Ten years to the day after anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud was killed in combat, Afghanistan celebrated his passing with a ceremony that was notable this year for the absence of President Hamid Karzai.
AFP - Amid heightened security Afghanistan on Friday marked a decade since the death of an iconic anti-Taliban commander two days before 9/11, with President Hamid Karzai absent from a memorial event.
Ahmad Shah Massoud helped repel the 1980s Soviet invasion and led the last bastion of resistance to the Taliban in the 1990s before being killed by an Al-Qaeda bomb on September 9, 2001.
The anniversary of his death is an Afghan national holiday. Hundreds laid flowers at a landmark roundabout bearing his name in Kabul while in his home area of Panjshir, many shops flew black flags and displayed his photograph.
In Kabul, Saifurahman, a student visiting the monument who like many Afghans uses only one name, said: "Today is more important to us than 9/11 because Massoud fought to secure our country.
"We have come here to commemorate this day and to keep his memory alive."
Although police deployed 2,000 officers to Kabul's streets, some in armoured vehicles, and cancelled all leave in case of a Taliban attack, Karzai did not attend a memorial event at which other leading figures paid tribute to Massoud.
He has made public appearances to mark the anniversary in previous years.
A weeping First Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Massoud ally, called him "Afghanistan's national hero and a defender of his country" at the event at a Kabul school.
Some experts say Massoud was deliberately assassinated by Al-Qaeda just before 9/11 to ensure that Taliban leader Mullah Omar would continue to support them after the Twin Towers attacks, despite near-certain US retribution.
Others argue the killing came at Omar's behest as the Taliban sought to wipe out Massoud's Northern Alliance, without him knowing in advance about Al-Qaeda's plan to stage the 9/11 attacks.
Northern Alliance fighters joined the United States in the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, who have revived to lead a bloody insurgency in the years since.
Although Massoud inspires passionate devotion among supporters, he leaves a divided legacy.
Some opponents, notably from the Hazara ethnic group, accuse his troops of brutal attacks in Kabul during the civil war in the early 1990s.
The anniversary fell as the US ambassador to Kabul warned the Taliban must feel "more pain" on the battlefield for peace talks to progress, highlighting shaky progress in finding a political solution to the 10-year war.
"The Taliban needs to feel more pain before you get to a real readiness to reconcile," Ryan Crocker, who started his job in July, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
His comments came despite US President Barack Obama ordering 33,000 "surge" troops into Afghanistan in late 2009 in a bid to score decisive victories against the Taliban.
Early withdrawals of some of the 140,000 mainly US foreign troops have already begun, with all combat forces due to leave by the end of 2014.
The war has cost the US alone at least $444 billion, while 2,705 foreign troops have died, according to independent website iCasualties.org.
In a reminder of the violence which still wracks much of the country, two Afghan soldiers were killed in the western province of Herat overnight when the Taliban attacked a checkpoint, the provincial governor's office said.
A foreign soldier was also killed by an improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan Friday, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said, giving no further details in line with policy.
Afghan and Western diplomats are hoping that progress in peace talks can be made in parallel to the military effort to destroy the Taliban.
But they now accept efforts to set up serious peace talks are likely to take longer than was originally expected and that reported contacts with Omar's former private secretary in Germany and Qatar have broken down.
On the tentative peace negotiations with high-level Taliban, Crocker confirmed that Karzai's High Peace Council, set up last year, had had little success and that the parties were "still just kind of feeling each other out".
Further highlighting the obstacles to a political solution, British Major General Phil Jones, who oversees the ISAF's effort to "reintegrate" low-level Taliban with pro-government forces, said it was making only "modest" progress.
Date created : 2011-09-09