A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

The Northern Alliance (or United Islamic Front for Salvation of Afghanistan - UIFSA) Narrative


The Northern Alliance (or United Islamic Front for Salvation of Afghanistan - UIFSA)

Last Update

October 25, 2014

Aliases

United Islamic Front for Salvation of Afghanistan

History

The Northern Alliance, also known as the United Islamic Front for Salvation of Afghanistan (UIFSA), was a coalition of militias seeking to topple the rule of the Taliban throughout Afghanistan.[1] An organization operating under the same name was established in 1992 in opposition to the communist government of then President Najibullah.[2] While victorious, this group disintegrated until September 1996, when Taliban forces captured the province of Kabul.[3] The Northern Alliance became active once again in 1996, serving as a military front assembled by leaders of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The organization was comprised of an ethnically and religiously disparate group of rebel movements fighting a defensive war against the Taliban, including primarily three non-Pashtun ethnic groups-Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Hazaras.[4] The group has had several notable leaders, the most prominent being Ahmad Shah Massoud.[5]

In September 2001, two men, commonly believed to be members of the Taliban or al-Qa’ida, posing as journalists assassinated Massoud, causing the group to lose its strongest leader. While the alliance did initially suffer from the loss, support from allies helped restore its fortunes.[6] The technical and monetary support received from Iran, Russia, India, and Tajikistan; the flow of arms coming from the west; and the coordinating services of special services from the U.S. and the UK from inside Afghanistan, allowed UIFSA troops to finally oust the Taliban from power in Kabul. Ultimately, the Northern Alliance was able to gain control over large part of Afghanistan.[7] This allowed the front to play a crucial role in establishing the post-Taliban government of Hamid Karzai in late 2001 before disintegrating again in December of that same year.[8]

Home Base

Afghanistan

Founding Year

1992[9]

Ideology

  • Regime change: During the 1990s, the Northern Alliance formed of various religious and ethnic groups that together shared in the desire to oust the Taliban. Other than this shared goal, there were many ideological differences within the group.[10]

Specific Goals

  • The Northern Alliance operated with the ultimate goal of toppling the Taliban government.[11]

Political Activity

  • Though the Northern Alliance itself did not played a role in electoral politics, its formation as a military wing of the Islamic State of Afghanistan gave the group’s members strong political ties.[12]
  • A number of the organization’s military commanders belonged to prominent political parties.
  • Abdullah Abdullah as well as Hamid Karzai, two main political candidates in Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election, had previously worked with the Northern Alliance.[13]
  • Some notable politicians and diplomats aligned themselves with the Northern Alliance, including Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai, Abdullah Abdullah, and Masood Khalili.[14]

Financing

  • State Support
    • According to reports by BBC News, the Alliance received monetary and technical support from Iran, Russia, India, Tajikistan, the United States, and potentially other unknown sources.[15][30]
    • Such state sponsorship allowed for a major reversal of the alliance’s fortunes, especially the flow of arms coming from the west and the coordinating services of special services from the U.S. and the UK from inside Afghanistan.[16]

Leadership and Structure over Time

  • The organization operated under both a hierarchal system as well as a networked structure of various ethnic and religious groups united against the Taliban, primarily three groupings of ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
    • Tajiks were led by Masoud and his successor Mohammed Fahim Khan under the militia Jamiat-I-Islami[17]
    • Uzbeks were led by Abdul Rashid Dostum under the militia Jombesh-e Melli Islami[18]
    • Hazara Shiites led by Karim Khalili and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq under the militia Hizb-i-Wahdat.[19]
    • Some Pashtun forces, under the leadership of commanders such as Abdul Haq and Haji Abdul Qadir, also joined the Northern Alliance.[20]
  •  Known leaders of the group
    • 1996-2001: Burhanuddin Rabbani (president of Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996) was the group’s nominal leader.[21]
    • Founder Ahmad Shah Massoud was a Tajik leader, as well as the general of the group’s military forces until his assassination in September 2001.[22]
    • Mohammed Fahim was a Tajik leader and the group’s head of intelligence until his promotion to general of the group’s armed forces following the death of Massoud.[23]
    • Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of the Jombesh-e Melli Islami (National Islamic Movement) which is a prominent Uzebk militia part of the Northern Alliance.[24]
    • Dr. Abdullah Abdullah was the group’s acting foreign minister and one of its chief spokesmen.[25]
    • Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq and Karim Khalili were leaders of the group’s Hazara Shiite forces.[26]
    • Pashtun forces, under the leadership of commanders such as Abdul Haq and Haji Abdul Qadir, also joined the Northern Alliance.[27]

