The Taliban claimed they have taken the last pocket of resistance against them in Afghanistan, Panjshir, on Monday – but their opponents disagree.
The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, declared: “Our latest efforts to bring peace to the entire country succeeded as Panjshir province is completely conquered and came under control of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
Thousands of Taliban fighters took over Panjshir’s eight districts on Sunday night, according to Associated Press – but this does not necessarily mean they now control the region.
While the main leaders of the self-proclaimed National Resistance Front (NRF), Ahmad Massoud and former vice president Amrullah Saleh have not yet addressed the Taliban’s purported victory, the group tweeted: “The Taliban’s claim of occupying Panjshir is false.
“The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight.”
It remains unclear who is in control of the Panjshir valley for now.
Freelance journalist Natiq Malikzada looked at the geography of the province, so often used as a safe haven against the Taliban, and unpacked why the two sides disagreed on the militants’ victory.
He tweeted: “Panjshir is a valley and has only one road that goes till the end of Panjshir, and it is called the road of main valley.
“The main valley, the red line in the centre, has dozens of other valleys attached to it.
“It works like tree roots.”
He continued: “The governor office is in the main road valley and the Taliban are there. The other valleys are still untouched and Resistance Forces are fighting from there.”
Malikzada claimed the Taliban captured only an “empty office and a road” during their overnight offensive.
He claimed that if the militants wanted to capture the entire province, they would have to fight “dozens times more”.
Panjshir is famous for being an almost impenetrable region – the former USSR attempted to conquer the area but repeatedly failed throughout the 80s, while the Taliban themselves were unable to enter the valley in the 90s when they controlled the rest of the country.
The resistance fighters have been training to take on the Taliban since the militants’ lightning offensive in August.
Malikzada added: “Announcing victory for capturing a road and an empty office seems a pretty foolish act.”
The NRF, made up of former Afghan soldiers and more than 1,000 displaced people, claimed it only wanted to negotiate with the Taliban over the governance of Afghanistan.
In August, the NRF’s head of foreign relations, Ali Nazary, promised: “We prefer peace, we prioritise peace and negotiations. If this fails – if we see that the other side is not sincere, if we see that the other side is trying to force itself on the rest of the country – then we’re not going to accept any sort of aggression.”
The group’s leader Massoud called for an end to the fighting on Sunday following a series of skirmishes with the Taliban which resulted in several deaths on both sides.
Fahim Dashti, the resistance’s spokesman, was also killed in battle on Sunday.