Taliban victory in valley of death
Rebel forces crushed
The Taliban has declared total victory in Afghanistan after the last bastion of resistance in the Panjshir Valley was overrun and surviving rebel leaders were reported to have fled into exile.
Fighters knelt in prayer as their flag was raised over the governor’s office in the rugged valley northeast of Kabul, with the last pockets of resistance crushed after days of fierce fighting.
As defeated troops were marched away, pictures on social media showed triumphant Taliban militants passing torn portraits of their old enemy, the late guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who turned the Panjshir Valley into an impregnable fortress during the 1980s Soviet invasion and again during the first Taliban regime a decade later.
His son, Ahmad Massoud, leader of the National Resistance Front, had sought to resist the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan since the fall of Kabul on August 15.
This time, however, the rebels were overwhelmed by a massive offensive on several fronts, with the Taliban breaching the valley for the first time with a weekend blitzkrieg.
By Sunday morning, local time, their fighters had entered Bazarak, the provincial capital.
“Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman, declared. “With this victory and latest efforts our country has come out of the quagmire of war and our people will have a happy life in peace, liberty and freedom.”
The NRF suffered heavy losses in the final desperate hours of fighting. One senior commander, General Abdul Wudod Zara, was killed, along with the journalist Fahim Dashti, who served as spokesman for the resistance, when their position was overrun.
The whereabouts of Mr Massoud himself are unclear. He released a message claiming that he was still in Panjshir and would keep fighting. “For those who want to take up arms, we are with you. For those who will resort to protest, we will stand next to you.”
Even his own men, however, appeared uncertain if this was true. One claimed that Mr Massoud and Amrullah Saleh, the Afghan vice-president, were still in Panjshir, and said a few resistance fighters were clinging on to isolated hilltops.
Another claimed the pair had flown to Tajikistan by helicopter as districts in Panjshir collapsed over the weekend. “The rebel leaders are evacuated to a safe place. They will soon release videos,” he said.
Before the final Taliban assault, Mr Massoud had said on Facebook that he would welcome proposals to end the fighting, but the Taliban dismissed the idea.
“We tried our best to solve the problem through negotiations, and they rejected talks and then we had to send our forces to fight,” Mr Mujahid told a press conference.
With the last challenge to its authority stamped out, the Taliban called on former members of the Afghan security forces to join a new, integrated military. “The Afghan forces will be asked to rejoin Taliban members,” Mr Mujahid said.