Afghanistan: Taliban claim victory in Panjshir, but resistance forces say they still control strategic position

Panjshir was the last remaining hold-out among Afghanistan’s 34 provinces to resist the Taliban. If the claim is true, it would mean the Taliban now control every Afghan province.

However, the National Resistance Front in Afghanistan (NRF), an anti-Taliban group which has been battling the militants’ offensive in the Panjshir Valley, denied the claim, with spokesman Ali Nazary telling CNN: “The resistance is still all over the valley.”

In reference to the Taliban offensive, NRF leader Ahmad Massoud said Monday that “in no way military pressure on us and our territory will lessen our resolve to continue our fight.”

Call for a national uprising
In a long message on his Facebook page, Massoud also appealed to Afghans, whether in or outside the country, to join “a general uprising for the sake of honor, freedom and pride of our country.” Massoud also called for international support for his cause.

Photos and videos shared widely on social media showed the white flag of the Taliban hoisted between buildings in what appeared to be the Panjshir governor’s office in the provincial capital of Bazarak. CNN cannot independently verify the image.

“The last nest of the enemy, Panjshir province, was completely conquered,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet. “We assure the honorable people of Panjshir that they will not face any discriminatory treatment. They are all our brothers, and we will work for one country and one common goal. With the recent efforts and this victory, our country is completely out of the vortex of war.”

Mujahid later told a news conference that the province “which was the last place of our enemy has been cleared completely last night,” adding that there were no civilian casualties in the last few days and “all weapons have been captured.”

Although it did not deny the center of Panjshir had fallen to the militants, the NRF said earlier in the day that other areas in Panjshir remained under its control.

“Most of Bazarak district and all the side valleys are controlled by the NRF,” Nazary said.

“Taliban’s claim of occupying Panjshir is false. The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight. We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails,” the NRF said.

NRF leader Massoud said in a Facebook post on Sunday he is in support of clerics in the capital Kabul who have called for an end to the fighting and was ready to talk once the Taliban withdrew troops from Panjshir and the neighboring district of Andarab.

There’s been no official Taliban response to Massoud’s proposals.

In his Facebook post on Monday, Massoud said he had lost family members in the fighting in Panjshir,

Massoud added that the NRF accepted the appeal of religious leaders to end the fighting, but the “Taliban showed their identity and showed that they have no belief in Sharia.”

“The Taliban started attacking us which resulted in the killing of a large number of our countrymen including my family members,” he said.

Massoud said that what was happening in Afghanistan would make the country “backward, dark, far from any kind of culture and art and unity as well as an Afghanistan that is in total isolation from the rest of the world.”

Earlier, Taliban spokesman Belal Kareemi told CNN the group’s militant fighters had taken all districts of Panjshir province except for the capital of Bazarak and Rokha districts, which remain under NRF control. But resistance fighters appeared to rebut the Taliban’s claims.

Panjshir is a strategic slice of mountainous terrain rich with precious mineral resources around 90 miles (144 kilometers) north of Kabul, and has a long history of resisting the insurgent group. In the late 1990s, it was a center of resistance against the Taliban during their rule.

For two weeks the NRF, a multi-ethnic group that includes former Afghan security force members and reportedly numbers in the thousands, has continued the fight against the Taliban following the militants’ almost-complete takeover of Afghanistan.

The NRF said its spokesmen Fahim Dashty and General Abdul Wudod Zara had been killed.