Anti-Taliban leader says ready to fight Taliban

August 24, 2021 - 13:41

In a sign of the fragile state of Afghanistan, Ahmed Massoud, the leader of a military alliance that includes former Afghan government soldiers says he and his forces are ready to fight the Taliban in Panjshir valley.

Panjshir Valley is one of the last major bastions that are not in the hands of the Taliban.

Massoud says he hopes to hold peace talks with the movement that seized power in Kabul a week ago but that his forces are ready to counter any Taliban offensive near the Afghan capital.

Massoud says "we want to make the Taliban realize that the only way forward is through negotiation," he told media outlets by telephone from his stronghold northwest of Kabul, where he has gathered forces made up of remnants of former regular army units and special forces as well as local militia fighters.

Massoud added that "we do not want a war to break out." The remarks were made as a statement on the Taliban's social media accounts said hundreds of fighters were heading towards Panjshir "after local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully".

A short video released by the Taliban shows a column of captured trucks with the white Taliban flag but still bearing their government markings moving along a highway.

According to Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, his supporters were ready to fight if Taliban forces tried to invade the valley. He says "they want to defend, they want to fight, they want to resist against any totalitarian regime."

However, there is some uncertainty about whether the operation by Taliban forces had begun or not.

A Taliban official says an offensive had been launched on Panjshir, while an aide to Massoud says there were no signs that the column had actually entered the narrow pass into the valley and there have been no reports of fighting.

In the only confirmed fighting since the fall of Kabul on Sunday, anti-Taliban forces took back three districts in the northern province of Baghlan, bordering Panjshir last week.

But Massoud insists he was not involved in any operation which he says had been carried out by local militia groups reacting to "brutality" in the area.

Massoud has also called for an inclusive, broad-based government in Kabul representing all of Afghanistan's different ethnic groups and said a "totalitarian regime" should not be recognized by the international community.

The wreckage of decade’s old armored vehicles can still be seen near the valley indicating how difficult Panjshir has been to capture in the past.

Nevertheless, many outside observers have questioned whether Massoud's forces will be able to resist for long without outside support.

Experts say his forces, which one aide claims number more than 6,000 fighters, would need international support if it comes down to battling the Taliban.

Massoud’s aide says the forces are not just limited from Panjshir, a region of Persian-speaking Tajiks long at odds with the Pashtuns who form the core of the Taliban movement.

He added, "there are many other people from many other provinces who are seeking refuge in the Panjshir valley who are standing with us and who do not want to accept another identity for Afghanistan”.

The Taliban have repeatedly stressed they are open to an inclusive new Afghan government.

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