The Taliban claimed victory Monday over the last pocket of resistance forces in the only province it had not seized — declaring that its takeover of Afghanistan is now complete.
Taliban leaders were pictured standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound — hoisting the white Taliban flag as a sign of their victory after a brutal days-long battle.
“Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of the victory three weeks after the group took control of most of the rest of Afghanistan.
“With this victory and latest efforts our country has come out of the whirlpool of the war and our people will have a happy life in peace, liberty and freedom,” he claimed.
The declaration came after fighting with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), led by former vice president, Amrullah Saleh as well as Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
Massoud is the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, an iconic anti-Taliban fighter who previously resisted the group before he was killed just days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The opposition army’s spokesman, Fahim Dashti — the nephew of a senior member of the overrun government — was among those killed Sunday as violence escalated in the holdout region, the group said.
NRFA leader Massoud called for the fighting to end the same day, saying his forces were ready to lay down their weapons if the Taliban agreed to end their assault.
The Taliban denied such a peace deal had been offered and instead stepped up its violent assault.
“We tried our best to solve the problem through negotiations, and they rejected talks and then we had to send our forces to fight,” Mujahid insisted.
The Taliban said the opposition leaders, Massoud and Saleh, had escaped to neighboring Tajikistan.
Massoud — whose force was drawn from remnants of regular Afghan army and special forces units as well as local militia fighters — said in a Twitter message he was safe, but gave no details.
The Taliban seized control of most of Afghanistan three weeks ago, taking power in Kabul on Aug. 15 after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Panjshir, the last pocket of armed resistance against the Taliban, has a history of being difficult for enemies to take.
The rugged mountain valley — which has a single narrow entrance — is still littered with the wreckage of tanks destroyed during the long war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It was also the area that saw ongoing resistance to the Taliban during its first rule from 1996-2001.
The Taliban sought to assure Panjshir residents that they would be safe — but scores of families fled into the mountains seeking safety.
“There is no need for any more fighting,” Mujahid said at the press conference. “All Panjshir people and those who live in Panjshir are our brothers and they are part of our country.”
Mujahid also told reporters that the Taliban would announce a new government “within days” — one that would be inclusive, he said, without elaborating.
Once the government is formed, members of the former Afghan army and security forces would be asked to return to work, he added.
“We need their expertise,” he said.
Mujahid also promised all women would eventually be “asked to return” to their jobs, blaming unspecified “security reasons” for the current slow pace of return and for restricting women to their homes, unless accompanied by a male guardian.