One year after U.S. withdrawal, resistance to Taliban rule grows

One year after the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, resistance to the Taliban’s brutal regime has organized in northern Afghanistan and is beginning to challenge the Taliban’s primacy.

Starting immediately after the U.S. left on Aug. 30, 2021, the Taliban sought to crush all remaining resistance to dominance over the country. By Sept. 6, the Taliban drove the remnants of the Afghan military and Panjshiri tribal militias underground or out of the country.

But since the early spring in 2022, organized resistance to the Taliban has sprung up in five provinces in northern Afghanistan (Badakhshan, Baghlan, Kapisa, Panjshir, and Takhar) and one province in the east (Nangarhar), led primarily by the National Resistance Front (NRF).

FDD’s Long War Journal, which closely tracked the Taliban’s slow march to seize districts and ultimately the entire country from 2014 to 2021, is actively assessing the military opposition to Taliban’s control of Afghanistan. [See Mapping the Fall of Afghanistan for the new Resistance map and new maps of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.]

Assessing the status of Afghanistan’s districts is extremely difficult, especially since the collapse of the Afghan government. It is far more difficult to obtain and corroborate information without a vibrant, independent press to verify claims by the Taliban and resistance groups. The Taliban has virtually eliminated a free press in Afghanistan.

Currently, LWJ assesses seven districts as contested (four in Panjshir, two in Baghlan, and one in Takhar) and 17 districts active with guerrilla fighting (five in Takhar, four in Baghlan, three in Panjshir, two in Badakhshan, two in Kapisa, and one in Nangarhar).

This assessment tracks only organized resistance. It does not include attacks claimed by the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province, a terrorist organization which is an enemy of the Taliban. Additionally, intra-Taliban disputes such as the brief conflict between the Taliban and Mawlawi Mehdi in Balkhab district in Sar-i-Pul in June are excluded. The Taliban swiftly put down Mehdi’s rebellion and he was killed two months later. Unclaimed or unverified attacks against the Taliban are also excluded.

While Taliban spokesmen and key leaders have naturally dismissed violent opposition to its rule as insignificant or non-existent, the group’s actions speak louder than its words. The Taliban has sent a large number of reinforcements into Panjshir and Baghlan in an effort to suppress the rebellion. The Taliban’s efforts have so far been unsuccessful. Hundreds of Taliban fighters are thought to have been killed in the fighting in the rough, mountainous terrain of the Afghan north.

In perhaps its most damning admission that the situation in the north is deteriorating, the Taliban appointed Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir as its military commander for Panjshir and Baghlan’s restive district of Andarab. Zakir, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay and head of the Taliban’s military commission, is one of the Taliban’s most effective military commanders [See LWJ report, Taliban Appoints Former Guantanamo Bay Detainee to Lead Fight in Panjshir.] Additionally, the Taliban appointed Mullah Mohammad Tayab Haqqani as the commander of police in Panjshir, and also created the Panjshir Brigade.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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