Taliban claim control of Panjshir, opposition says resistance will continue

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The Taliban claimed victory on Monday in the last part of Afghanistan still holding out against their rule, declaring that the capture of the Panjshir valley completed their takeover of the country and they 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.

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“Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference.

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 U.S. air support in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Residents there are Farsi speakers, ethnically distinct from the mainly Pashtun Taliban.

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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 neighboring Tajikistan.

GOVERNMENT SOON

The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not reimpose the brutal rule of their last period in power, when they carried out violent public punishments and barred women and girls from public life.

But more than three weeks after they swept into Kabul, they have yet to announce a government or give details about the social restrictions they will now enforce.

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Mujahid denied there were any disagreements within the movement about the formation of a new government and said it would be announced soon, but he did not set a date.

He also said women were back at work in the health and education sectors and “other fields will be provided, one by one, once the system has been established for them.”

Holding the Panjshir valley would be a major symbolic victory for the Taliban, who never succeeded in doing so when they last ruled the country. Its steep gorges are still littered with the wreckage of tanks destroyed during the long war against the Soviet Union.

Massoud is the son of a legendary commander who led resistance to both the Soviets and the Taliban, and whose huge concrete tomb serves as a shrine to the valley’s resistance.

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The Panjshir fighting has been the most prominent example of resistance to the Taliban. But some cities have also witnessed small, isolated protests for women’s rights or in defense of the green, red and black flag of the vanquished Afghan republic.

U.S.-led foreign forces evacuated about 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans in the weeks before the last U.S. troops left Kabul, but tens of thousands who fear Taliban retribution were left behind.

U.S. 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.

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Blinken will testify about the withdrawal before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 14, the committee said on Monday.

About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in northern Afghanistan for days awaiting clearance for charter flights to leave, an organizer told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. 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 Organization official said on Monday.

The WHO is trying fill the gap by providing supplies, equipment and financing to 500 health centers, the UN health agency’s regional emergency director, Rick Brennan, told Reuters.

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The agency was also liaising with Qatar for medical deliveries. “We are hoping to have up to two or three plane-loads of supplies airlifted from the government of Qatar probably into Kabul in the next week or so,” he said.

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 Sept. 13 to help avert what U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a looming humanitarian catastrophe.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and James Oliphant; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Simon Cameron-Moore, Angus MacSwan, Peter Graff)

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