Ahmed Shah Masood (or Massoud) commanded the anti-Taleban forces of Afghanistan until an attempted assasination on the 9th September, 2001. A few days later, he died from his wounds.
Masood was born in 1953 in Panjshir, in northeastern Afghanistan. He is an ethnic Tajik. He fled to neighbouring Pakistan upon the accession to power of Mohammad Daud after a palace coup in 1973. There he joined and trained (as a saboteur) with an elite group headed by Burahanuddin Rabbani who aimed to depose the secularist Daud.
He was sent to Afghanistan in 1975 and attempted to destabilise the government. He failed and returned to Pakistan. In 1978, Afghan communists aided by the Soviet Union took power in Kabul. Many thousands of Russian federal troops were stationed in the country to maintain the communists grip on power.
Masood returned to Afghanistan and established a power base in his native Panjshir. He showed military prowess in driving the Soviets from the Panjshir valley and his Mujahadeen forces soon controlled a large swathe of territory. He became a hero to the Afghan people and was known as the 'Lion of Panjshir'.He signed a truce with the Russians in 1983. They eventually withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988.
However, the Mujahadeen warlords soon began fighting among themselves. Together with the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostram, Masood was instrumental in driving another warlord Najibullah out of Kabul and became the Defence minister of the newly established Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in 1992 with Rabbani as President.
The power struggles continued between Masood and various warlords, including his erstwhile ally Dostram, until 1996. Then a new force rose from a younger generation Afghanis, and, backed by Pakistan, swept across the country. The Taleban soon expelled Masood's forces from Kabul. The Mujahadeen warriors were forced to retreat to northeastern Afghanistan.
Masood was an important charismatic and military leader of the anti-Taleban forces, now known variously as the Northern Alliance, the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan or simply the United Front.
He has presided over a fractious alliance of Uzbek and Tajik fighters and prevented the Taleban from completing their conquest of Afghanistan. His forces now control only five percent of the country (essentially the province of Badakhshan and his homeland in the Panjshir valley) and number between 12,000 and 15,000. He counted as his allies the warlord Dostram and the Shia leaders of central Afghanistan. Russia, Iran, Tajikstan and India have lent their support - political or militarily.
In April 2001, Masood travelled to the European Union to gather support. He received many words of encouragement from some European nations but no desperately needed military aid. He established a base on the Tajikstan border.
On September 9th, 2001 two Algerian Arabs posing as journalists interviewed Masood. One of them detonated a bomb hidden in a camera killing both them, an interpreter, an official and leaving Masood mortally injured. It is likely that the assasins were members of an organisation linked to Osama bin Laden.
It is a measure of the importance of Masood to the morale and unity of the Northern Alliance that his death should be denied in the days following the assasination. On September 11th, 2001 their forces launched a retaliatory missile strike on Kabul.
Ahmed Shad Masood is accused of war crimes at