After weeks of fruitless negotiations between the Taliban’s political leadership and senior leaders of the National Resistance Front in Panjshir, the Taliban launched a multi-pronged attack on the Panjshir Valley beginning on Aug. 31. The Taliban timed the assault on Panjshir for immediately after the U.S. military pulled out of Kabul airport and ended efforts to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies.
To this point, the National Resistance Front has mostly successfully warded off the Taliban by virtue of easily defended positions in the mountainous region, inflicting heavy Taliban casualties along the way.
Prior to the Taliban incursions, the nascent resistance claimed it controlled four districts in Baghlan and Parwan provinces outside of the Panjshir Valley. These districts provided a cushion for the anti-Taliban militia to gather Afghan security forces who did not surrender to the Taliban. [See: FDD’s Long War Journal report, Anti-Taliban resistance make modest gains outside Panjshir.]
However, the Taliban recaptured the crucial district of Dih Saleh in eastern Baghlan province, which granted the group access to the Khawak Pass that leads into the heart of Panjshir. Along with Khawak, the Taliban sent militants to the southern gate of the Panjshir Valley at the town of Gulbahar, and Anjuman, a critical pass in the north in Badakhshan province. Despite its numerical superiority, the Taliban was not able to break the defensive lines of the resistance forces.
In the south, the Taliban massed forces in the district of Jabul-Saraj in Parwan in hopes of overrunning the National Resistance Front’s defenses in Gulbahar. Intense fighting waged for two days, as reports emerged of Taliban militants advancing past the initial defensive positions into Shotul district in Panjshir. On social media, pro-Taliban accounts continued circulating videos claiming that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s forces had taken control of Shotul. However, neither Taliban officials nor their more credible social media supporters have posted similar information, indicating that the claims are false. The Taliban does appear to have controlled the pass for a period of time.
As of this morning, reports indicated that the NRF was able to expel the Taliban from Shotul as fighting continued further south near Gulbahar. National Resistance Front spokesman Fahim Dashty corroborated those reports, stating “the Taliban has spread rumors that they have entered parts of Panjshir. These are psychological operation (PsyOp) and propaganda. We assure full control over all the entrances of Panjshir. [The] Taliban have made multiple attempts to enter Shotul from Jabul-Saraj, and failed each time.”
Most recent reports suggested that pro-resistance fighters from Andarab have retaken the Khawak Pass, halting further Taliban incursions, although that information could not be independently verified.
In the northeast, the Taliban also attempted to enter the Panjshir Valley through the Anjuman Pass near Badakhshan. Given the lack of reporting on clashes in the northeast, it is likely that this was not a main line of effort for the Taliban and that the resistance forces were able to easily defend the pass from the assault. A former Afghan National Army commando reported that the Anjuman Pass is heavily guarded by elite units who have inflicted heavy casualties on any Taliban fighters who attempted to enter the valley.
Furthermore, reports emerged of the Taliban employing Al Qaeda and foreign fighters to attack in Panjshir. Originally, that claim was propagated by Massoud’s forces in Panjshir. However, videos surfaced of militants speaking Arabic and Persian – among other languages on their way to the Khawak Pass in Baghlan. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the successful NRF ambush at Khawak, militia leaders are claiming that they eliminated both Taliban and Al Qaeda units.
While the Taliban do have advantages in both manpower and firepower, Panjshir’s terrain provides the National Resistance Front with easily defendable positions, enabling the resistance to continue to withstand the Taliban onslaught. As a result, the National Resistance Front has thus far been successful in maintaining the territorial integrity of Panjshir and resisting incursions by the Taliban.
As fighting continues, the lack of declarations of victory by the Taliban and its supporters on social media would indicate that the resistance has the upper hand, at least temporarily.
Sources on the ground reported that the Taliban is preparing for another offensive as resistance forces say they remain ready to defend Panjshir.
Correction: This article originally included video of an ambush that was attributed to the National Resistance Front in Panjshir, however it was quickly determined the video was not authentic, and removed.
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