Taliban say they took Panjshir, last holdout Afghan province

The anti-Taliban forces were led by former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and also by the Son of the legendary anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud who was killed just days before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Meanwhile, in northern Balkh province, at least four planes that were chartered to evacuate hundreds of people trying to escape the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan were unable to leave the country for days, officials said on Sunday take off when the pressure on the U.S. is increasing in helping those who have stayed behind to leave the country.

An Afghan official at the airport in the provincial capital, Mazar-e-Sharif, said the passengers were Afghans, many of whom had no passports or visas and could therefore not leave the country. On condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to reporters, he said they left the airport while the situation was being clarified.

However, the top Republican on the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs said the group included Americans and that they had boarded airplanes, but the Taliban did not allow them to take off and were effectively holding them hostage. Texas MP Michael McCaul told Fox News Sunday that American citizens and Afghan interpreters were being held on six planes. He didn’t say where this information came from, and it wasn’t immediately possible to reconcile the two accounts.

The last few days of America’s 20 year war in Afghanistan were marked by one shocking airlift at Kabul airport Evacuate tens of thousands of people – Americans and their allies – who feared what the future would bring, given the history of Taliban repression, particularly women. When the last American troops withdrew on August 30th, many stayed behind.

The US promised to continue to work with the new Taliban rulers to attract those who want to get out, and the militants promised to allow anyone with the correct legal documents to leave.

Experts had doubted that resistance to the Taliban in Panjshir, the last holdout province, could be successful in the long term, despite the region’s geographical advantage.

Nestled in the towering Hindu Kush mountains, the Panjshir Valley has a single narrow entrance. Local fighters stopped the Soviets there in the 1980s and, a decade later, briefly also the Taliban under the leadership of Massoud. He was one of several former mujahideen leaders who ruled Kabul between 1992 and 1996 but turned their weapons against each other, leading to the arrival of the Taliban in 1996.

Massoud’s son Ahmad issued a statement on Sunday calling for an end to the fighting. Young Massoud, British-trained, said his troops were ready to lay down their arms, but only if the Taliban agree to end their attack. Late on Sunday dozens of vehicles carrying Taliban fighters were seen swarming into the Panjshir Valley.

There was no statement from Saleh, the former vice president of Afghanistan, who declared himself incumbent president after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 when the Taliban reached the gates of the capital. The Taliban broke into the presidential building that day.

The Taliban’s lightning strike across the country took less than a week to overrun around 300,000 Afghan government forces, most of whom surrendered or fled.

The whereabouts of Saleh and the young Massoud were initially unknown on Monday.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, tried to reassure Panjshir residents that they were safe – although dozens of families reportedly fled to the mountains before the Taliban arrived.

“There is no need for further fighting,” said Mujahid at the press conference. “All Panjshir people and those who live in Panjshir are our brothers and they are part of our country.”

The Taliban intensified their attack on Panjshir on Sunday and tweeted that their troops were overran Rokha district, one of the largest in the province. Several Taliban delegations tried to negotiate with the resistance fighters, but the talks failed.

Fahim Dashti, the spokesman for the anti-Taliban group and a prominent media figure during previous governments, was killed in battle on Sunday, according to the group’s Twitter account. He was also the nephew of Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Kabul official in the former government who was involved in negotiations with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan.

Mujahid denied that Dashti died fighting the Taliban, claiming he was killed in “an internal dispute between two commanders in Panjshir” without any evidence to support the claim.

Mujahid also told reporters that the Taliban would announce a new government “within days” – one that would be inclusive, he said without elaborating. Once the government is in place, members of the former Afghan army and security forces will be asked to return to their jobs, he added.

“We need their expertise,” he said. Members of the former Afghan security forces would then form a single army with Taliban fighters, added Mujahid. Taliban fighters in civilian clothes driving through Kabul in pickups would be replaced by Taliban men in uniform.

When asked what rights women would have under the Taliban, Mujahid promised that at some point all women would be “asked” to return to work.

The Taliban have claimed that unspecified “security reasons” are behind the slow return of Afghan women to work, including the confinement of women to their homes unless they are accompanied by a male guardian. But many who remember their rule are skeptical.

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