On September 11, 2001, the tragic news of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was transmitted through a radio that hung from a tree branch. This tree branch was in our backyard. We lived in the Keshm district of Badakhshan province in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. You didn’t know it yet, but we were lost. Between a fear that was consummate, and a fundamental human hope for survival. 2001 restored our hope for democracy, resistance, and freedom.
In the 1990s the Taliban provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network. Afghanistan turned into a safe haven for terrorist groups who planned and executed deadly attacks in Kenya, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Manhattan. Osama bin Laden used Afghanistan as a tool for his political and religious objectives. Had the United States and the international community had the relationship, cooperation, and communication lines it now has with the Afghan government, 9/11 could have been foreseen more clearly, and maybe, prevented.
[pullquote]The Taliban governed Afghanistan for almost five years and acted as the entry to heaven for jihadis, and other extremist fighters.[/pullquote]
The Taliban governed Afghanistan for almost five years and acted as the entry to heaven for jihadis, and other extremist fighters. That typo is a little too perfect to delete. I mean, under the Taliban, Afghanistan acted as a safe-haven for jihadists, and other extremist militants. This included bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the latter being the founder of what would become ISIS. Interestingly, most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These are two of the only states to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s.
By 2001, the Taliban occupied 90% of Afghanistan, with the exception of Panjshir, Sheberghan, and our enclave in Badakhshan. In these three provinces the Afghan mujahedin, also known as the Northern Alliance, successfully resisted the Taliban. On September 9th, 2001 al-Qaeda and the Taliban assassinated the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Two days later, they brought down The Twin Towers at New York’s World Trade Center. In December 2001 the Taliban was toppled by the United States and its Northern Alliance ally. Remnants of the Taliban scuttled to Pakistan. There, they regrouped and came back strong. 17 years later, the United States remains mired in the longest war in its brief history.
When the war began, many Afghans fled to Pakistan, Iran, and other neighboring countries. My parents chose to stay. They chose to fight extremism. I remember passing through the Hindu Kush Mountains, sleeping on the ground, looking at the stars, and praying for peace. This, while friends, neighbors, and more distant family sought refuge in places farther away. We lived 45 minutes from the Taliban and its trenches. I distinctly remember the sound of heavy-artillery as formal war broke out between Northern Alliance and Taliban fighters.
[pullquote]To the Taliban, we in the north were less than Muslims, less than human. The Taliban saw us as part of the resistance. But after 9/11, everything changed.[/pullquote]
In 2001, Keshm became the center of the mujahedin resistance. As kids, we stood on the streets while military tanks and artillery passed by. It was startling to watch the men, women, and children as young as 12, armed to the teeth. Our family, like many, feared for our lives. The Taliban and its killings were brutal, their ideology – extremist. To the Taliban, we in the north were less than Muslims, less than human. The Taliban saw us as part of the resistance. But after 9/11, everything changed.
At first, the change was not for the better. With Massoud‘s death and the successful attacks in the United States, we lost any remaining hope that we had. But it wasn’t long after when the US B2-s started bombing. Taliban trenches and supply routes were all hit. We all had hope for survival, and to be sure, for freedom, come back to life inside us. It was the first time we witnessed the Taliban being defeated. It was the first time we witnessed the Taliban being bombarded, eliminated. We breathed peace. Never before had we been able to openly celebrate the eradication of the Taliban.
The US war in Afghanistan turned a grim page in Afghan history to a new one rife with hopes for freedom and democracy. Despite that the war has worsened of late, these 17 years have given rise to unprecedented opportunities for Afghans – to learn, to improvise, to bring innovative ideas forward to their communities and the nation. Under the Taliban, we lived in fear, and with no sign of a meaningful or fulfilling future. But today, legitimate and numerous security challenges notwithstanding, there remains in Afghans a strong sense of hope for peace and self-autonomy.
[pullquote]9/11 reminds us that terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban seek to divide us through hate, fear, and ignorance.[/pullquote]
9/11 reminds us that terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban seek to divide us through hate, fear, and ignorance. They want a humanity controlled, a collection of strangers. We oppose this idea as a wanton affront to human dignity. We seek a community of connected human beings. We must stay strong, we must persevere, and we must work hard to counter terrorism on a global scale, to protect the lives of the innocent, and to thwart attacks on peace, and civil society.
On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I share my deepest condolences with the families and friends of its victims, in addition to innocent people who are affected every day by the ongoing tragedies that terrorism inflicts on them. We will continue to stand together and fight for humanity, for the world, and for generations to come.
Ahmad Mohibi is Founder and Director of Counter-terrorism at Rise to Peace, a non-profit organization, and a national security expert. He is a published author, journalist and news commentator on TOLONews, and an alumnus of George Washington University and George Mason University. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi