The Taliban has taken complete control of Panjshir province, the last area in Afghanistan held by resistance forces, the group’s spokesman said, as it cemented its control of the country three weeks after taking over Kabul.
“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Monday.
Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound.
Meanwhile, the National Resistance Front (NRF) spokesman said the Taliban’s claim of victory was false and opposition forces continued to fight, adding that its forces were present in “strategic positions” across the Panjshir valley.
The whereabouts of resistance leader Ahmed Massoud and Amrullah Saleh, the former vice president who had joined resistance forces after the fall of Kabul, were not immediately known.
Massoud said in a Twitter message that he was safe. Saleh had declared himself acting president after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country after the Taliban takeover on August 15.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Qatar to discuss the chaotic aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The NRF includes local fighters loyal to Massoud, the son of famous anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, as well as remnants of the Afghan military who retreated to the Panjshir Valley, about 125km (78 miles) north of the capital Kabul.
The group said separately in a tweet on Sunday that spokesman Fahim Dashty, a well-known Afghan journalist, and General Abdul Wudod Zara had been killed in the latest fighting.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, in a press conference on Monday, said resistance forces gave “negative answers” when the Taliban tried to negotiate, adding that no civilian casualties were reported in the takeover of Panjshir.
The Panjshir Valley
The Panjshir Valley is famed for being the site of resistance to Soviet forces in the 1980s and the Taliban in the late 1990s.
The Taliban is yet to finalise its new government after rolling into Kabul three weeks ago.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more “inclusive” than during their first stint in power, which also came after years of conflict, first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war. They have promised a government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup.
Women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban’s education authority said in a lengthy document issued on Sunday.
But female students will be required to wear a long robe and face veil, as opposed to the burqa mandatory under the previous Taliban rule. Women’s freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule.
As the Taliban comes to grips with its transition from armed uprising to government, it is facing a host of challenges, including humanitarian needs for which international assistance is critical.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths has arrived in Kabul for days of meetings with the Taliban leadership, which has promised to help.
“The authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that humanitarian workers – men and women – will be guaranteed freedom of movement,” a statement from United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The Taliban spokesman tweeted that the group’s delegation assured the UN of cooperation.
Blinken trip to Qatar, Germany
The international community is coming to terms with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.
The US’s top diplomat, Blinken, arrived on Monday in Qatar, a key player in Afghanistan. He was later joined by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in the Gulf country.
The officials met with the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and discussed developments in Afghanistan and efforts to enhance security there, the emir’s court said on Monday.
Qatar, which hosts a US military base, has been the gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total evacuated by US-led forces since the Taliban began their takeover.
The US State Department said Blinken thanked Doha for its “extraordinary support” in the evacuations from Kabul. Blinken, Austin and the Qatari emir “also discussed other important bilateral issues and initiatives to promote regional security and prosperity”, the department said in a statement on Monday evening.
Blinken on Wednesday is expected to head to the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the US, from which he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday called for dialogue with the Taliban.
“We simply have to talk to the Taliban about how we can get people who have worked for Germany out of the country and bring them to safety,” she told reporters.