Mohammad Ismail / Reuters
AFGHANISTAN – Among the pockets of resistance to the Taliban that have formed after their seizure of power in Afghanistan, the largest is the Panshir valley, northeast of Kabul.
The resistance was organized around the National Resistance Front (FNR), led by Ahmad Massoud, son of Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud assassinated in 2001 by Al-Qaeda, and of Amrullah Saleh, vice-president of the ousted government.
Composed of anti-militia fighterstaliban and former members of the Afghan security forces, she vowed to resist the Taliban. Both parties have said they want to resolve the impasse through negotiations, but no progress has been made on the fate of this strategic area.
A geography conducive to armed resistance
A long-standing anti-Taliban stronghold, Panshir is a narrow, landlocked and difficult to access valley surrounded by craggy peaks, located in the heart of the Hindu Kush Mountains, the southern end of which is about 80 kilometers to the south. north of Kabul.
The valley has limited entry points, and its geography provides a natural military advantage: Defense units can use high positions to effectively target attacking forces.
It also has immense symbolic value in Afghanistan, as a region that has resisted occupation by invaders for over a century. The resistance of the valley – mainly inhabited by Tajiks – strongly influenced the political and security landscape of Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s.
The tutelary figure of Commander Massoud
The most revered figure of the Panshir is the legendary Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, whose face is depicted in murals, not only in the valley but far beyond, in many cities of Afghanistan.
Nicknamed “the Lion of Panshir”, Massoud rose to fame by leading the fighters against the Soviet army in the 1980s. The Soviet Union launched multiple campaigns with thousands of soldiers, attack helicopters and tanks, but failed to defeat Massoud after some of the bloodiest battles in the conflict.
He repeated the feat in the late 1990s, when the Taliban took control of much of Afghanistan. Islamist militants failed to capture Panshir, and Massoud’s forces suffered some of their biggest casualties on the battlefield at the time. Commander Massoud was finally assassinated on September 9, 2001 by al-Qaeda suicide bombers who pretended to be journalists.
Not equipped enough to hold a seat?
Today’s anti-Taliban fighters include members of local militias as well as former members of the Afghan security forces who arrived in the valley when the rest of Afghanistan fell. They brought with them their equipment, vehicles and weapons, to supplement the stockpile of arms and ammunition constituted by the National Resistance Front (FNR).
Ahmad Massoud urged resistance from Panshir, but called for international support, including arms and ammunition from the United States, in a column published by the Washington post. Former Afghan vice-president Amrullah Saleh, an intimate enemy of the Taliban, has also taken refuge in Panshir.
The Taliban sent hundreds of men to areas surrounding Panshir and announced Monday that they had surrounded the fighters, while adding that they wanted to negotiate with them rather than fight. The FNR, for its part, indicated that it was ready to resist any aggression from the Taliban, but also to negotiate with the latter on the formation of an inclusive government. However, there has been no progress.
The Taliban have said they control at least three areas around Panshir, and Amrullah Saleh said on Twitter that a humanitarian disaster was imminent as the Taliban did not allow supplies of food and gasoline. Although the FNR has vowed to resist any assault, it is uncertain whether it has the food, supplies and ammunition necessary to withstand a prolonged siege.
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