Taliban forces and fighters loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud have fought in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, with each side saying it had inflicted heavy casualties in recent days of combat in the last province resisting Taliban rule.
Following the fall of Kabul on August 15, several thousand fighters from local militias and the remnants of army and special forces units have massed in Panjshir.
Under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, son of a former Mujahideen commander, they have been holding out in the province, a steep valley that makes attacks from outside difficult.
Efforts to negotiate a settlement appear to have broken down, with each side blaming the other for the failure of talks as the Taliban prepared to announce a government.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group’s fighters had entered Panjshir and taken control of some territory.
“We started operations after negotiation with the local armed group failed,” he said. “They suffered heavy losses.”
However a spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, a grouping of rebels, said it had full control of all passes and entrances and had driven back efforts to take Shotul district at the entrance to the valley.
“The enemy made multiple attempts to enter Shotul from Jabul-Saraj, and failed each time,” he said, referring to a town in the neighbouring Parwan province.
The resistance forces managed to completely clear the area of Salang, Charikar, Khuvaja Khar and one of the areas located to the north-west of the confrontation line of Taliban terrorists.
The spokesman said NRFA forces had also killed large numbers of Taliban fighters on two fronts since clashes first broke out earlier in the week.
“It has been proven to the other side that they cannot resolve this issue through war,” the spokesman said in reference to the Taliban’s losses.
Both sides provided varying figures for the other’s casualties, without offering evidence. It was not possible to verify the numbers of fighters on either side killed.
The Taliban says the Panjshir valley is surrounded on all four sides and a rebel victory is impossible. The rebels say they will refuse to surrender.
Who are NRF?
The valley in eastern Afghanistan has become the home of the National Resistance Front (NRF), a multi-ethnic group made up of militias and former Afghan security force members, reportedly numbering in the thousands.
Photos released this week show what appears to be an organized, well-armed and well-trained group.
The NRF has been joined by former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, but its leader is Ahmad Massoud, whose father was known as the “Lion of Panjshir”, and for good reason.
Ahmad Shah Massoud not only held off the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, but went on to keep the Taliban out in the 1990s, only to be killed by assassins two days before 9/11.
Ahmad Massoud – a 32-year-old King’s College London and Sandhurst Military Academy graduate – is now determined to do the same and keep the Taliban out. And he is not just looking for support at home – earlier this year he met France’s President Emmanuel Macron, seemingly in a bid for international allies as the US withdrawal drew nearer.
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