Before the 15th commemoration of the 9/11 attacks this Sunday, America might also do well to pause on Friday, September 9, to reflect on the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Afghan of Tajik ancestry from the Panshjir Valley, who was our best ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Massoud's detractors say he was just another warlord, but this is not correct. True, the Lion of the Panjshir, as he was known, was a commander of forces. But in a land of warlords, he stood out as a humanist who by all accounts practiced a tolerant, egalitarian version of Islam. He played chess, read poetry, and traveled with hundreds of books. Some called him the "warrior monk."
Massoud opposed forced marriages, child marriages, and other kinds of widely-approved abuses of women. He signed and promoted the Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women. That alone makes him more than "just another warlord."
He once said, "I am against killing anyone because they believe in communism, liberalism, or any other 'ism.'" But Massoud did kill. He was a key member of the mujahideen who, with American weapons, ousted the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. He then fought the Soviet puppet-government led by a Moscow-educated Afghan, Dr. Mohammad Najibullah.
In 1992, when Kabul fell to the mujahideen, the communist generals surrendered to Massoud rather than to the warlords. Working in Afghanistan with Medecins du Monde at the time, Michael Barry observed that "the way he extended amnesty to the entire communist bureaucracy in Kabul meant that the city paid allegiance to him intact." Massoud even granted his defeated enemy, Najibullah, sanctuary in the UN compound.
After the defeat of Najibullah's government, a pivotal moment in Afghan history, Massoud again proved that he was not just another warlord. Many had urged him to enter Kabul with his forces and take control of the country, but he refused. Like George Washington, who might have become king of America after defeating the British but instead launched an ambitious project of shared governance, Massoud chose not to be another warlord dictator. Instead he helped form, and served as defense minister in, a coalition government in which Berhanuddin Rabbani served as president.
Recognizing that "the cultural environment of the country suffocates women," Massoud made changes. One of his top commanders, Bismallah Khan, recalls that he "appointed a woman doctor as chief of the medical academy to send a message that we supported women and that we wanted women to have a role in the reconstruction efforts." When Massoud's wife was interviewed by Marie-Francoise Colombani for Elle magazine, she wore high-heeled shoes revealing her painted toenails, railed against the chadri [burqa] and looked forward to an Afghanistan where women had access to birth control in place of the barbaric practice of "perform[ing] abortions by putting huge stones on the womb."
Unfortunately, Afghanistan's neighbors were not about to let a democratic government with Western influences flourish on their borders, so war broke out. It is often erroneously called a "civil war." In reality it was a proxy invasion of newly-freed Afghanistan by its neighboring, Iran-backed Shiite militias and Uzbekistan-backed Sunni militias, both often under the command of Abdul Rashid Dostum. They attacked Kabul from one side, while Pakistan-backed militias commanded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, attacked from the other. In 1994, the Taliban came into existence, also supported by Pakistan, to become Afghanistan's most potent foe.
Massoud is sometimes blamed for civilian deaths in this war, but these false narratives are Pakistani propaganda. The truth is that Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami forces shelled Kabul and killed thousands of civilians. So too did Dostum's Hazara militia, the Hezb-Wahdet-Islami, which specifically targeted Kabul's northwestern residential neighborhoods.
After Massoud drove the Hazara from their positions, some of the Afghan fighters took revenge on the retreating militia members. Radio Iran called it a massacre, and many since have repeated the claim. But this false charge applies to Massoud the same unrealistic standard applied to Ariel Sharon, convicted in some circles not of committing a massacre but failing to prevent one.
John Jennings, who covered Kabul for the Associated Press from1991 to 1994, called it an "invented massacre that never, in fact, occurred." Jennings wrote of "savagery I had witnessed the Hazara militia inflict on noncombatants" and refuted the Radio Iran account: "it was Massoud and his followers who struggled to uphold human rights, and his enemies who abused them."
In 1996 the Taliban, with the support of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), overthrew the Rabbani government. Upon taking Kabul, they searched for Najibullah, still, thanks to Massoud's largesse, living in the UN building. But the Taliban fighters showed him no mercy. They castrated and killed him, and then they hung his corpse from a pole.
The Taliban soon controlled 80% of Afghanistan, and for the next five years, the only opposition came from the "United Front," known in the West as the "Northern Alliance". Massoud, its de facto leader, spent his remaining days fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and asking the world for help.
In 1998, the same year Osama bin Laden released his Declaration of War Against Americans with its "ruling to kill the Americans," Massoud wrote a Letter to the People of the United States of America, explaining that Afghanistan had become "occupied by fanatics, extremists, terrorists, mercenaries, drug Mafias and professional murderers." Citing a "duty to defend humanity against the scourge of intolerance, violence and fanaticism," he pleaded for American assistance, to no avail. He even traveled to Europe to state his case. In Brussels to address the European Parliament, he admonished all that "it's not just my war; it's the war of the world! Be careful, because these are dangerous people."
Massoud also regularly warned the US not to trust Pakistan and its ISI. Declassified CIA documents indicate that he even warned the US that Al-Qaeda was preparing "to perform a terrorist act against the U.S. on a scale larger than the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania." But no one listened to his warnings.
Massoud was killed on September 9, 2001 by Tunisian Al-Qaeda operatives posing as Belgian journalists, who pretended they were taking his picture. Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar knew that the 9/11 attacks would bring reprisal, and they believed that eliminating the charismatic leader of the Northern Alliance would cause it to fall into disarray and make any invasion of Afghanistan unsuccessful. His murder has been described as the "go" signal for the September 11 attack and bin Laden's "gift" to Mullah Omar.
Left: Ahmad Shah Massoud in an undated photo. Right: The tomb of Massoud in the Panjshir province of Afghanistan, under construction in 2007.
Eulogizing Massoud from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on September 17, 2001, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that with a little help "the Northern Alliance could easily have dealt a knock-out punch to the Taliban."
In death, Ahmad Shah Massoud has become a legend in Afghanistan, where his image endures printed on posters, painted in murals, and woven into rugs, an important index of "fame" in Afghan society. In 2012, Afghanistan's National Assembly declared September 9 "Massoud Day. It should be "Massoud Day" in America too.
A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
 See Marcela Grad's Massoud, An Intimate Portrait of the Legendary Afghan Leader, (St. Louis: Webster UP, 2009), p. 112. Grad's book draws on printed sources in many languages and scores of interviews conducted over a four-year period with Massoud's family, friends, former comrades, and even enemies. This particular recollection comes from Abdul Latif Pedram, co-founder of the Afghanistan National Congress Party.
 Grad, p. 111.
 Grad, p. 157.
 Colombani interviewed Massoud's wife for the French edition of Elle Magazine published on September 10, 2001, a day after Massoud's death. An English translation by M.E. Clarkson is available at Free Republic. See also Grad, p. 43-46.
 See Aref Shajahan's recollection in Grad, p. 185. Shajahan is a Hazara with the Harakat-e-Islami Party which joined Massoud in the fight against the Taliban.
 See Grad, pp.178-180. Jennings also covered the war for The Economist.
 See Masood Khalili's account in Grad, pp. 192-194. Khalili was seriously injured in the attack that killed Massoud.