The Taliban says it is now in charge of the whole of Afghanistan after taking complete control of the province of Panjshir – but the leader of resistance forces has disputed the claim, calling on Afghans to “rise up”.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the area, which was the last being held by resistance forces, had been “completely conquered” and a “number of people” were killed, while the “rest fled”.
But opposition group the National Resistance Front (NRF) said the claim was false.
Taliban fighters outside the governor’s office in the Annaba district of Panjshir
It added: “The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight.
“We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails.”
The group’s leader, Ahmad Massoud, posted an audio message on social media asking Afghans to “rise up and stand against in any way possible” against the Taliban.
He added that the Taliban has not changed, and has only become “more extreme than yesterday”.
Addressing those who align themselves with the Taliban, he added: “You may have started with a good heart, but today you see your mistakes, from north to south, it’s an opportunity to seek forgiveness and to give up on bloodshed of the innocent.”
Speaking at a news conference, the Taliban’s spokesman claimed there had been no civilian casualties in the takeover of Panjshir.
Thousands of Taliban fighters overran eight districts in the province overnight, according to witnesses in the area.
Panjshir was the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces and the only province the group had not seized during their takeover of the country last month.
The deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said it had “taken control of the most important areas in Panjshir” and was carrying out “operations in a manner that local people are not harmed”.
“We are performing operations in a tactical manner to force the resistance movement to vacate the area,” he said.
“As per our information, Panjshir will come under Islamic Emirate very soon.
“The resistance movement is trying to proe hope to the very few people and encourage them to fight through such claims against us, aiming for their financial gains and to hold on to their power.”
The group also said electricity and internet would resume in the province from Monday and that efforts to restart international flights from Kabul would begin.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah, was alive and would be seen in public soon and that the process of forming a government was ongoing as “some technical things are left”.
Analysis by Dominic Waghorn, international affairs editor
The fall of the Panjshir Valley to the Taliban is hugely significant not just because it gives the Taliban full control of Afghanistan territory.
It is also a crushing symbolic blow to hopes of a fightback against the Taliban, at least for now.
When Taliban enemies rallied there for a last stand it was for good reason.
The valley is well protected geographically and was the birthplace of the hero of Afghan resistance against the Soviets – Ahmed Shah Massoud – who made it the base of his defiance of Russian occupation.
After the fall of Kabul, Massoud’s son fled there to rally resistance against the Taliban.
Remnants of the routed Afghan army and other militia answered his call and hoped to launch a fightback.
For a quarter of a century the Taliban has been unable to make inroads into the Panjshir Valley – until now.
Buoyed by the momentum of their victories across the country, bolstered by newly acquired US supplied military hardware, they penetrated its natural defences.
It was only a matter of time before the resistance would crumble and break but it has come quicker than some expected, like the Taliban’s takeover of the rest of Afghanistan.
The Taliban is now in control of the whole country. It must now prove it can govern and maintain control or risk Afghanistan sliding back into civil war and chaos allowing its enemies to regain a foothold.
But for now its enemies have lost their last holdout and are defeated, captured or scattered.
And the West must decide how best to deal with the new lords of Afghanistan.
The group also sought to reassure people in Panjshir, saying that they “will not be subjected to any discrimination, that all are our brothers, and that we will serve a country and a common goal”.
UK armed forces minister James Heappey told Sky News that it was currently hard for the government to independently verify the claim.
He added: “I don’t think the situation in Panjshir, whatever it is, really changes our calculus.
“From the moment Kabul fell, the Taliban were effectively the government of Afghanistan with whom we needed to work with, in the immediate term, in order to facilitate the evacuation of UK nationals and other people who were entitled to come to the UK.
“That doesn’t mean we recognise the Taliban and if this is correct, that they have been successful in Panjshir overnight, that doesn’t change anything in terms of our willingness to recognise them.”
Afghanistan ‘nothing short of a tragedy’ – Dannatt
The British Army’s former chief of general staff, General Lord Richard Dannatt, also told Sky News the situation in Panjshir remained unclear.
He said the area was “difficult ground for an attacking force to completely dominate” and that there were “conflicting messages”.
“I suspect the fact of the matter is that they [the NRF] will still be holding on in some difficult mountainous areas, and probably will continue to do so,” said Lord Dannatt.
“But I don’t think it gets over the fact that the majority of Afghanistan is now under the control of the Taliban and they will establish there own government,” he added.
He said the “big issue for the West and other countries is what kind of relationship” they are going to have, or not have, with the Taliban.
“Certainly, if we want to aspire to get more entitled people out of that country we have got to have some form of relationship in order to grant some form of safe passage for those people out of the country,” he said.
Resistance fighters have been led by the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a former military commander and politician who was killed days before the September 11 attacks in 2001.
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Massoud’s son, Ahmad, issued a statement on Sunday, calling for an end to the fighting. He said his forces were ready to lay down their weapons – but only if the Taliban agreed to end their assault.
But late yesterday dozens of vehicles loaded with Taliban fighters were seen swarming into Panjshir Valley.
The group tweeted that its forces had overrun Rokha, one of the largest of eight districts in the province.
Several Taliban delegations had attempted negotiations with fighters in the area but without success.
Meanwhile, a number of planes chartered to evacuate several hundred people trying to escape the Taliban have been unable to leave for days, officials said on Sunday.
There have been conflicting accounts about why they have not been able to take off, as pressure remains on the US to help those left behind.
An Afghan official at the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif said the would-be passengers were Afghan citizens, many of whom did not have passports or visas and were therefore unable to leave.
However, a top Republican on the US house foreign affairs committee said the group included Americans and were sitting on the planes, but that the Taliban were effectively “holding them hostage”.
Michael McCaul told Fox News Sunday that US citizens and Afghan interpreters were being kept on six planes.