Afghanistan: Rebels deny Panjshir has fallen as Taliban celebrate ‘victory’ in province

An Afghan resistance fighter takes position in the Panjshir Valley earlier this week (AFP/Getty)
An Afghan resistance fighter takes position in the Panjshir Valley earlier this week (AFP/Getty)

Rebel leaders in the province of Panjshir have said they are holding out against a Taliban onslaught, despite claims by the militants to have taken control of the territory, which is the last rebel stronghold in Afghanistan.

At least 17 people were reported to have been killed and more than 40 injured in celebratory gunfire in Kabul after the Taliban claimed victory over the province, which would have given them total control of the country.

In Nangarhar province, east of the capital, at least 14 people were injured in celebratory firing, said Gulzada Sangar, spokesperson for an area hospital in the provincial capital of Jalalabad.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, rebuked militants and called on them to stop the firing.

“Avoid shooting in the air and thank God instead,” Mr Mujahid tweeted. “Bullets can harm civilians, so don’t shoot unnecessarily.”

Sources have been unable to verify the Taliban’s claim of victory in Panjshir but if true it would mean they controlled all areas of Afghanistan, something they did not achieve when they first ruled the country between 1996 and 2001.

Rebel leaders denied that they had lost the territory, where thousands of fighters from regional militias and remnants of the old government’s army had massed after Ashraf Ghani’s administration was overthrown.

Mr Ghani’s former vice president Amrullah Saleh, now a rebel leader, said the resistance fighters had “held the ground”.

“There is no doubt we are in a difficult situation. We are under invasion by the Taliban,” he told the BBC.

He later said the resistance would continue, adding: “I am here with my soil, for my soil and defending its dignity.”

The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, which comprises opposition forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said Taliban forces had reached the Darband heights on the border between Kapisa province and Panjshir, but were pushed back.

In the UK, the government has been accused of leaving asylum seekers “in limbo” after refusing amnesty for more than 3,000 Afghans who had already reached the country and were awaiting decisions on their claims.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, landed back in Britain late last night after a diplomatic tour on which he spoke to leaders in Qatar and Pakistan about the situation in Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary left Islamabad after holding talks with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, prime minister Imran Khan and the country’s army chief. He was in the country to try to secure safe passage for Britons and Afghans with ties to the UK who remain stuck in Afghanistan.

He earlier visited Doha, the Qatari capital, where he called for an international coalition to be formed to exert a “moderating influence” on the Taliban.

The House of Commons will return from its summer recess on Monday, with Mr Raab and Boris Johnson expected to come under renewed pressure to explain their response to the crisis and how they will help more people to leave the country.

Elsewhere, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he would travel to Qatar and Germany to visit US diplomats and troops as well as Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul.

Mr Blinken said the government was maintaining contact with the Taliban. “We continue to maintain channels of communication with the Taliban, on issues that are important,” Mr Blinken said.

But the state department said Mr Blinken now plans to meet representatives of the Taliban while in Doha. The group has an office there, which was the site of failed peace talks with the Ghani government.

Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, said he would convene a conference of ministers in Geneva on 13 September to advocate for increased aid spending to counter the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

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