TEHRAN (Iran News) – The Taliban have declared victory over opposition forces in the Panjshir Valley, northeast of Kabul, declaring that it had completed the group’s takeover of the last anti-Taliban stronghold in the country.
Footage on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound after fighting over the weekend with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), an alliance of local and former army soldiers, led by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
The unverified footage shows Taliban forces raising their flag in what they say is the heart of Panjshir.
Speaking at a news conference, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says “Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured”
The Taliban say that a number of NRFA commanders have been killed and some fled. The group says the operation in the region and the takeover of the province is a step toward expanding security in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have also assured the people of Panjshir that they will not be discriminated against.
Panjshir is reported to have come under Taliban control as the provincial capital was the scene of heavy fighting with helicopters and drones bombing the province overnight.
A statement by NRFA leader Ahmed Massoud, addressed the countries of the region and the world warned about the consequences of the group’s return to power.
He blamed the U.S. and NATO for bringing a large number of weapons, ammunition, and military equipment to Afghanistan, military hardware that ended up in the hands of the Taliban.
He adds the NRFA will stand up against the “persecution” of the Afghan people and will defend the rights of the people of Panjshir and Afghanistan with all its might.
The statement also decried that foreign actors “had not stood” with the NRFA and concluded that the “struggle” will continue against the Taliban.
One NRFA official dismissed the Taliban claim of victory in Panjshir as false insisting the front is still resisting the group at all the strategic points of the Panjshir valley.
Earlier, Massoud welcomed proposals from religious scholars for a negotiated settlement to end the fighting saying “the NRFA is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements”
There are conflicting reports regarding the exact whereabouts of the anti-Taliban figure himself. The Taliban claim he has fled the country.
This is while reports have surfaced that Fahim Dashty, spokesperson and aide of Massoud’s resistance front, has been killed in fighting with Taliban forces in Panjshir.
A social media page associated with the anti-Taliban alliance also put out a statement saying “with deep touch and regret, we lost two dear brothers and colleagues and fighters today. Fahim Dashty, the head of the office of Amir Saheb Ahmad Masoud, and General Sahib Abdul Wadood Zhor, the nephew of the national hero of Afghanistan”
Neighboring country Iran has strongly denounced the Taliban operation in Panjshir saying the violence there was “worrying”.
The Taliban have promised to declare their new government soon. Mujahid has denied there were any disagreements within the movement about the formation of a new government saying it will be announced soon, but he did not set a date.
Meanwhile, Taliban leaders have held a meeting in Kabul with a UN delegation led by undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen says Griffiths has pledged to keep vital humanitarian assistance flowing for the Afghan people. The meeting between the head of the Taliban’s political office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar along with other high-ranking officials and Griffiths comes as Afghanistan faces a potentially catastrophic humanitarian crisis caused by severe drought and a collapsing economy.
Shaheen says “the UN delegation promised continuation of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, saying he would call for further assistance to Afghanistan during the coming meeting of donor countries”.
According to a statement by Shaheen, the Taliban delegation led Mullah Baradar, thanked UN officials for the promise of aid and assured them “of cooperation and provision of needed facilities”.
A UN spokesman affirmed the Taliban pledge to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers and aid access in Afghanistan during the meeting.
A statement from UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said Griffiths is in the Afghan capital for several days of meetings with the Taliban leadership amid uncertainty in the country under the new rulers.
The UN official said “the authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that humanitarian workers — both men and women — will be guaranteed freedom of movement”
Griffiths reiterated in the meeting that the humanitarian community was committed to delivering “impartial and independent humanitarian assistance”. He also called on all parties to ensure the rights and safety of women, both those contributing to aid delivery and civilians.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more accommodating than during their first stint in power, from 1996 to 2001, which also came after years of conflict.
The UN says Afghanistan is mired in a humanitarian crisis affecting 18 million people, or half the population. Even before the Taliban’s lightning offensive that ousted the former government on August 15, Afghanistan was already heavily aid-dependent, with 40 percent of the country’s GDP drawn from foreign funding.
But the future of aid missions in the country under the Taliban has been a source of concern for the UN and aid groups. The UN also confirmed humanitarian flights had resumed to several Afghan provinces.
On September 13, the United Nations is expected to convene an international aid conference in Geneva to help avert what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a “looming humanitarian catastrophe”.
Several relief organizations have previously confirmed they were in talks with the Taliban to continue their operations, or have already received security guarantees for existing programs.
In a report to the Security Council this weekend, Guterres urged “the Taliban and all other parties to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs can be met”
Meanwhile, a week after declaring America’s “new chapter” of engagement with Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will aim to form a united front with Washington’s allies this week on how to tackle the Taliban and ensure continued support for U.S. attempts to help evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans who remained behind.
On a trip to Qatar and Germany, Blinken will be overlapping with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who is also departing for a wider Gulf visit covering Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
Blinken will meet with senior Qatari officials in Doha and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at Ramstein airbase, where he will also co-host a ministerial meeting in Afghanistan.
The visit by the two top U.S. national security officials comes as the Biden administration is still grappling with the fallout from what is widely seen as a disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
U.S. officials say both Blinken and Austin are not expected to engage in any talks with members of the Taliban.
Washington completed the withdrawal on August 31. It was one of the largest airlifts in history, evacuating more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans, and others, although thousands of at-risk Afghans and about 100 U.S. citizens still remained behind.
The withdrawal process has been strongly criticized by President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans.
Qatar, the current headquarters for some Western diplomatic missions to Afghanistan, has also been front and center in negotiations over the future of Kabul airport.
A technical team from Qatar reopened Kabul airport for aid and domestic services. But talks to resume international flights and security of the airport have continued between Qatar, the Taliban, and Turkey.