<i> Mark Bauman is ABC Radio's bureau chief in Moscow. Markos Kounalakis is NBC-Mutual News' Moscow correspondent. </i>

JALUDEEN HAQQANI, THE CHIEF OF the Moujahedeen Command Council, sits barefoot on a small pillow at his palatial headquarters in the Pakistani border town of Miram Shah, one of the strategic strongholds of the Islamic forces waging holy war in Afghanistan. During the half hour he has allotted for this meeting with foreign journalists, Haqqani’s intense brown eyes dart quickly from field phone to fax machine to a large floor-sized map of Afghanistan, which his commanders say he paces, barefoot, when planning a battle.

Next to him, a tall, sullen-faced bodyguard fingers the leather on a beautifully tooled gun holster. It is fastened at the waist by the hammer and sickle of a Soviet army belt buckle, a poignant reminder that in the latter half of the 20th Century, the arrogance of white civilizers has been seriously dented by natives armed with a more overarching faith in religion, house and home.

Dozens of men, many of them lost in prayer, wait outside Haqqani’s office, and in the course of the interview, almost 20 stream in, directed by an aide, asking for orders, advice or supplies. The armies that defeated the Soviets in a devastating 10-year war sprang from tribes led by men such as Haqqani, who serve not only as civil and military leaders, but also as religious elders. Having just returned to his office from leading prayers outside, Haqqani settles a dispute between two commanders over who gets the larger share of some supplies that have just come in from the Pakistani government. He is arbiter of the law here, and his word is rarely challenged.

Haqqani is a fundamentalist religious scholar and the son of an old tribal leader, representing both the shape of Afghanistan’s future and the power of its past. For more than a decade now, he and the top commanders of the Moujahedeen Command Council, a loose grouping of the most powerful military figures in the opposition, have combined the strength of their culture with modern ordnance as a rebuke to those who have tried to remake Afghanistan in their own image. It is a melding that remains in place as Western resources are officially withdrawn from a country the West has armed to the teeth and continues, indirectly, to fund. After two centuries of less than satisfactory experiments with imported ideologies, Afghanistan, like much of the Third World, is trying to find a path that is more in line with its own traditions.

Haqqani speaks with the assurance of a man who has seen the tides of history shift in his favor. “Twenty years ago our people were Marxists. Leninists. Capitalists,” he spits out, dismissing each “ism” with equal contempt. “Now they fight the holy war. They have changed.”


Since the troops of the former Soviet Union completed their withdrawal in February, 1989, hundreds of Muslims from around the world have come to this dusty base camp in Miram Shah, just across the Pakistani border from Haqqani’s home province of Paktia, to participate in the first big modern victory of the holy war. Success seemed far from certain in 1979, when Babrak Karmal was flown in a Soviet plane from exile in Eastern Europe to Kabul and, with the support of 80,000 Soviet combat troops, installed as president of Afghanistan. The war that would claim 1 1/2 million Afghan lives began. Ten years later, an angry and alienated Soviet military limped home, leaving behind the current president, Najibullah, thousands of military and technical advisers and a political vacuum that the Islamic powers moved quickly to fill.

Today the moujahedeen (“holy warriors”) control most of the Afghan countryside, and the various tribes, groups and sects within them once again find themselves battling each other with the same ferocity that they direct at the current regime. “The problem,” says Abdul Haq, commander of the Kabul region and another member of the command council, “is that the Soviets destroyed parts of the traditional fabric of Afghan society. The country has been invaded many times before. And always in the past, the religious leaders would call for jihad (“holy war”); the tribal leaders would provide the resources, and the people would fight.” But in trying to create an egalitarian society, the communists broke down those distinctions and left nothing in their place. In many areas, they installed secular leaders who, backed only by Soviet troops, had little or no legitimacy.

“During the early years of the war,” says Haq, “when we were fighting in the mountains, the CIA and Pakistan funded the fundamentalists because they figured that those groups were least likely to compromise with the regime. The problem is that the fundamentalists are now much stronger than the democrats. And they don’t compromise, period.”

