Anti-Taliban fighters in Afghan’s Panjshir Valley are engaged in bitter fighting to repel “heavy” attacks by a “very well-armed” Taliban, the group said Friday.
Attempts to negotiate a peace deal between the two sides have failed, and the Taliban are eager to capture the last preserved province that has so far prevented them from cementing full control of the country since they took Kabul on August 15.
“The Taliban have a significant advantage,” Nishank Motwani, an Afghan analyst based in Australia, said Islamists were encouraged by their recent victories.
“They are very well armed and have the psychological factor in their favor for hastening the fall of the government so quickly.”
The Taliban seized a huge arsenal of weapons and military equipment that the now-departed US has delivered to the defeated Afghan army, as well as the support of prisoners they freed from prisons.
“The Taliban also have shock troops, including the use of suicide tactics,” Motwani added.
Fighters from the National Resistance Front (NRF), made up of fighters from the Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces, are said to have significant stockpiles of weapons of their own in the valley, about 80 miles north of Kabul, enabling them to engage in combat. engage in a heavily armed confrontation with the Islamists.
Fighters from the National Resistance Front (NRF), made up of anti-Taliban militias and former Afghan security forces, are also said to have significant arms stockpiles in the valley about 80 miles north of Kabul
The National Resistance Front has so far been able to hold off the Taliban in a heavily armed confrontation and prevent the Taliban from cementing total control over the nation
Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban insurgency take part in military training in Panjshir province, the only remaining armed forces of anti-Taliban forces
Led by Ahmad Massoud, son of a former Mujahideen commander, the NRF holds its ground in the Panjshir Valley, a steep valley that makes attacks from outside difficult
On Wednesday, senior Taliban official Amir Khan Muttaqi released an audio message saying that their troops had surrounded the valley, and called on the people of the Panjshir to tell fighters to lay down their weapons.
“Those who want to fight, tell them enough is enough,” Muttaqi said.
But the NRF continues to deploy the Taliban in a desperate attempt to prevent them from taking over total control, as many Afghans are terrified of a repeat of the Taliban’s brutal rule from 1996 to 2001.
Hours after their warning, Taliban forces launched new attacks, including from southern Panjshir from Kapisa, but also from Khawak Pass west of the valley.
Both sides have claimed heavy casualties to their rivals, although reports from the valley itself are scarce and communication between the fighting and the terrain is difficult.
The Taliban say the Panjshir Valley is surrounded on all four sides and a rebel victory is impossible. The rebels say they will refuse to surrender.
The National Resistance Front (NRF), made up of an ethnic Tajik militia and former Afghan security forces, has vowed to defend the enclave while the Islamist group says it has surrounded it. Between 150,000 and 200,000 live in the valley.
Panjshir Valley (pictured as resistance fighters take position on patrol, September 1, 2021) has a storied history of fighting in recent history, having been used as a bulwark against the Soviets in the 1980s and again against the Taliban in the 1990s
Pictured: A satellite map showing the proximity of the Panjshir Valley to Kabul, which was captured by the Taliban on August 15 during the withdrawal of US and Western troops from Afghanistan
Ali Maisam Nazary, a spokesman for the NRF who is in close contact with leader Ahmad Massoud, said there had been more attacks by Taliban forces at night.
“There is heavy fighting in Panjshir,” Nazary said. “He (Massoud) is defending the valley.”
Massoud is the son of the late guerrilla commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, also known as the ‘Lion of Panjshir’ for being the first to stand firm against Soviet forces during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s and later against the Taliban in the 1980s. 90.
In a statement on Wednesday, Massoud said the Taliban had offered them “one or two seats” in their new government, but had turned down the deal.
“The Taliban have chosen the path of war,” said Massoud, who pledged to fight the Taliban at any cost, while another NRF fighter stated they are “ready to defeat” [the Taliban] if they dare to invade,” despite being under heavy fire and the Taliban controlling the vast majority of the country.
Ahmad Massoud (left), Northern Alliance leader and son of ‘the Lion of the Panjshir’, says the Taliban have ‘chosen the path of war’. Massoud was only 12 when his father, Ahmad Shah Massoud (right), was assassinated by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network
The 70-mile valley surrounded by jagged snow-capped peaks offers Panjshir fighters a natural military advantage, as defending units can use high positions to ambush attacking troops below.
But according to Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, the conflict appears to be escalating: “Taliban troops have gathered around the entrance to the valley, but have been ambushed and killed.”
Van Bijlert said that although both sides had suffered losses in the fighting so far, the Taliban had asked for more support from neighboring provinces, which could weaken the resolve of the Panjshir defenders.
Pictured: Afghan resistance fighters take position during a hilltop patrol in the Panjshir Valley, September 1, 2021
“While both sides appeared to be hurting each other mainly to strengthen their hand in the negotiations without launching an all-out battle, the Taliban are now calling in troops from other provinces, according to latest reports.”
The Panjshir – mainly inhabited by ethnic Tajik people – has enormous symbolic value in Afghanistan as the area that has historically resisted occupation by invaders.
For anti-Taliban Afghans, the province is a symbol to show that the Taliban are not the welcome rulers of all of Afghanistan, Motwani said.
“It gives hope to those Afghans who have lost almost everything in the blink of an eye.
“It’s a place where people can step outside the Taliban regime.”
Bismillah Mohammadi, the Afghan defense minister before the government fell last month, said the Taliban launched a renewed attack on Panjshir on Tuesday evening.
“Last night the Taliban terrorists attacked Panjshir but were defeated,” Mohammadi tweeted Wednesday, claiming that 34 Taliban were killed and 65 injured.
“Our people don’t have to worry. They withdrew with heavy losses.’
Residents and fighters in Panjshir, many of whom fought the Taliban when they were last in power from 1996 to 2001, delivered a defiant message.
“We are ready to defend it to the last drop of our blood,” said one resident.
“Everyone has a weapon on their shoulder and is ready to fire,” said another. “From the youngest to the oldest, they all talk about resistance.”