farmhouse a few hundred yards behind the
front line at Rabat, a village about 25 miles north of Kabul, the capital.
Khan, the Taliban is just another foreign invader, as the Soviet Union was
in the 1980s. The rebels regard the Taliban forces as the puppets of
Pakistan and Arab extremists such as Osama bin Laden. "I will fight
the Taliban until I die," Khan said. "They don't recognize God.
They don't believe in the Koran. They put innocent people in jail."
front line here on the Shamali Plain has been stable for more than two
years, but that does not mean it is quiet. As Khan spoke, rebel soldiers
and Taliban troops traded rocket-propelled grenades and artillery rounds.
The night before, American jets struck a Taliban antiaircraft position a
few miles away near Bagram, an indication that U.S. air strikes are
getting closer to frontline positions.
most Afghans, the rapid series of events in the last two weeks contrasts
with the long-term view of war commonly held here.
young men you see are the sons of experienced soldiers," said Abdul
Zahir, 55, who has four sons on the front line in Rabat. He sat in the
local commander's office, sharing tea with a few officers.
has been 23 years since the war began," he said. "Everybody in
the country is armed. Even my grandchildren will take up arms and fight if
the war comes to that. Give us freedom or give us death."
his farmhouse post, where Khan shares a plain room of bare mud-and-straw
walls and a few wool blankets, Khan also views the conflict as a life-work
rather than an interruption.
he was 10, Soviet forces moved into his village, Lachmani. As the oldest
child in a fatherless family, he felt obliged to join the resistance
was a single man," he said. "We wanted to struggle against the
communist government and the occupation forces." He never attended
school, he can't read or write, and he has only vague recollections of
underwent training at a camp in Pakistan - the CIA was sponsoring the
mujaheddin through Pakistan at the time - and then spent years living in
the mountains with the mujaheddin. It was a hard, spare life, evading
Soviet air strikes and setting up ambushes.
was easy to find inspiration to fight the Soviets. They were non-Muslims
occupying an Islamic country. The air war by the Americans presents Khan
with no such sentiment. "Of course I know the Americans are not
Muslims," he said. "They don't want to occupy our country. The
Russians wanted to stay here. There's a big difference."
1988, when Khan was approaching a Soviet encampment, one of his platoon
stepped on a land mine. Three mujaheddin died. Khan's right foot was blown
thought I couldn't fight anymore," he said. "But then they gave
me the new foot, and I knew I could fight again. If I am alive, I will
with a prosthesis, he returned to the war in six months, just as the
Soviet troops were pulling out of Afghanistan. The mujaheddin then set
their sights on the communist government in Kabul, which resisted for
nearly three years before surrendering the capital in 1992.
the mujaheddin proved themselves better at fighting than governing.
Various factions turned their guns on one another and the citizens of
Kabul, leading to such great discontent that the Taliban, when it ousted
the mujaheddin government from Kabul in 1996, was widely welcomed as a
the Russians left, we expected peace and calm," said Khan, dressed in
a frayed olive coat over an argyle sweater and the standard Afghan
chemise, the long-tailed shirt and billowy pants. "We were
disappointed because more than two million people died here. So many
people emigrated. Every time I see an orphan, I become upset."
the Taliban in power, Khan returned to war once more.
shouldn't be fighting each other," he said of the Taliban. He
believes the Taliban forces cannot become holy martyrs - shahid - if they
die in the course of killing other Muslims. "They are foreigners,
most of them."
most Northern Alliance soldiers, Khan is a volunteer and is on duty in
shifts: ten days in a reserve position, a few hundred yards behind the
front. Ten days on the front line itself. Most of the duty is boring.
20 days, the soldiers are allowed to spend 10 days at home with their
families. Khan spends his with his wife and five children, tending to two
small farm plots near Charikar, about seven miles from the front. If a big
battle begins, soldiers who are on leave are under orders to pick up their
weapons and rush to the front.
him, his four sons and daughter are not attending school because there are
no schools other than religious madrassas. The oldest child is 7, three
years younger than Khan was when he first picked up arms.
"God is merciful," he said. "We hope there will be peace.
If there is peace, my children will choose another occupation. If not,
they'll be soldiers, too."