Kabul. The Taliban have captured Panshir province, north of Kabul, the group reported on Monday. The province was the last stronghold of the Taliban’s opposition forces in the country and the only area they had not seized after moving across the country last month.
Thousands of Taliban fighters seized all eight Panshir districts overnight, according to eyewitnesses in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Monday that Panshir was now under the control of Taliban fighters.
“We tried our best to solve this problem through talks and they rejected the talks, so we had to send our army to fight,” the Mujahid told a news conference from Kabul.
The Taliban’s opposition fighters were led by the former vice president, Amrullah Saleh, and the son of the iconic anti-Taliban fighter, Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated days before the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Meanwhile, at least four planes chartered to evacuate hundreds of people wanting to escape the Taliban in Afghanistan have not been able to leave the country for several days, officials said on Sunday. There are conflicting accounts as to why the planes did not take off at a time when pressure is mounting on the United States to help evacuate these people.
An Afghan official at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif said the potential passengers were Afghans, most of whom did not have passports or visas, and therefore could not leave Afghanistan. He said people left the airport when the situation improved.
Situated in the Hindu Kush Mountains, the Panshir Valley is accessible only through a strait. Local militias included the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the Taliban a decade later, led by Masood.
Masood’s son Ahmed issued a statement on Sunday calling for an end to the attacks that had escalated in recent days. Masood, who is educated in Britain, said his troops were ready to lay down their arms only if the Taliban agreed to end their attack. Hours later, dozens of Taliban vehicles were seen entering the Panshir Valley.
There was no immediate statement from former Afghanistan Vice President Saleh, who had declared himself interim president after Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 as the Taliban approached the capital’s gates. The same day Taliban entered Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The Mujahid in his statement tried to reassure the people of Panshir that they would be safe, even as many families fled to the mountains in anticipation of the arrival of the Taliban.
“We assure the esteemed people of Panshir that they will not be discriminated in any way, we are all brothers and we will serve the country and common goals,” the Mujahid said in its statement.
“There is no need to keep fighting,” the Mujahid said. “All the people of Panshir and the people of Panshir are our brothers and they are part of our country.”
The Taliban intensified their attack on Panshir on Sunday, tweeting that their forces had captured the province’s largest Rokha district. Several Taliban delegations tried to hold talks there, but never made much progress.
Anti-Taliban group spokesman Faheem Dashti was killed in the fighting on Sunday, according to the group’s Twitter account. Dashti was the voice of the group and a recognized media figure in previous governments.
He was also the nephew of Abdullah Abdullah, a senior former government official who is involved in talks with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan.