The Taliban have fought their way to the capital of Panjshir, the last Afghan province holding out against their rule, and seem on the brink of total victory.
The group posted pictures on social media showing Taliban fighters standing in front of the gate of the governor’s compound. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement, saying Panjshir was under the control of Taliban fighters.
“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” he said.
“Panjshir province, which was the last remaining nest of the escaped enemy, was cleared this morning and last night,” he added at a press conference. “Emirate [Taliban] forces have an active presence there now.”
Mujahid said the Taliban tried to take Panjshir through negotiations but attempts failed after Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Masoud, commanders of the resistance forces, refused to negotiate.
“We tried to end the war after we conquered Kabul and that was the plan, but unfortunately some [fighters] escaped from Kabul to Panjshir with a massive amount of equipment and were trying to disrupt the nation,” he said.
In a voice message on Monday, Masoud did not reject the Taliban’s Panjshir claim and said members of his family were killed during the overnight attack. He urged resistance to continue.
“I have a message to our people, whether they are inside the country or outside, I ask you to start national rebellion for the the dignity and freedom of this country,” he said. “The resistance front will continue its efforts and will be with Afghans until victory day.”
If Taliban control is confirmed it would be the first time the valley has fallen since the start of Afghanistan’s four decades of conflict. It was a centre of anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, and then a holdout against the Taliban in the 1990s.
In another clip, the Taliban appeared to be raising their flag in Panjshir’s provincial capital.
نمایه تصویری فتح ولایت پنجشیر pic.twitter.com/rvMLVgSD46 — عمر افغان (@umar313afg) September 6, 2021
“The last region where all forces from Afghanistan were gathering, was captured by mujahedeen and it’s 7.20am and we raised our flag and it waving here now,” a Taliban commander said in a clip from Panjshir’s provincial governor compound. “Friends from Farah and Helmand sections are busy with clearance operations in the city.”
A spokesman for the resistance group the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) had earlier said that the province had fallen.
“Taliban’s claim of occupying Panjshir is false,” the group said in a tweet. “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 situation was complicated by reports that Fahim Dashti, the spokesman for the resistance, was killed in a battle on Sunday. Dashti was the voice of the group, an adviser to Massoud and a prominent media personality during previous governments. He was the nephew of Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official of the ousted government who has been involved in negotiations with the Taliban on the future of Afghanistan.
Massoud, who leads a force made up of remnants of regular Afghan army and special forces units as well as local militia fighters, called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban before the fighting broke out around a week ago.
Several attempts at talks were held but they eventually broke down, with each side blaming the other for their failure.
He said in a Facebook post on Sunday that he wanted “to reach a lasting peace”.
“The NRFA in principle agree to solve the current problems and put an immediate end to the fighting and continue negotiations,” Massoud said.
“To reach a lasting peace, the NRFA is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements on Panjshir and Andarab,” he said, referring to a district in the neighbouring province of Baghlan.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said the capture of Panjshir marked the end of the war and warned: “Anyone who touches a gun and talk about resistance, is the enemy of the entire nation.”
He said the Taliban would announced the line-up of its new government and pleaded for the international community to continue aid shipments to the war-torn country.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was due to arrive in Qatar on Monday as he seeks a united front with regional allies shaken by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Blinken plans to meet rescued Afghans as well as US diplomats, who have relocated functions from the shuttered embassy in Kabul to Doha.
On Wednesday, he will head to the American airbase of Ramstein in Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the US, from which he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas.
Blinken will also speak to the Qataris about efforts to reopen Kabul’s ramshackle airport – a pressing priority that is necessary for flying in badly needed humanitarian aid and evacuating remaining Afghans.
The Taliban have promised that they will keep letting Afghans leave if they want to – one of the key issues that US allies expect to discuss in the talks in Germany.
The US says it will monitor the Taliban’s follow-up on commitments as it determines its future course with the Islamists, whose 1996-2001 regime toppled by US forces was notorious for an ultra-austere interpretation of Islam that included public executions and a severe curtailing of women’s rights.
US officials have said Blinken does not plan to meet the Taliban, who have also made Doha their diplomatic base from which they negotiated the US pullout with the previous administration of Donald Trump.