The Taliban has claimed victory in the last part of Afghanistan still holding out against its rule, declaring the capture of the Panjshir valley completed its takeover of the country and that it would unveil a new government soon.
Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound after days of fighting with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), commanded by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
“Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference on Monday.
However, Massoud remained defiant, and said his force, drawn from the remnants of the regular Afghan army as well as local militia fighters, was still fighting.
“We are in Panjshir and our Resistance will continue,” he said on Twitter.
He also said he was safe, but gave no details on his whereabouts. The NRFA’s head of foreign relations, Ali Maisam Nazary, said on Facebook: “The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight.”
The steep valley north of Kabul was long famed for holding out against attack, including both by Soviet troops in the 1980s and the Taliban during their previous rule in the 1990s.
It was the main redoubt of the Northern Alliance resistance fighters who toppled the Taliban with US air support in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Residents there are Farsi speakers, ethnically distinct from the mainly Pashtun Taliban.
The Taliban assured the people of the valley that there would be no “discriminatory act against them”.
“They are our brothers and would work together for a joint purpose and welfare of the country,” Mujahid said.
He said had been told that Massoud and another resistance leader, former vice president Amrullah Saleh, had escaped to neighbouring Tajikistan.
The Taliban has repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that it would not reimpose the brutal rule of its last period in power, when it carried out violent public punishments and barred women and girls from public life.
But more than three weeks after they swept into Kabul,it has yet to announce a government or give details about the social restrictions they will now enforce.
US-led foreign forces evacuated about 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans in the weeks before the last US troops left Kabul, but tens of thousands who fear Taliban retribution were left behind.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on Monday in Qatar where he will seek support to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans. A senior State Department official said four more Americans had safely left Afghanistan overland, without saying which country they had been evacuated to.
Blinken will testify about the withdrawal before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 14, the committee said on Monday.
About 1000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in northern Afghanistan for days awaiting clearance for charter flights to leave, an organiser told Reuters, blaming the delay on the US State Department. Reuters could not independently verify the details of the account.
Inside Afghanistan hundreds of medical facilities are at risk of closure because the Western donors who finance them are barred from dealing with the new Taliban government, a World Health Organisation official said on Monday.
Western powers say they are prepared to engage with the Taliban and send humanitarian aid to people displaced by drought and war, but that formal recognition and broader economic assistance will depend on action, not just promises, to safeguard human rights.
The United Nations is to convene an international aid conference on September 13 to help avert what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a looming humanitarian catastrophe.