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and Pakistan further complicate the picture. Now fighting to be the pre-eminent political power in the region, they have stepped up their funding for the jihad. Material support is appreciated, but the attempts of foreign Muslims to define the political agenda of various moujahedeen groups is not. In the mountains of central Afghanistan, Iran funds a Pushtun tribe of Maoist Shiite fundamentalists. But they are too independent, so Tehran has also set up Afghan units based on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In northern Afghanistan, China funds Tajik tribes of Sunni fundamentalists. In Kunnar province, Arab fundamentalists funded by various Saudi clerics now spend more of their time battling their former Afghan allies than they do fighting the regime of Najibullah.

Even among the various Afghan opposition groups, skirmishes have become a regular thing. One American aid worker, who uses trained dogs to help the moujahedeen find Soviet mines buried in their territory, complains that many groups reuse the devices against other commanders who are supposed to be their allies. Many of the tribes in central Afghanistan switch allegiances, in the blink of an eye, between the regime and various opposition groups depending on who has the most money, who is trying to take control of their territory, and who appears to be winning the war at the moment.

In April, 1991, under Haqqani’s tutelage, various commanders cooperated successfully for months in order to capture Khowst, near the Pakistani border. But as soon as the regime troops surrendered, according to men involved in the battle, various moujahedeen groups began fighting among themselves over the spoils of the city. Today, everyone wants to be the one to take Kabul, and win the war. And everyone knows, too, that only a cooperative effort unique in Afghanistan’s history will finally bring an end to the fighting that has killed one in 10 Afghans and created the world’s largest refugee population--more than 5 million Afghans live in Pakistani and Iranian refugee camps without sufficient food or medical care.

Beyond the fig trees and posh fenced compounds that surround the Afghan political elite in Peshawar or Miram Shah, the camps extend for miles in a Pakistani desert considered uninhabitable just 10 years ago. There are Tajik camps, Pushtun camps, camps for Sunni and Shiite Muslims. There are widows’ camps, orphans’ camps and hundreds of cemeteries that seem to stretch from Pakistan all the way to the edge of the Afghan horizon. The women and young children who compose the bulk of the refugee population have no political voice, but they do have one thing in common: They want to go home. “I still dream of Kabul at night,” says Sayed Khalid, an elderly refugee who sells Afghan carpets in Peshawar. “If the violence would just stop, I could begin to rebuild my life there.”

Several important commanders such as Haq and Haqqini blame exiled political leaders and the interference of foreign powers for the infighting that is prolonging the war.

“Many religious and intellectual leaders in the opposition,” says Haq, “opened political offices in Pakistan, seeking international support.” Throughout the war, both the United States and Saudi Arabia annually provided $300 million to $500 million in military and humanitarian aid. Although Saudi Arabia is now being pressured to agree to a military aid cut forged by Washington and Moscow--the U.S. cutoff date was Jan. 1--private donations from sheiks and clerics throughout the Muslim world have nearly filled the gap. Haqqani, for example, already receives almost 80% of his funding through representative offices in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, immediately after the Gulf War, the Saudis provided the moujahedeen with 300 captured Iraqi tanks (although many did not work). And Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal, recently summoned the moujahedeen leaders in Pakistan for a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss ways to compensate for the end of U.S. aid.

At the behest of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States, several of the Pakistan-based political powers have also tried to begin direct negotiations in Moscow, but the men who control the Afghan countryside say these political leaders do not speak for them. The commanders have been running large parts of the country for years, says Haqqani, and they will be the basis for any future Islamic government.

Many foreign observers concur. “The problem,” says one American diplomat, “is that even though the international community continues to deal with the politicians in Pakistan and Iran, these men have no real power on the ground. The death of communism in Russia left Najibullah with just a few corrupt militias and enough air support to delay defeat. The commanders control most of the armed population of Afghanistan; they are the ones who are going to have to take Kabul. It’s going to be tough to convince them to give it back.”

AS YOU ENTER AFGHANISTAN’S BADLY factionalized interior from the rebel base in Miram Shah, you hear what sounds like the distant tap of a carpenter’s hammer: light machine-gun fire from several training camps near Khowst. Hundreds of new four-wheel-drive Toyota trucks, purchased by patrons in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Washington, carefully thread their way through a never-ending maze of mine-saturated hills, dry stream beds and roadways pocked by charred craters deep enough to swallow a man. A few miles farther into the countryside begins the heavy percussion of the big guns shelling Gardez, Najibullah’s birthplace.

After years of constant war, the guerrillas here seem almost bored as they continue their siege of the city just a quarter mile below. Many of them wear Soviet army uniforms taken from captured government stores, prisoners or the dead. The refuse of what is perhaps the last superpower proxy war lies everywhere: Charred and rusting Soviet tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters dot the arid valleys between Gardez and Khowst. Jagged shell fragments stamped with Russian, English, Arabic and French litter the countryside. The graffiti on one severed tank turret reads, “We will be victorious, God willing.” But on rare moments, even as the deafening roar of modern artillery echoes through the hills, the old Afghanistan magically surfaces.

Bearded men in mountainous white turbans--their mouths packed with tobacco or dried Saudi dates--stroll hand-in-hand through the streets, their elaborately decorated side-arms encased in flowered chintz or fine leather holsters. After centuries of invasion, the fiercely tribal Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen who compose Afghan society move easily from their farms, goats and fat-tailed sheep to the cold and efficient machinery of modern war.

“Allah Akbar"--"Glory be to Allah"--a young rebel dressed in modern fatigues yells perfunctorily as he sends a shoulder-launched, rocket-propelled grenade toward the tank emplacements that surround Gardez. Nearby, his commander, Habib Gul, shakes his head and smiles, then polishes off a cup of Afghan green tea. Gul is a bear of a man who began the war as a member of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, or government party, and later received counterinsurgency training in Leningrad as a member of the Afghan KGB once headed by Najibullah.

According to several commanders, the intelligence he provided as a double agent for the moujahedeen helped them plan what was perhaps their greatest victory to date--the capture of Khowst, a strategic fortress so heavily fortified by the regime that Najibullah once promised to resign if it ever fell into opposition hands.

Gul’s parents raised him to be a good Muslim. The Soviets trained him to be a great warrior--but they offered him no cause. “No one believed in anything there (in the former Soviet Union),” he recalls. “They were not communists. They were not anything. But some people came to give us lectures about Marx and Lenin. And I saw that their teachings were completely opposed to Islam. So, as soon as I came home, I used my training to establish contacts with the moujahedeen.

As Gul continues his tale, he motions for one overanxious machine-gunner to keep his head down. Tracer bullets flash in a long arc from the town below, and the young guerrilla takes a bullet through the left wrist. Gul grabs him under the arm like a coach helping an injured player from the field. After a cursory examination, he announces that the wound is not serious. “ Moujahedeen ,” he says with a shrug. “What can you do?”

Now in his late 30s, Gul himself continues to make secret forays into Gardez at night. But he has little patience when the soldiers under him, many of them 20 years his junior, take pointless, showy risks.

Gul and his young ward thread their way down the hill in a weaving stutter step that they hope will avoid both mines and mortar fire. There are explosive devices everywhere: anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines. The wounded man is placed in a green Toyota truck that acts as an ambulance and is driven to a clinic in Khowst, about six hours away. There he will join injured comrades and an even larger number of holy warriors who were cut down not by enemy fire, but by malaria, yellow fever and hepatitis. Depending on the intensity of fighting among various moujahedeen groups and between the moujahedeen and the regime, casualties range from half a dozen to more than 100 a week.

Up the hill from Gul and his men, Arab warriors begin shelling the town in earnest to avenge their wounded comrade. Many of them are Palestinians in their early teens who can barely heft the grenade launchers. Their childlike voices crack as they invoke Allah’s glory after every shot. But amid the smooth innocent faces and wispy beards stands one man with the unmistakable air of experience and authority: Abu Harras, a bearded Palestinian commander with a winning smile and vivid brown eyes. He promises in impeccable English that Afghanistan is only the first step in a holy war that will eventually encompass Palestine, the United States and all of the Muslim republics of the former Soviet empire. “Soon,” he says, “Islam will control the world.”

Backing up that rhetoric are thousands of angry Muslims who have already received training in some of the most sophisticated weaponry that American tax dollars can buy. Mixed with the Palestinians under Haqqani’s command are also several part-timers: kids from the rich oil states who have taken off a few months from school or work to fight in the jihad. One young guerrilla, from a Saudi banking family, promises his adolescent comrades that “after Afghanistan, the Israeli Jews will be driven into the sea. All Arab governments,” he adds, “are the enemies of Allah. We must do jihad against them.”

THE MASS INFLUX OF FOREIGN MUSLIMS TO Afghanistan began in the mid ‘80s, when Abdullah Azam, a Palestinian religious scholar who had been teaching in Saudi Arabia, was sent to Pakistan on a one-year exchange. In classrooms and on shortwave radio stations, he began to preach the necessity for all Muslims to join the jihad and began fighting himself under various moujahedeen commanders. In 1984, Azam was appointed educational coordinator for the Muslim World League in Peshawar, a Pakistani town where most of the Afghan opposition and millions of refugees are located. He then opened “service offices” at which Muslim volunteers from around the world could sign up; for a time there was even one in New York City.

The recruiting effort drew soldiers whose agendas vary as widely as their backgrounds. “It don’t make any difference if you die in Chicago, L.A. or Atlanta,” says Abu Wakkas, a tall, bearded black man, a Muslim from the Midwest who befriended Abu Harras, the Palestinian commander, during the battle for Khowst. “Our American brothers sleep. They don’t realize the value of Islam,” he intones, sitting in my hotel room just outside of Peshawar. “There must be holy war against all those who try to take the dignity of Muslims!”

Wakkas, who adopted his nom de guerre after arriving in Afghanistan, had worked as a pressman-mechanic and then as a security guard in Ohio. He wears only black, from the cotton cloth that covers his bald head to his sunglasses, shirt and billowing cotton pants. He looks like six feet of dark granite, all sinew and muscle under a thin layer of skin.

Wakkas joined the jihad more than three years ago and was seriously wounded during the battle for Khowst. “I was sitting at one of our artillery posts just above the airport,” he recalls. “It was outside a cave. And I was reading the Koran when the mortars started coming in. And then I felt a bee sting on my right leg and looked down. And there was blood. So I got up slowly to walk into the cave and got hit again in the left shoulder. And it spun me around some. And then for some reason I started laughing. And everyone was laughing with me. Glory be to Allah, " he says with a smile, as he pulls open his shirt to show the scar.

To have engaged in holy war, for many devout Muslims, is the ultimate test of manhood. And this war has given all of the top commanders ample opportunity to prove their mettle and commitment. Although he refuses to discuss it, Haqqani has lost at least one brother in battle. Two of his sons, one 14 and another 11, continue to fight in artillery units in the hills above Gardez, alongside many compatriots of the same age.

Nasir Udeen Haqqani, the elder of the two, paces his father’s headquarters, decked out in black Dingo boots and a new camouflage jacket like a shy and friendly refugee from the ‘70s. As he prepares to sit down, older retainers rush to bring pots of fresh milk tea. It is clear that even at 14, he has begun to assume some of the air of command.

In the early stages of the battle for Gardez, large numbers of regime soldiers in their early teens surrendered en masse. Most of them say they were rounded up from their villages and farms in northern Afghanistan, given three weeks of training, and then sent to the front. The rebels treat them like mascots, but the young men will eventually learn to fight. In addition to his sons, Haqqani’s younger brother, Khaleel, cruises the front lines in a captured Soviet T-72 tank, his designer sunglasses flashing in the fierce mountain light. He is his brother’s personal liaison inside the battle region, moving from unit to unit, issuing instructions. “Our faith in Islam is like a great sword,” he tells his men. “We were always religious. But now the sword has been tempered and hardened by more than 10 years of war. We have done what America could not do with all of its money and weapons: defeat the great Soviet army. We drove them out of Afghanistan and forced their retreat from Eastern Europe.”

PSYCHOLOGICALLY BRUISED BY THE COLLAPSE OF the Soviet empire, people throughout the former union are now searching for something to fill the spiritual void left by communism’s death. The Kremlin’s apocryphal attempt to build a socialist paradise on earth has disillusioned a generation: Last year, Boris N. Yeltsin asked the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to preside over his inauguration. And the young are returning to the Ukrainian Church in droves. But for much of the Muslim population of the former union, the spiritual awakening began when they were asked to participate in communism’s last colonial war against the fiercely religious leaders of the Afghan moujahedeen.

