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Fighting in Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley continues while resistance against the Taliban vows to hold out

Taliban members are patrolling after entering the Panjshir Valley, the only province the group failed to capture during its raid in Afghanistan on September 6, 2021 last month.

Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The status of the Panjshir Valley in eastern Afghanistan remained unclear on Tuesday after the Taliban declared that the militants had captured the country's last blocked province, despite Taliban resistance fighters vowing to continue fighting.

If the claims to victory are true, it means that all of Afghanistan is now under the control of the Taliban, who in July and early August through a series of staggering battlefield wins and Afghan military surrenders took the country of nearly 40 million people when the US withdrew its troops.

It would also mark an unprecedented and deeply symbolic defeat for a province known for its previously undefeated fighters who successfully withstood both Taliban and Soviet invasions and were important allies of the United States over the past few decades.

According to a member of the National Resistance Front speaking to CNBC from Panjshir, the fighting continued until the end of Tuesday on condition of anonymity due to security risks. The NRF is a multi-ethnic group of tribes, militias and the Afghan military who oppose the Taliban.

The Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprisings are taking part in military training in the Abdullah Khil area of ​​Dara district in Panjshir province on August 24, 2021

Ahmad Sahel Arman | AFP | Getty Images

Although the Taliban invaded the historically important valley, there is no evidence that they took control of it, says Kamal Alam, a non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council who was at Panjshir just last month.

“The Taliban have claimed they have taken Panjshir before without evidence. This time one thing is clear: you have definitely invaded Panjshir, ”Alam told CNBC on Tuesday. "Taking it whole is another matter and has yet to be proven. You have only taken parts of it at a minimal level for now, that's for sure."

First the Soviets, then the Taliban: a legacy of resistance

Alam is senior advisor to the Massoud Foundation, an organization that promotes the legacy of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the anti-Taliban resistance leader who was murdered prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Massoud's son Ahmad is the leader of the National Resistance Front and CEO of the Massoud Foundation. In a prepared statement posted on social media Monday, Ahmad Massoud vowed to continue fighting the Taliban and tried to convince others to do the same.

"Military pressure on us and our territory will in no way diminish our determination to continue our struggle," he said.

"Wherever you are, inside or outside the country, we appeal to you to stand up in resistance for the dignity, integrity and freedom of our country … We, the NRF, will stand by your side."

Ahmad Massoud, son of the murdered anti-Soviet resistance hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, waves as he arrives for a meeting in Bazarak, Panjshir Province, Afghanistan on September 5, 2019.

Mohammad Ismail | Reuters

Ahmad Massoud criticized the Taliban for failing to comply with a resolution by the Afghan Ulema Council or high-ranking religious scholars calling for a cessation of hostilities.

"We considered it final and inviolable and waited for the other side to reply," said Ahmad Massoud in his statement on Monday. "Yet the Taliban have revealed their true nature by rejecting the resolution's demand" with their offensive in the Panjshir.

Ahmad Massoud, 32, trained in the West at Sandhurst Military Academy and King & # 39; s College London. He has vowed to carry on his late father's legacy and claims to fight for a free and democratic Afghanistan.

Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the "Lion of Panjshir", led the resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s. The mountainous Panjshir remained as one of the few parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban could not take during this time.

Afghan men wave to negotiate on the 23rd instead of taking the fight away from them.

Ahmad Sahel Arman | AFP | Getty Images

Ahmad Shah Massoud worked with CIA paramilitary forces to mobilize and train local tribes to fight the Taliban.

Taliban victory would be "great psychological defeat"

The implications and significance of losing the Panjshir to the Taliban would be enormous, Alam said. "Not just for Afghanistan, but for the whole world – 9/11, the end of the Cold War and the folklore of the guerrilla war collide in Panjshir."

Over the past two and a half decades, "every attempt to invade the northeast has been defeated by the Taliban, not just Panjshir," Alam said. "However, if God were to forbid Panjshir now, it will be a huge psychological and tactical defeat with a strategic change for the future of Central Asia as well."

Emily Winterbotham, director of the Terrorism and Conflict Group at the Royal United Services Institute in London, shared this opinion.

"If the Taliban's victory over the small province of Panjshir is confirmed, it will be deeply symbolic," said Winterbotham. "It ends, at least for the time being, the last resistance against the Taliban, an achievement that the regime did not achieve for the first time in the 1990s."

It would also show how much stronger the Taliban are compared to 20 years ago. The Taliban have not only grown in size and support or acceptance in parts of the country; You also now have billions of dollars worth of US weapons and two decades of experience fighting Western military.

While the Taliban have stated that they want to build a more inclusive and forgiving leadership than in the past, the behavior of their fighters in recent weeks speaks a different story. Taliban members killed and beaten civilians, including demonstrators, including women and children.

"There is growing concern that the Taliban will harshly retaliate for resistance against the Taliban," said Winterbotham. "How the Taliban react is an indicator of how much the group has actually changed."

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