Taliban wage offensive against last rebel stronghold, prepare to announce new government

The Taliban tried to consolidate control of Afghanistan on Thursday.

More than two weeks after the Islamist militants took control of the Afghan capital and days after the United States withdrew, the Taliban met to determine the details of their new regime.

It will face formidable economic and security challenges after a chaotic end to a two-decade conflict.

The country’s economy is on the verge of collapse and there are no guarantees that the international community will provide aid to a Taliban government. To strengthen its standing in the eyes of the world, the group has sought to allay fears that the country will become a center of terror and instability.

But persistent reports of repression and the suicide attack by the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) terrorist group last week have undermined those efforts, while resistance at a guerrilla stronghold north of Kabul also threatens control of the Taliban.

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The Taliban said Thursday their militants had launched an operation to take the Panjshir Valley, one of the last pockets in the country not in the hands of the militant group.

The area has long been a bastion of resistance in Afghanistan. Local militants held back the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban a decade later under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a famous guerrilla fighter killed in a suicide bombing and still admired in Afghanistan.

His son Ahmad Massoud and several former government officials are now trying to found a resistance movement in the same guerrilla heartland.

Militiamen loyal to Ahmad Massoud take part in an exercise in Panjshir Province, northeastern Afghanistan. Jalaluddin Sekandar / AP

One of them is believed to be Amrullah Saleh, who served as vice president in the US-backed government that was overthrown by the Taliban lightning bolt across the country. He has claimed to be the country’s vice president after former leader Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan when Kabul fell on August 15.

“The resistance, headquartered in Panjshir, is not for Panjshir, but for the whole country,” one with Saleh. connected Twitter account tweeted Monday. “The Afghan national flag is at full mast and is hoisted in government buildings. Our resistance is for rights and values. “

Fahim Dashti, a spokesman for the National Resistance Forces, a group loyal to Massoud, said in a video message shared Wednesday night with NBC News and other media outlets that the Taliban had launched an offensive in the past 40 hours.

“Their offensive was unsuccessful and they didn’t even make a kilometer,” said Dashti.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told NBC News on Thursday that Taliban fighters had invaded Panjshir and captured eleven “important” positions, including the region’s main valley and the main road between Panjshir and Badakhshan.

NBC News was unable to verify the two warring factions.

An Afghan Resistance Movement soldier on patrol in Panjshir Province.Ahmad Sahel Arman / AFP – Getty Images

At the same time, the country’s new rulers were preparing to present their new government.

The Taliban are widely expected to appoint Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the top leader of the militant group, as the country’s highest authority. He is not expected to play a direct role in government, but to oversee and act as head of state.

Although long tried to present themselves as a waiting government, the Taliban have so far been silent about the functioning of their regime and only reiterated vague claims that the country is governed by Sharia or Islamic law.

Although the Taliban have declared a general amnesty, thousands of Afghans are still trying to flee the country, fearing reprisals or simply fearing that the group will reinstate its strict interpretation of Islam.

The Taliban have promised safe exit for everyone left behind by the giant international airlift, but Kabul airport has been closed since the last US flight on Monday.

The Taliban have also urged people to stay as they face the task of rebuilding a desperately poor and war-weary nation.

More than half of the population lives below the poverty line and 14 million people are affected by food insecurity, including 550,000 displaced by the conflict since the beginning of the year, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

For two decades, this country of 38 million people has survived on billions of dollars in foreign aid, money that is now in question. The international community expects the Taliban to show that they have changed their ways and their messages.

Ahmed Mengli, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed.

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