Abdul Salam Zaeef is a man of his time. Born in southern Afghanistan in the late 1960s, we was of fighting age when the Soviets invaded his country in the 1980s. At times a resistance fighter, always a religious student, Zaeef eventually rose to the senior ranks of the mujahedeen and, later, the Taliban. For that, he spent three years in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Released in 2005 without ever being charged, today Zaeef lives in Kabul. His new memoir My Life with the Taliban, translated by Alex Strick and Felix Kuehn and excerpted below, is a rare glimpse inside a group that everyone worries about, but few seem to understand.
by DAVID AXE
When the Soviets invaded, Zaeef fled with his family to Pakistan. It was here that the young man’s religious studies took root and he decided to return to Afghanistan to fight with the mujahedeen.
I left for Chaman in a bus with nothing but the clothes on my back and one hundred rupees in my pocket. It was the summer of 1983, and the passes were clear so many mujahedeen moved from the camps to Afghanistan and back. I joined a small group that was heading for Kandahar. One of my religious teachers, Salam Agha, was there so he took me with him across the border. We walked all the way, taking the smuggling routes in the middle of the night.
… By this time the jihad was at least three years old, and the mujahedeen had found their battlegrounds in the districts of Kandahar. Soviet troops and mujahedeen fighters were fighting on a regular basis, moving from one district to the next. While we used the advantages of our mobility and knowledge of the local terrain, the Russian relied heavily on their superior firepower and air support. I later learned that it was around this time that the Russian brought in extra troops specifically trained to fight our style of war, but I’m not sure how much this made a difference.