In 1979, thousands of young men from all the republics of the Soviet Union, left in their closets the outgrown uniforms of party conformity and donned the fatigues necessary for the Christmastime invasion of Afghanistan. Abul Qaseem, an Uzbek who was drafted at age 19, joined the Soviet grunts who would soon number 115,000, an invasion force made up of “the sons of workers, peasants, the proletariat--seldom the sons of engineers,” according to one soldier, “and very, very seldom the sons of generals.”

Qaseem is a solemn young man with the dark almond eyes, high cheekbones and full beard of many Asian Muslims. Like other Central Asian soldiers who had been denied access to both the Koran and their cultures for more than half a century, he now found himself confronted with the raw power of Islam for the first time. Soviet Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmen found themselves fighting tribal cousins and occasionally even distant family members right across the border. Many refused to fight. And several hundred, like Qaseem, left their Soviet compatriots to embrace the holy war.

“When Central Asian Muslims came to Afghanistan,” says Qaseem, who now fights with a Tajik unit in northern Afghanistan, “we found our cousins and handed our guns to them. When I went to Afghanistan, I saw that the people who were fighting communism were just like us, simple Uzbeks and Tajiks. Our officers told us that Afghanistan had been invaded by the Chinese and the Americans. But I saw that it was just a lie.”

Qaseem comes from a heavily Tajik part of Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan on the north. And like many Afghans and Central Asians, he speaks the languages of several regional tribes. The third of eight children born to an electrician in Namangan province, Qaseem confesses that, as a student, he smoked, drank and chased women. “When I was young,” he remembers, “my mother told me to be a good Muslim. But I paid no attention. In the schools, they taught us that the Soviet Union was a good country, a peace-loving country. They taught us about communism. And they told us that we were all the children of monkeys.

“Only after I began to fight the jihad did I think about who created the sky, who created the sun. And I learned that the communists did not want peace, that this was a fight between believers and non-believers.”

As he speaks, Qaseem casts a quick glance at the Kalashnikov assault rifle by his side. “I study the Koran now,” he says, “so I can do jihad by both pen and gun. When there is a Muslim government in Afghanistan, we will move toward Central Asia. I am ready at any time to sacrifice myself to bring Islam to my home.”

It is not an empty threat. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and a precipitous decline in living standards has sparked a Muslim revival in many parts of Central Asia. There have been large demonstrations by Muslim activists throughout Tajikistan and Uzbekistan--in Tajikistan, the activists were instrumental in forcing the government to hold democratic elections.

Defectors from the Soviet army are prized among moujahedeen commanders. Khaleel Massoud, the most powerful Tajik commander, who controls much of the northern part of the country, often appears with two Russian bodyguards.

“The names of Soviet Muslims who have joined the jihad,” says Haqqani, “will one day be written in gold for their great contributions to Islam.”

After the collapse of strong central authority in Moscow, Central Asia’s formerly communist leaders quickly sought refuge in Islam. Many, after years of proclaimed atheism, now say they were secret believers all along. But Qaseem and others dismiss those sudden and very public conversions by the very men who closed hundreds of mosques as cynical political maneuvers akin to former communist Najibullah’s quick discovery of Allah and Afghan nationalism after the Soviet military machine decided to flee the country.

“It is not enough for these men to say now that they are religious,” says Qaseem. “It takes more than the breath of fear and a few hours for a communist to become a good Muslim.”

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HOLDING PATTERN when planes approach Kabul, only a steep and rapid descent. The Aeroflot Ilyushin 76 transport jets that still fly in from Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, punctuate their sharp final drop with the pops of hot magnesium flares they release from the fuselage’s side batteries. They fire the defensive charges to distract heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles shot by the rebels. The feared American-made Stinger missiles, however, cannot be fooled, and occasionally one will streak up toward a plane’s thermal exhaust and blast the unfortunate craft out of the clear, cool sky.

Approaching Kabul is as precarious as landing there. In the mountains surrounding the city, some rebels have not yet retreated for the winter from their high-altitude hideaways. Radio chatter between the flare-firing spotter in the Ilyushin’s nose and the plane’s tail-gunner focuses on the location of a basmachi (“bandit”) who was sighted and fired on by the same plane a day earlier. Twenty minutes from Kabul, the spotter points down and says that “the basmachi has run away. Just yesterday he was right there between that peak and those rocks.”

