Abdul Salam Zaeef is a man of his time. Born in southern Afghanistan in the late 1960s, he 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
The Taliban arose to resist Afghanistan’s post-Soviet government. Zaeef was an early member. He recalls that ramshackle beginning:
The first few days of the movement were times of great need. We had a few weapons, but no cars and no money. Mullah Abdul Sattar and I each had a motorbike, and I had about ten thousand Afghanis at home that I donated to the group’s funds. We pledged our motorcycles to the movement. My bike broke down with an engine problem on the first day, though, which left Mullah Sattar’s Russian motorbike as the Taliban’s only means of transportation. It had no exhaust pipe and could be heard coming from miles away, roaring down the the dirt tracks and back roads. We called it, “the Tank of Islam.”
After Mullah Masoom visited the villages, scores of people came to our checkpoint to see the Taliban for themselves. There was hope in their hearts for the first time in years …