Taliban report seizing last holdout Afghan province

Witnesses say thousands of insurgent fighters overran eight districts of Panjshir; anti-Taliban forces vow to continue ‘struggle… until justice and freedom prevails’

Armored vehicles are seen in Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Jalaluddin Sekandar)
Armored vehicles are seen in Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Jalaluddin Sekandar)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban said on Monday they have taken control of Panjshir province north of Kabul, the Afghan capital. The province was the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces in the country and the only province the Taliban had not seized during their sweep last month.

Thousands of Taliban fighters overran eight districts of Panjshir overnight, according to witnesses from the area who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement Monday, saying Panjshir was now under the control of Taliban fighters.

An image posted on social media by the Taliban showed its fighters at the governor’s office of Panjshir province.

However, the National Resistance Front (NRF) — made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces — said its fighters were still present in “strategic positions” across the valley, and were continuing the struggle.

“We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails,” the NRF tweeted in English.

The anti-Taliban forces had been led by the former vice president, Amrullah Saleh, and also the son of the iconic anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud who was killed just days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban forces patrol at an outpost in Kotal-e Anjuman of Paryan district in Panjshir province, August 23, 2021. (Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP)

Nestled in the towering Hindu Kush mountains, the Panjshir Valley has a single narrow entrance. Local fighters held off the Soviets there in the 1980s and also the Taliban a decade later under the leadership of Massoud.

Massoud’s son Ahmad had issued a statement Sunday, calling for an end to the fighting that had been blistering in recent days. The young British-schooled Massoud said his forces were ready to lay down their weapons but only if the Taliban agreed to end their assault. Late on Sunday dozens of vehicles loaded with Taliban were seen swarming into Panjshir Valley.

There has been no statement from Saleh, Afghanistan’s former vice president who had declared himself the acting president after president Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 as the Taliban reached the gates of the capital. The Taliban subsequently entered the presidency building that day.

In his statement, Mujahid sought to assure residents of Panjshir that they would be safe — even as scores of families reportedly fled into the mountains ahead of the Taliban’s arrival.

“We give full confidence to the honorable people of Panjshir that they will not be subjected to any discrimination, that all are our brothers, and that we will serve a country and a common goal,” Mujahid said in his statement.

The Taliban stepped up assault on Panjshir on Sunday, tweeting that their forces had overrun Rokha district, one of largest of eight districts in the province. Several Taliban delegations have attempted negotiations with the holdouts there, but talks has failed to gain traction.

Fahim Dashti, the spokesman for the anti-Taliban group, was killed in a battle on Sunday, according to the group’s Twitter account. Dashti was the voice of the group and a prominent media personality during previous governments.

He was also the nephew of Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official of the former government who is involved in negotiations with the Taliban on the future of Afghanistan.

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