Firing at Soviet planes is almost sport for the warriors--live skeet shooting for the Islamic fundamentalist. From the moment the tires of the Ilyushin’s landing gear screech on the Tarmac, pilots are prepared to take off at a moment’s notice should rebels launch another assault of the sort that has destroyed planes and blown out nearly every window at the airport’s arrival terminal.

“Welcome to hell,” says Paktil Hamayan, a 23-year-old medical student at Kabul University. The campus, in the center of the low, dusty-brown city, remains relatively untouched by mortar fire. Afghanistan is a country Hamayan loves in a war that he hates. He is reminded daily of Kabul’s dangers--when he is patted down by a guard toting an AK-47 at the entrance to the medical school, when he hears automatic weapons fire in the near distance or the soft booms of artillery that announce it is 10:30 p.m., the evening curfew for Kabul’s ever-fluctuating population.

Across the street from the medical school, at the new International Committee of the Red Cross hospital for the war’s wounded, Hamayan is confronted daily with casualties. The limbless and the maimed sit outside, turning their faces upward to catch the warmth of winter rays in a ritual that is the heliocentric equivalent of turning to Mecca.

The Red Cross does not ask patients whether they are with the regime forces or the moujahedeen. Most casualties, however, are privately proud to claim allegiance to one of the many rebel groups. The Red Cross had attempted to teach the moujahedeen that once they take prisoners they should neither torture nor kill them. But the Swiss organization has had to curtail its operations because this war is no longer for or against an occupier, but has become a war of political dominance. Says one Red Cross administrator: “This is the most dangerous type of situation for us.” They have already closed down two first aid stations outside Kabul, and some workers have been kidnaped and killed by rebels.

If Kabul is a living hell, it is not an exclusive one. It democratically affects all--politicians, businessmen, students and workers alike. But one class of people suffers more than the rest: the several hundred remaining Russian-speakers who stayed on as advisers, spies, Scud missile technical crews and diplomats. The first secretary of what used to be the Soviet embassy may feel the danger more acutely than most, perhaps because the word at the Sikh money exchange is that he has been targeted for assassination.

“Most Afghans living in Kabul support the moujahedeen and all of them hate the Russians,” says a man who gives his name only as Singh, a name common to all Sikh men. The endless caravans of trucks that come down the Salang Highway bringing cases of military equipment, fuel, flour, sugar and other basic goods, many of which are now rationed, are the last palpable sign that Moscow still feels obligated to Kabul (although military aid has been cut off, humanitarian aid continues). And, according to former Soviet officials, up until the end of 1991, the Kremlin continued to funnel about $400 million a month in assistance to the Afghans. In light of continuing economic difficulties at home, however, Russian President Yeltsin has promised to cut off foreign aid to all countries in the near future.

That has, of course, left Najibullah on the defensive. Though he still has a large stockpile of weapons, his eventual defeat is inevitable. Many observers, however, question whether the opposition will be able to cooperate after Najibullah is gone. “There is no question that Afghanistan is Islam’s biggest victory so far,” says exiled Syrian journalist Ahmad Muaffaqzaidan. “And the victory will spread to other parts of the world. But Afghanistan is not a nation state. There has always been fighting among the various tribes here. And I do not think the fighting will end when there is an Islamic government in Kabul.”

“The leadership we have is simply not good enough,” complains Abdul Haq. “They have had 14 years to forge some kind of consensus and they have failed.” Haq, whose right foot was blown off by a mine during an operation more than two years ago, hobbles around the study of his headquarters in Peshawar on a plastic prosthesis that was custom-made for him in Lansing, Mich. His walls are decorated with glossy photographs of bomb blasts in vivid oranges and grays. On the coffee table lies the hard cover version of George Rosie’s “International Guide to Terrorism.”

Haq, like many of the more moderate commanders, is still unwilling to launch a final assault on Kabul. “The problem,” says the balding commander, “is not that Najibullah is militarily strong. But that we have nothing to replace him with. So we don’t want to push so hard he collapses.”

“I’m not going to trade my men,” he says through his thick beard, “for a government that isn’t going to work.”