Taliban say resistance holdout Panjshir Valley 'completely captured'
The Taliban said on Sept. 6 they had captured the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley, as the top U.S. diplomat flies to Qatar to try and handle the aftermath of the chaotic American withdrawal.
Following their lightning-fast rout of Afghanistan’s army last month - and celebrations when the last U.S. troops flew out after 20 years of war - the Taliban turned to crush the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.
"With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war," chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Late on Sept. 5, the so-called National Resistance Front (NRF) - made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces - acknowledged suffering major battlefield losses in Panjshir and called for a ceasefire.
The NRF includes local fighters loyal to Ahmad Massoud - the son of the famous anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud - as well as remnants of the Afghan military that retreated to the Panjshir Valley.
The group said in a tweet Sunday that spokesman Fahim Dashty - a well-known Afghan journalist - and General Abdul Wudod Zara had been killed in the latest fighting.
The NRF had vowed to fight the Taliban but also said it was willing to negotiate with the Islamists. But initial contact did not lead to a breakthrough.
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 are yet to finalize their new regime after rolling into Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the hardline Islamists themselves.
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 - though women are unlikely to be included at the top levels.
Women’s freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule.
This time, 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 Sept. 5.
But female students must also wear an abaya (robe) and niqab (face-veil), as opposed to the even more conservative burqa mandatory under the previous Taliban regime.
As the Taliban come to grips with their transition from insurgency to government they are facing a host of challenges, including humanitarian needs for which international assistance is critical.
U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths has arrived in Kabul for several 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 - both men and women - will be guaranteed freedom of movement," a statement from U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The Taliban spokesman tweeted that the group’s delegation assured the U.N. of cooperation.
The international community is coming to terms with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due Monday in Qatar, which has been a key player in the Afghan saga.
Qatar, which hosts a major U.S. military base, has been the gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total evacuated by U.S.-led forces after the Taliban takeover on August 15.
Blinken will also speak to the Qataris about efforts alongside Turkey to reopen Kabul’s airport, which is necessary for flying in badly needed humanitarian aid and evacuating remaining Afghans.
Blinken will then head Wednesday to the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the United States, from which he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.