'Hundreds of fighters' heading to resistance stronghold Panjshir Valley: Taliban
Former government troops have gathered in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, which is long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.
The Taliban have said that hundreds of their fighters are heading for the Panjshir Valley, which is currently the centre of the resistance in war-ravaged Afghanistan, even as National Resistance Front's Ahmad Massoud has said he wanted to hold negotiations with the hardline Islamist group but that his forces were ready to fight.
The Taliban’s Alemarah Twitter feed said hundreds of fighters were heading towards Panjshir "after local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully". The tweet came along with a 14-second video clip showing a column of captured trucks with the white Taliban flags moving along a highway.
Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the main leaders of Afghanistan's anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, said his supporters were ready to fight if the Taliban tried to invade the Panjshir Valley. "We want to make the Taliban realise that the only way forward is through negotiation. We do not want a war to break out,” he told Reuters by telephone from his stronghold in the Panjshir Valley northwest of Kabul.
He and Amrullah Saleh, the country's vice president, have gathered forces made up of remnants of regular army units and special forces as well as local militia fighters. "They want to defend, they want to fight, they want to resist against any totalitarian regime,” he told Reuters.
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Reuters reported that there was some uncertainty about whether the Taliban have begun their operation. It cited a Taliban official as saying that an offensive had been launched on Panjshir but one of Massoud’s aides said there were no signs that the column had actually entered the narrow pass into the valley and there had been no reports of fighting.
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Experts have said that the resistance fighters gathered at Panjshir Valley will have to struggle if the Islamist hardliners launch a full-scale attack. “The resistance for the moment is just verbal because the Taliban have not yet tried to enter the Panjshir. The Taliban only need to lock down the Panjshir, they don't even have to go in there,” Dorronsoro told news agency AFP. "The Taliban surround Panjshir from all sides and I don't think Massoud's son can resist much more than a couple of months. For the moment, he does not have any really strong support," Abdul Sayed, an independent researcher, told AFP.
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Anti-Taliban forces took back three districts in the northern province of Baghlan, bordering Panjshir last week. However, Massoud said he did not organise the operation and that it had been carried out by local militia groups reacting to "brutality" in the area.
Afghan television channel Tolo News reported on Sunday that anti-Taliban fighters seized the Pul-e-Hisar, Deh Salah and Banu districts in Baghlan province on Friday, but the Taliban recaptured Banu on Saturday and that fighting is underway to re-take two more districts.
(WIth agency inputs)