The Taliban said on Monday they have taken control of Panjshir province north of Kabul, the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces in the country and the only province the Taliban had not seized during their blitz across Afghanistan last month.
Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, announced this at a press conference in Kabul, the country’s capital, on Monday.
The Taliban have uploaded videos showing fighters raising their flag in the centre of the provincial capital. Thousands of Taliban fighters overran eight districts of Panjshir overnight, according to witnesses from the area who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.
According to Mujahid, the capture of Panjshir marked the “end of the war” in Afghanistan.
“We tried our best to solve the problem through negotiations, and they rejected talks and then we had to send our forces to fight,” he said.
However, fighters from the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), who call themselves “the resistance”, claim to still have a presence in Panjshir.
It’s not clear what has happened to the leaders of the NRF, notably Ahmad Massoud, the son of the iconic anti-Taliban fighter, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed just days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States; and former Vice President Amrullah Saleh. The Taliban spokesman said there were reports Saleh had fled to Tajikistan, but Zabiullah Mujahid was not able to offer details or substantiate the claim.
The young British-schooled Massoud said his forces were ready to lay down their weapons but only if the Taliban agreed to end their assault. Late on Sunday dozens of vehicles loaded with Taliban fighters were seen swarming into the Panjshir Valley.
But in an audio recording shared on social media, Massoud called for a national uprising against the Taliban.
He said the militants attacked his forces, ignoring requests from religious clerics, and also that some of his own family members were killed on Sunday.
In the recording, Massoud said he blamed the international community for legitimising the Taliban and giving them military and political confidence.
There has been no statement from Saleh, Afghanistan’s former vice president who had declared himself the acting president after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Aug. 15 as the Taliban reached the gates of the capital.
The whereabouts of Saleh and the young Massoud were not immediately known Monday.
Additional reporting from AP and BBC