Taliban say last pocket of resistance has fallen as they try to tighten grip on Afghanistan

The Taliban said Monday they had captured the last of the resistance in the country, but rebel troops denied the claim and vowed to keep fighting.

The Taliban claimed they captured Panjshir province, north of Kabul, when they prevented a number of charter planes carrying NGO workers from taking off from an airport in Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north of the country.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference that Panjshir had fallen – underscoring the group’s attempts to increase its hold in Afghanistan after its lightning strike across the country last month.

“Panjshir is under the control of the Taliban,” said Mujahid. “Now the war is over.”

The Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprisings are taking part in military training in Panjshir province on Thursday.Ahmad Sahel Arman / AFP via Getty Images

Panjshir attracted resistance fighters from across Afghanistan after the Taliban captured much of the country last month and the Washington-backed government President Ashraf Ghani collapsed. Former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and the son of legendary anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud are among the leaders of the resistance.

Mujahid said that some rebels had been killed and some had fled, and assured the local community that there would be no retaliation. While the Taliban have repeatedly stated that they would not launch revenge attacks against their former enemies, numerous reports of such retaliatory killings have come to light.

Rebels rejected the Taliban’s statements.

“The Taliban’s claim to occupy Panjshir is false. The NRF troops are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight, ”said a tweet on the account of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan.

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NBC News has been unable to independently verify the Taliban’s allegations or the opposition to the resistance.

As pressure increased on the US to help those left behind to flee the country after the US exit, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas said planes carrying US citizens and Afghan interpreters were being prevented from entering an airport to start in Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban held the passengers as “hostages” he said on Fox News Sunday.

A White House official said the US government was not aware of any hostage situation in Mazar-i-Sharif and had not confirmed whether there were any Americans at the airport.

A State Department spokesman meanwhile said officials did not have “reliable means” to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including the number of US citizens and members of other priority groups, as they did not have on-site staff.

Six airliners near the main terminal of Mazar-i-Sharif airport in Afghanistan on Friday.Maxar Technologies / Reuters

They added that they would keep the Taliban on their promise to allow people to leave Afghanistan freely.

Marina LeGree, executive director of US non-profit Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics, said she was trying to get dozens of vulnerable Afghan workers and girls, including two US green card holders, out of the country on flights.

LeGree said 19 U.S. citizens were among the larger group of hundreds of people who wanted to flee, including journalists, women at risk, and employees of other nonprofits.

“It’s a total nightmare,” said LeGree, 42, over the phone from Naples, Italy. She said the Taliban are negotiating with Kam Air, a private Afghan airline that is organizing the charter.

Kam Air did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked about the status of the charter planes, Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said without further details on Monday that they could not depart because the airport was not in operation.

Annie Hill , Laura Saravia and Monica Alba contributed.

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