Taleban says Afghan resistance force 'besieged', but seeks talks

Panjshir valley remains the last major holdout of anti-Taleban forces. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP) - The Taleban said on Monday (Aug 23) their fighters had surrounded resistance forces holed up in Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, but were looking to negotiate rather than take the fight to them.

The announcement follows scattered reports of clashes overnight, with pro-Taleban social media accounts claiming gunmen were massing, and Afghanistan's former vice-president saying resistance forces were holding strong.

Taleban fighters are stationed near Panjshir, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, saying they had the area surrounded on three sides.

"The Islamic Emirate is trying to resolve this issue peacefully," he added.

Pro-resistance accounts on social media had dismissed earlier claims of being pushed back, saying Taleban fighters had been ambushed and routed.

Claims from either side were impossible to independently verify from a remote mountainous region that is largely inaccessible.

Panjshir - famous for its natural defences never penetrated by Soviet forces or the Taleban in earlier conflicts - remains the last major holdout of anti-Taleban forces led by Ahmad Massoud, son of the famed Mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Former Afghan vice-president Amrullah Saleh is also there, and photos posted on social media in recent days have shown him in talks with Massoud.

The valley is guarded by a narrow gorge, making entry - or escape - extraordinarily difficult for outsiders, who can be picked off by entrenched forces positioned on higher ground.

A spokesman for Massoud's anti-Taleban National Resistance Front told Agence France-Presse at the weekend that the group was prepared for "long-term conflict", but would prefer to negotiate for an inclusive government.

"The conditions for a peace deal with the Taleban are decentralisation, a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all," spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told AFP.

Following the collapse of the United States-backed government last week, the Taleban is consolidating its control over the country and holding a series of meetings with old foes - including opposition politicians and warlords.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.