Battle for Panjshir rages on even as Taliban claim Afghanistan's 'acting' president Amrullah Saleh has fled
With conflicting reports, the situation on the ground remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that the battle for Panjshir will continue to wage in the near future
The Taliban claimed on Friday that Afghanistan's 'acting' president Amrullah Saleh has fled to Tajikistan with commanders of Panjshir in two planes yesterday. Just a day before, Saleh had said that the Panjshir-based resistance against the Taliban will continue to defend the rights of all Afghan citizens.
Following Taliba’s claims, Saleh took to his Twitter handle and highlighted the harrowing experiences of the people of Panjshir.
He said, "Talibs have blocked humanitarian access to Panjshir, do racial profile of travelers, use military age men of Panjhsir as mine clearance tools walking them on mine fields, have shut phone, electricity & not allow medicine either. People can only carry small amount of cash."
In another tweet, he said, “Over the past 23 years since start of the Emergency Hospital we never blocked Talib access to it. Talibs are committing war crimes & have zero respect for IHL. We call on UN & world leaders to take notice of this clear criminal & terrorist behavior of the Talibs.”
While it remains unclear if Saleh is still in Panjshir or not, several international media outlets have reported that although both sides had said that they were keen to avoid war, there has been no settlement and talks have given way to open fighting.
The Taliban say they have sent hundreds of fighters, but according to news agency AFP, Taliban fighters who make it to the edges of the valley will be greeted by machine gun nests, mortars and surveillance posts fortified with sandbags.
Panjshir, which is controlled by the National Resistance Front (NRF), a reincarnation of the Northern Alliance rebel group that fought alongside U.S. forces during the 2001 invasion, held out even as the rest of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last month.
The NRF is led by Ahmad Massoud, whose father was known as the "Lion of Panjshir", and for good reason. Ahmad Shah Massoud not only held off the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, but went on to keep the Taliban out in the 1990s, only to be killed by assassins two days before 9/11.
NBC News quoted Antonio Giustozzi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, as saying last week before the fighting broke out that Taliban forces vastly outnumber Massoud’s fighters.
Any conflict would be “somewhat damaging” to the Taliban’s international image, he said, adding that the geography is “on the side of Massoud Jr. and his forces.”
“The entire province is a valley, really,” he said. “There is only one road, so, basically, if you can hold on to the entrance of the valley, no mechanized forces can make any progress. It is easy to block it.”
Meanwhile, Major Wazir Akbar Mohmand, whose twitter bio describes him as a ‘Commando, ANDSF ANA Commando 215 Corps’, who has an impressive number of followers on the microblogging website, tweeted on Friday: ‘A bloody night for taliban Khuwaja Ghar #Takhar province Liberated NRF. #Parwan under our control. Pockets in #Badakhshan Kapisa Baghlan Taliban attack last night #Panjshir 8000 men + 350 humvee. After 4 hrs tbn retreated & ambushed with many casualties 450 tali dead 130 captured’.
A day earlier, he had tweeted: ‘Warning: 135 #Taliban killed by Resistance in Panjshir and 45 in #Kapisa /24 hr. 5k Commandos waiting in Panjshir armed with helis, humvees & heavy artillery. We are no ordinary Commandos. We are the ones that refused to surrender and will fight until death. Welcome to #Panjshir’
Both sides say they have inflicted casualties, but exact numbers are difficult to gauge. Claims by the Taliban that they have taken control of certain areas have also been dismissed by NRF.
With conflicting reports, the situation on the ground remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that the battle for Panjshir will continue to wage in the near future.