The Corner


Afghanistan’s Final Pocket of Resistance Snuffed out by the Taliban, Paving the Way for New Government

Afghan resistance fighters in the Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, September 4, 2021. (Reuters)

It’s looking increasingly clear that the Taliban have seized Panjshir, Afghanistan’s final holdout province and the last pocket of resistance to Taliban rule.

The Taliban’s leaders claimed yesterday that they conquered Panjshir, where former Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh had fled and Ahmad Massoud, son of an anti-Taliban leader who fought the Islamist government in the 1990s, organized the remnants of Afghanistan’s defense forces to defend against Taliban advances on the valley that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last month. Saleh and Massoud haven’t admitted their defeat, though there are indications that the Taliban captured the province’s capital this week.

In a statement this afternoon, Massoud’s National Resistance Front called on the U.N. and foreign governments to “stop the genocide happening in many parts of the Panjshir Valley,” acknowledging that the Taliban are currently in the province.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Long War Journal, which has assiduously tracked the war in Afghanistan, examined the apparent defeat of the resistance in a piece yesterday:

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.

In addition to that, the opposition forces lacked any sort of meaningful support. Although some members of Congress, such as Representative Mike Waltz, called on the Biden administration to assist the Panjshir rebels in their efforts to defend the valley as a safe haven for groups persecuted by the Taliban, U.S. officials all but looked the other way as the Taliban advanced last week.

Now, the Taliban’s victory in the Panjshir Valley has left them free to consolidate their rule over Afghanistan.

Earlier today, the Taliban announced a new government consisting of longtime veterans of the group. The newly appointed hard-line government will include Sirajuddin Haqqani, serving as Afghanistan’s interior minister. The FBI is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest for his role in terrorist attacks, including a 2008 assassination attempt targeting then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

But while Massoud’s forces have been hobbled, that doesn’t mean the Taliban will have an easy time ruling over Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reported on demonstrations that preceded the Taliban’s announcement of the new government:

Hours before the press conference, Taliban fighters violently dispersed the largest protest so far against their rule in Kabul, shooting in the air and using truncheons to beat back hundreds of demonstrators, most of them women, who marched through the city and chanted “Death to Pakistan.” Pakistan has supported the Taliban since the Islamist movement was formed in the 1990s, and many Afghan opponents of the Taliban paint the group as Pakistan’s proxies. More protests led by women were planned for Wednesday.

The demonstrations are sure to be one of numerous challenges to the Taliban’s efforts to solidify control over Afghanistan. But the main obstacle, armed resistance from forces defending Panjshir, seems to have been dispensed with as Washington stood idly by.


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