Taliban completes conquest of Afghanistan after seizing Panjshir

The Taliban completed its military conquest of Afghanistan and took control of the mountainous province of Panjshir after seven days of heavy fighting. The fall of Panjshir puts the Taliban in full control of the country and eliminates the final vestige of organized resistance to its rule.

The Taliban began its assault on Panjshir on Aug. 30, the day the U.S. military withdrew its last forces from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital of Kabul and 32 of the country’s 34 provinces on Aug. 16 after a three and a half month long offensive that began on May 1.

After the fall of Kabul, the National Resistance Front, led by former Vice President and National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh, and Panjshiri warlord Ahmad Massoud, organized inside Panjshir and several neighboring districts in Parwan and Baghlan province. Saleh and Massoud announced their opposition to the Taliban. Saleh organized thousands of members of the now-defunct Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, including Commandos, Special Forces and other units, and attempted to expand control beyond the Panjshir Valley. However, Saleh’s forays outside of Panjshir may have overextended his forces that would have been better used to defend the province and establish a secure base.

The Taliban attacked Panjshir, a mountainous fortress with few entrances and narrow passes, from multiple directions, and was initially repelled by the resistance forces. But the Taliban pressed its assault and was able to punch through the resistance’s defenses at the main pass in the south near the town of Gulbahar, and the pass at Khawak in the east.

The Taliban quickly advanced up the narrow road and took control of Bazarak, the provincial capital on Sept. 5. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, announced on Sept. 6 that Panjshir province “was completely conquered.”

Ahmad Massoud, whose father led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s and was assassinated by Al Qaeda just two days prior to 9/11, vowed to continue the fight against the Taliban and called on all Afghans to continue its resistance. Without his base in Panjshir, Massoud’s promise to effectively continue the fight against the Taliban is a difficult proposition. Massoud’s forces may be able to launch guerrilla attacks from the mountains, but its ability to challenge Taliban rule will be limited.

From the beginning, the resistance’s odds of successfully holding out against the Taliban were always long [See FDD’s Long war Journal report, After fall of Kabul, resistance to Taliban emerges in Panjshir.]

The Taliban had nearly all of the advantages in its favor, including numbers, equipment, and the quality of its fighting force. The Taliban’s military has been forged in 20 years of war against the U.S. military, NATO, and Afghan forces, while Massoud’s forces were safe in Panjshir and Saleh’s remnants were demoralized during the final Taliban offensive. The Taliban was able to mobilize its forces from across Afghanistan, while the resistance’s numbers were limited. Additionally, the Taliban was flush with weapons, munitions and gear that it seized from the Afghan military.

The National Resistance Front’s only advantage was terrain, but it was no match for the Taliban’s military might and the will to take the province and end the final challenge to dominating the country and establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

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