The Taliban claim to have captured the Panjshir Valley, the last holdout province that had yet to fall under their control. The Taliban alleged to have “completely conquered” the region after two weeks of fierce fighting. If the allegation is true, it means the Taliban control every one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. But the National Resistance Front in Afghanistan, the anti-Taliban group battling the Taliban in Panjshir Valley that is in part led by former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, denied the allegation. “The resistance is still all over the valley,” a spokesman said. NRFA leader Ahmad Massoud said in a statement Monday the Taliban’s “claim of occupying Panjshir is false” and that “NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight.”
Despite the claims of resistance, witnesses tell the Associated Press that thousands of Taliban fighters took over eight Panjshir districts overnight. Photos posted on social media show members of the Taliban standing in front of the gate of the compound of the Panjshir provincial governor and another one appeared to show Taliban fighters raising their flag in the provincial capital. “Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a news conference. There were reports Monday of multiple casualties among resistance fighters, including some high-ranking leaders.
In a statement Sunday, Massoud said resistance forces were ready to drop their weapons if Taliban ended its assault. But he later wrote a long message saying the Taliban had carried out a fierce assault despite their promises of wanting a peaceful settlement. “They began a full-scale military offensive on our people which led to numerous victims, among them my close family members,” he said. He also appealed to Afghans, whether inside or outside the country, “to rise up in resistance for the dignity, integrity and freedom of our country!”
If the Taliban does manage to hold on to its control over Panjshir it would be both a strategic and symbolic victory. The Taliban never managed to fully take control of Panjshir when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and it was where the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan began. Fighters in Panjshir also held off several attacks from the Soviets in the 1980s. The Taliban took pains Monday to try to reassure the Panjshir population that they had nothing to fear. “We give full assurance to the honorable people of Panjshir that they will not be discriminated against,” Mujahid said. “They are all our brothers, and we will serve a country and a common goal.”