The Northern Alliance, which has been fighting the Taliban, has vowed to help the United States in its effort to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. The following excerpt comes from Fire by Sebastian Junger, a journalist who spent time with the Northern Alliance prior to the Sept. 9 assassination of the group's military commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud.
The Lion in Winter
The fighters were down by the river, getting ready to cross over, and we drove out there in the late afternoon to see them off. We parked our truck behind a mud wall, where it was out of sight, and then walked one by one down to the position. In an hour or so, it would be dark, and they'd go over. Some were loading up an old Soviet truck with crates of ammunition, and some were cleaning their rifles, and some were just standing in loose bunches behind the trees, where the enemy couldn't see them. They were wearing old snow parkas and blankets thrown over their shoulders, and some had old Soviet Army pants, and others didn't have any shoes. They drew themselves into an uneven line when we walked up, and they stood there with their Kalashnikovs and their RPGs cradled in their arms, smiling shyly.
Across the floodplain, low, grassy hills turned purple as the sun sank behind them, and those were the hills these men were going to attack. They were fighting for Ahmad Shah Massoud — genius guerrilla leader, last hope of the shattered Afghan government — and all along those hills were trenches filled with Taliban soldiers. The Taliban had grown out of the madrasahs, or religious schools, that had sprung up in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, and they had emerged in 1994 as Afghanistan sank into anarchy following the Soviet withdrawal. Armed and trained by Pakistan and driven by moral principles so extreme that many Muslims feel they can only be described as a perversion of Islam, the Taliban quickly overran most of the country and imposed their ironfisted version of koranic law. Adulterers faced stoning; women's rights became nonexistent. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognize their government as legitimate, but it is generally thought that the rest of the world will have to follow suit if the Taliban complete their takeover of the country. The only thing that still stands in their way are the last ditch defenses of Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The sun set, and the valley edged into darkness. It was a clear, cold November night, and we could see artillery rounds flashing against the ridge line in the distance. Hundreds of Taliban soldiers were dug in up there, waiting to be attacked, and hundreds of Massoud's soldiers were down here along the Kowkcheh River, waiting to attack them. In a few hours, they would cross the river by truck and make their way through the fields and destroyed villages of no man's land. Then it would begin.
We wished Massoud's men well and walked back to the truck. The stars had come out, and the only sound was of dogs baying in the distance. Then the whole front line, from the Tajik border to Farkhar Gorge, rumbled to life.