The Taliban claimed on Monday that it has taken control of the Panjshir province, the last holdout of the forces resisting against the insurgent group’s takeover in Afghanistan, reported AP.
However, the resistance forces have denied the Taliban’s claim.
“The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight,” the National Resistance Front tweeted. “We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails.”
The anti-Taliban forces, also called the Panjshir resistance, is being led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of prominent Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massoud who resisted the Soviet control in 1980s.
Amrullah Saleh, vice president in the ousted Afghan government, is another prominent leader of the resistance forces.
The whereabouts of Massoud and Saleh were not known till Monday evening. However, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said he had been told that they had escaped to Afghanistan’s neighbouring country Tajikistan, Reuters reported.
Panjshir is among the few areas that the Taliban had failed to capture after it made swift advances across Afghanistan and seized important cities. The insurgent group had captured the capital Kabul on August 15.
After this, the Taliban began its attempts to capture the province. On September 4, Taliban spokesperson Bilal Karimi had claimed that the Khinj and Unabah districts in Panjshir were captured.
On Sunday, Massoud had called for ending the fight with the Taliban. He had said that his forces were ready to lay down their weapons only if the Taliban ended their assault.
Earlier on Monday, Mujahid said that the residents of the province would be safe under the group’s rule.
“We give full confidence to the honorable people of Panjshir that they will not be subjected to any discrimination, that all are our brothers, and that we will serve a country and a common goal,” Mujahid said in a statement.
Mujahid also warned against further attempts to overthrow the Taliban, and urged former members of the security forces to join them, AFP reported.
However, hours later, Massoud released an audio message urging Afghans to participate in a “national uprising” against the Taliban.
“Wherever you are, inside or outside, I call on you to begin a national uprising for the dignity, freedom and prosperity of our country,” Massoud said.
Meanwhile, the resistance group on Sunday confirmed that its spokesperson Fahim Dashti and General Abdul Wudod Zara were killed in a battle.
Dashti is a prominent Afghanistan-based journalist. He is also the nephew of Abdullah Abdullah, a former government official who is involved in negotiations with the Taliban on the future of Afghanistan.
New government to be announced soon, say Taliban
Mujahid told Reuters that the new government in Afghanistan will be announced soon but did not provide a specific date. He denied that there were differences within the group about the government’s formation.
The spokesperson added that women had returned to work in education and health sectors. “Other fields will be provided, one by one, once the system has been established for them,” he said.
Taliban meets UN officials
Top Taliban leaders, including Mullah Baradar, on Sunday met UN Under-Secretary General Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths at the foreign ministry in Kabul, ANI reported.
In a tweet, Griffiths said that the UN reaffirmed its “commitment to deliver impartial humanitarian assistance and protection” to Afghans.
A UN spokesperson said that the Taliban authorities assured safety of humanitarian staff in Afghanistan and that they would be guaranteed freedom of movement in the country, ANI reported.
Evacuation flights unable to leave Afghanistan: Officials
Officials said on Sunday that at least four planes ready to evacuate several hundred people from the country have been unable to leave for days. However, American and Afghan officials gave conflicting reasons for the delay, AP reported.
An Afghan official at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport said that the passengers who were supposed to board flights were Afghans and many of them did not have passports or visas.
Meanwhile, a member of the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee said that the evacuees include Americans and that the Taliban were not letting the planes take off, effectively “holding them hostage.”