Afghanistan: Conflicting claims over who controls anti-Taliban holdout in the Panjshir Valley

Panjshir province was the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces in the country. Credit: AP

The Taliban have said they have taken control of Panjshir province, the last holdout of resistance against the insurgents, but anti-Taliban groups in the region have rejected the claim.

The hard to reach Panjshir Valley is the only province the Taliban failed to secure during their blitz offensive across Afghanistan last month.

Thousands of Taliban fighters overran eight districts of Panjshir overnight, according to witnesses from the area. They spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for their safety.

The group's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, issued a statement Monday, saying Panjshir was now under the control of the Taliban fighters.

Militiamen loyal to Ahmad Massoud training in Panjshir Credit: AP

“We tried our best to solve the problem through negotiations, and they rejected talks and then we had to send our forces to fight,” Mujahid later told a press conference in Kabul.

A Tweet from the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan rejected the Taliban's claims.

They 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 ppl of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban & their partners will continue until justice & freedom prevails."

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 attacks in the United States.

A tweet from Ali Maisam Nazary, who says he is the head of foreign relations for the group, claimed Massoud was safe and will make an announcement soon.

He 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.

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. Late on Sunday dozens of vehicles loaded with Taliban fighters 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 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.

Militiamen loyal to Ahmad Massoud, son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, trained in Panjshir province, Credit: AP

“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 tweeted Sunday that their forces had overrun Rokha district, one of the largest of eight districts in Panjshir.

Several Taliban delegations have attempted negotiations with the holdouts there, but talks have 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.

Meanwhile, in northern Balkh province, at least four planes chartered to evacuate several hundred people seeking to escape the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan have been unable to leave the country for days, officials said Sunday.