I roll over and grab my Kalashnikov. It is the only true material belonging I have other than the clothing on my back. We make our way through the other men rushing down the mountainside. I keep an eye out for Samir, whose skinny frame makes shooting a gun difficult and young age leaves him inexperienced and undisciplined in battle. Husayn Jaan and I get closer to the firefight in the valley. I notice the violence escalating. The valley floor looks bright as day. I can see the eyes of my enemies firing at me due to the sheer amount of gunfire. Years of fighting in these mountains taught me how to stay alive. We move closer to the valley floor. I angle off to the right and crouch behind a boulder next to a tree. Husayn Jaan is one step behind me. Moving any closer is certain death. Our position is a safe distance away and allows us to mount a counter offensive without risking our lives. I can hear Husayn Jaan saying his prayers behind me in between shrieks and gunfire. Other men of our Mujahedeen ranks attempt to push forward on the Soviets holding the valley floor. I fire my Kalashnikov to give cover fire. I yell for them to stop advancing and hold their positions. They either don’t hear me, or they aren’t listening. A Soviet machine gun tears right through, dropping them in rhythm like dominoes. Death is nothing new to us. They don’t call us the ghosts of the mountain for nothing.

We hold our position and provide cover fire for another hour or so. When the chaos subsides and the coast seems clear, we gather the dead bodies. These brave young men are martyrs. The oldest looks no older than twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. They are promised Heaven, but all I can think of are their mothers who still remain on this Earth. We carry their bodies back to camp where we bury them as they died: in their bloody uniform. This is custom within Islam; a symbol showing the honor and sacrifice of the martyrs in the next life for the greater good. Their sacrifice earns them glory and rank amongst the most virtuous people.

I am only twenty-seven, but I feel generations older than most of these men. I have been fighting with the Mujahedeen against the communist Soviets for a few years now. War was not my choice though. Before this I had a regular job working at a bank in a town in Ghazni. My uncle is a prominent man in our town with a lot of political sway. Where we come from, men like my uncle are the leaders of the family. They make decisions for the rest of us and we follow accordingly. He approached me one day and told me I have a duty to my country and my people. He told me I have to pick up arms and fight the oppressors. So I did. I have two brothers and four sisters. My youngest brother has been sickly since he was a child, so he is unable to fight in the war. My older brother doesn’t have to fight. He studied in Kuwait and is a well-respected individual in the community. He was sent to Pakistan while I was sent into the mountains.

The next morning, we rise early for the morning prayers. Umar and Samir approach us. I can tell by Umar’s distant demeanor that he is irritated with Samir’s childlike nature. Umar is a stoic man. Little is known about his background because he doesn’t speak about himself. We do know he comes from a village in Ghazni and is not even thirty years old. Umar and Samir just picked fruit off some trees nearby, but most of the fruit is gone by the time they reach us. Samir frantically apologizes for not saving me any fruit to eat. I tell him I’m not hungry and leave to get some work done before heading out to my post. The mountainside feels like a frying pan today. The scorching sun abuses all at this mountain pass, as if we are lying directly underneath its relentless rays. Husayn Jaan once said that if the mountains feel like this for us—the people of the land—then it must be absolute torture for the Soviets who are not from here. This thought brought me comfort…even our motherland joined in on the warfront. Husayn Jaan is useful in this way. He uses his intellect to cheer us up or see something good in a bad situation. He can speak more languages than I can name, including Russian. Some of the men say he can speak Russian better than the Russians themselves. Husayn Jaan and I usually man the RPG post together. He has a good eye and easily understands strategy. His knowledge of different tongues is useful on the radio, while I understand weapons and war.

The strategy is consistent. Soviet tanks and cargo need to move through a windy pass to get their supplies into Kabul so they can continue their atrocities on our women and our people. Our job is to slaughter the Soviets at that pass. Tanks typically hold the front and rear of Soviet caravans. Our first goal is to hit the leading tank with an RPG to prohibit its movement. Next we attack the tank at the rear with another RPG, effectively trapping the Soviets in place and preventing them from retreating. With the enemy disoriented and cornered, Afghan men emerge from every crack and crevice of the mountains, swiftly descending upon the Soviets from above the pass. Umar leads these men. He is a crafty fighter when it comes to guerilla warfare. Some days are filled with exhausting battles. Other days are filled with chit chat and Samir running us down chai from camp. We are not a big guerilla unit like those in the North or in the South at the border of Pakistan. It is harder for us to get supplies and we often fight with inferior weaponry. These challenges are nothing new to any of us. The men I work with have had rough lives and experienced hardships far before entering these mountains. These men come from poor homes and most of us are unwed with no children. We have a duty to our women and our God though. We all understand this clearly.

Ferdaws Ashrati is an author and martial artist. If you’re interested in The Creed of the Mountains, it’s available now on Amazon.