Taliban, Panjshir Resistance Make Conflicting Claims on Whether Holdout Province Has Fallen
16:45 GMT 03.09.2021 (Updated: 18:59 GMT 03.09.2021)
Situated about 125km north-east of Kabul, Panjshir has been one of the few areas of the country that did not fall to the Taliban* forces during last month's series of blitz offensives by the Islamist militants. Loyalists to the former Afghan government fled to the province, and formed a so-called 'National Resistance Front of Afghanistan'.
Self-proclaimed acting president of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, has uploaded a video in which he indicates that he is still in Panjshir and that "the RESISTANCE is continuing and will continue."
Earlier in the day, a Taliban spokesman tweeted
that the militants had taken control of the renegade province.
"I am here with my soil, for my soil and defending its dignity," Saleh wrote in a tweet accompanying the video.
"Today is Friday, September 3, 2021. It's 9:15 local time. I am in the Panjshir Valley. The reports concerning my escape from Afghanistan are totally baseless. I am here, we have had several meetings regarding the situation," Saleh said.
"No doubt the situation is difficult. We have been under invasion of the Taliban, their al-Qaeda* allies, terrorist groups from the region and beyond, as usual backed by the Pakistanis. We have held the ground, we have resisted. The resistance is not going to surrender. It's not going to bow to terrorism, and it's going to continue," the official added.
Earlier in the day, a source in the Kabul police headquarters told Sputnik that the province had been captured, and that the self-proclaimed interim government had crumbled.
"Panjshir province has fallen. All of the people and soldiers from the resistance have been captured by the militants. Amrullah Saleh [self-proclaimed acting president] and Ahmad Massoud [the leader of the resistance forces] have fled," the source said.
A Sputnik Afghanistan source dismissed
reports that Panjshir had fallen as "completely false", saying that heavy fighting was taking place at the Khavak Pass and in Shotol region, with the Taliban being kept from entering Panjshir Gorge. A separate source told Sputnik Afghanistan that claims that Saleh had fled the country were "nothing more than a rumour".
One of Sputnik Afghanistan's sources indicated that the Panjshir resistance forces' tactics in recent days has included the technique of false retreat to lure Taliban fighters into abandoned positions, only to be fired upon by rocket artillery. The goal of the strategy is to reduce the Taliban's numerical superiority.
Saleh tweeted earlier in the day about the Taliban's blocking of humanitarian access to Panjshir and described alleged war crimes being carried out by the militants, including what he said was the use of military-age men "as mine clearance tools".
In a separate tweet, Saleh wrote that "resistance" was "the nom de guerre of everyone here".
Earlier in the day, a resistance forces spokesman tweeted that forces loyal to Saleh and Massoud had repelled an attack Thursday night by 8,000 Taliban fighters after several hours of fighting, with 450 terrorists reported killed
and 130 more captured.
3 September 2021, 11:35 GMT
Also on Friday, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai called on
the Taliban and the Panjshir resistance forces to engage in dialogue. The resistance had previously rejected the Taliban's claims to power unless it agreed to form a "truly inclusive" government representing the interests of various groups and nationalities in the country.
Earlier, a local power utility company said that at least two electricity pylons were destroyed in shelling, resulting in power outages in the province.
During the recent weeks, Panjshir has become the only one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces not to have been captured by the Taliban, partly thanks to the natural protection from outside attack
provided by its mountainous landscape. The Sunni Islamist militants surrounded the province earlier this week, redeploying forces from other areas of the country. The group launched an offensive
on Thursday to capture the province by force after negotiations with Ahmad Massoud failed.
* Designated terrorist groups in Russia and other countries and outlawed.