Taliban seize almost half of Panjshir

Release fresh footage that shows tanks, heavy weapons being used against resistance forces


Shahabullah Yousafzai September 06, 2021
Taliban forces patrol near the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, a day after US troops withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 31, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL:

Taliban fighters on Sunday advanced deep into Afghanistan’s Panjshir, seizing almost half of the last holdout province, and releasing fresh footage that showed tanks and heavy weapons being used against the northern resistance forces.

The footage also shows fresh contingents of Taliban fighter arriving in the valley.

Seniors Taliban officials have announced amnesty for all Panjshir and said nobody would be hurt if they laid down their arms.

The Northern Resistance Alliance has claimed that they have injured more Taliban fighters while repulsing their attacks and taken hundreds of them into custody.

Separately, Taliban senior commander Mullah Baradar and other leaders met with the Qatar foreign minister and ambassador to Kabul on Sunday.

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The delegation discussed various topics including economic assistance, cooperation in education and healthcare and also the formation of the government.

Besides, a Turkish delegation is expected to meet Taliban leaders while a UAE delegation is also in the city.

A Pakistani delegation met the Taliban leadership a day earlier.

Following their lightning-fast rout of Afghanistan's army last month -- and celebrations Monday when the last US troops flew out after 20 years of war -- the Taliban are seeking to crush resistance forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.

The Taliban, who rolled into Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the group itself, are yet to finalise their new regime.

Top US General Mark Milley questioned whether the Taliban could consolidate power as they sought to shift from a guerrilla force to government.

"I think there's at least a very good probability of a broader civil war," said Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a bleak assessment.

"That will then in turn lead to conditions that could, in fact, lead to a reconstitution of Al-Qaeda or a growth of ISIS (Islamic State group)," he told Fox News Saturday.

Afghanistan's new rulers have pledged to be more accommodating than during their first stint in power, which also came after years of conflict -- first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war.

They have promised a more "inclusive" government that represents Afghanistan's complex ethnic makeup -- though women are unlikely to be included at the top levels.

However, this time women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban's education authority said in a lengthy document issued on Sunday.

Female students must also wear an Abaya and Niqab, as opposed to the even more conservative burqa mandatory under the previous Taliban regime.

Dozens of women had protested for a second day in Kabul on Saturday to demand the right to work and inclusion in the government, with social media clips showing Taliban fighters attempting to disperse the demonstrators.

Few in Panjshir, a rugged valley north of Kabul that held out for nearly a decade against the Soviet Union's occupation and also the Taliban's first rule from 1996-2001, seem to trust their promises.

Taliban official Bilal Karimi on Sunday reported heavy clashes in Panjshir, and while resistance fighters insist they have the group at bay, analysts warned they are struggling.

The Italian aid agency Emergency said Taliban forces had reached the Panjshir village of Anabah, where they run a surgical centre.

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"Many people have fled from local villages in recent days," Emergency said in a statement issued on Saturday, adding it was continuing to provide medical services and treating a "small number of wounded".

Anabah lies some 25 kilometres (15 miles) north inside the 115-kilometre-long valley, but unconfirmed reports suggested the Taliban had seized other areas too.

Bill Roggio, managing editor of the US-based Long War Journal, said Sunday that while there was still a "fog of war" -- with unconfirmed reports the Taliban had captured multiple districts -- "it looks bad".

Both sides claim to have inflicted heavy losses on the other.

"The Taliban army has been hardened with 20 years of war," Roggio tweeted on Sunday, adding that "the odds were long" for the Panjshir resistance.

Roggio noted that the Taliban seized "a massive amount of weapons" after the US withdrawal and the collapse of the army.

Former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, who is holed out in Panjshir alongside Ahmad Massoud -- the son of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud -- warned of a grim situation.

The Panjshir Valley, surrounded by jagged snow-capped peaks, offers a natural defensive advantage, with fighters melting away in the face of advancing forces, then launching ambushes firing from the high tops down into the valley.

(With input from AFP)

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