Strength

Allies and Suspected Allies

  • The Islamic State of Afghanistan (ally): Leaders within the Islamic State of Afghanistan that assembled the Northern Alliance allowed the two groups to maintain close ties.[29]
  • Iran (state sponsor)[30]
  • Turkey (state sponsor)[31]
  • Tajikstan (state sponsor)[32]
  • Russia (state sponsor)[33]
  • Uzebekistan (state sponsor)[34]
  • India (state sponsor)[35]
  • China (state sponsor)[36]
  • United States (state sponsor)[37]
  • United Kingdom (state sponsor)[38]

Rivals and Enemies

  • Taliban (enemy): Since the organization’s creation, the Northern Alliance sought to destroy the Taliban.[39]
  • Al-Qa’ida (enemy): The group’s opposition of Taliban government created rivalries with organizations supportive of the Taliban, including al-Qa’ida.[40]
  • Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) (enemies): From 1999 to 2001, in exchange for save haven in Afghanistan, IMU provided militants and fought alongside the Taliban in their battle against the Northern Alliance[41]
  • Pakistan Armed Forces (suspected enemy): The group’s opposition of Taliban government created rivalries with governments supportive of the Taliban supporters, including elements of the Pakistani armed forces.[42]
  •  Saudi Arabia (suspected enemy): The group’s opposition of Taliban government created rivalries with governments supportive of the Taliban supporters, including Saudi Arabia.[43]

Counterterrorism Efforts

  • Domestic Military:
    • The Taliban launched a large-scale military offensive against the Northern Alliance in 1997 and was able to overtake several of the organization’s positions.[44]
    • In order to combat the growing strength of the UIFSA, members of the Taliban and their allies began attempts to take out the organization’s strongest leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Two al-Qa’ida suicide bombers killed Massoud on September 9, 2001.[45]

United States Government Designations

None.

Other Governments’ Designations

None.

 

[1] Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[2] Ahady Anwar-ul-Haq, “The Changing Interests of the Regional Powers and the Resolution of the Afghan Conflict,” Asian Affairs, 21 (Summer 1994): 87.

[5] “?Afghanistan Constitution and Citizenship Law Handboook - Strategic Information and Basic Laws,” International Business Publications, 2013.

[6] Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena”, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[7] Amin Saikal, Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2006); Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[9] Ahady Anwar-ul-Haq, “The Changing Interests of the Regional Powers and the Resolution of the Afghan Conflict,” Asian Affairs, 21 (Summer 1994): 87.

[13] Amin Saikal, Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2006).

[14] Rashid, Ahmed. "The Taliban: exporting extremism." Foreign Affairs (1999): 22-35.

[16] Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena”, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008

[20] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; William Maley, The Afghanistan wars (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[27] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; William Maley, The Afghanistan wars (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

 

[29] “The Political, Security and Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan,” The Danish Immigration Service, Copenhagen, March 2003.

[30] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[31] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[32] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[33] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[34] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[35] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[36] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[37] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[38] Fiona Symon, "Afghanistan's Northern Alliance," BBC News, September 19, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1552994.stm; Atul Aneja, “High Stakes for India,” The Hindu, October 8, 2001; Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[39] Douglas M. Johnson, “The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena,” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008.

[41] David Witter, “Backgrounder: Uzbek Militancy in Pakistan’s Tribal Region,” Institute for the Study of War. January 27, 2011. http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/BackgrounderIMU_28Jan.pdf; "Campaign Against Terrorism: What has become of his Lieutenants?" The Independent, November 26, 2001.

[44] “The Political, Security and Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan,” The Danish Immigration Service, Copenhagen, March 2003.

[45] Barry Bearak, "Rebel Chief Who Fought The Taliban Is Buried," New York Times, September 17, 2001.