Taliban say they have entered capital of holdout Afghan region, as opposition leader says ready for talks

Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces patrol on a hilltop in Darband area in Panjshir province on Sept 1, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

PANJSHIR (REUTERS) - The Taliban said on Sunday (Sept 5) their forces had fought their way into the provincial capital of Panjshir, their latest claim of progress in fighting against opposition forces holding out in the area north of Kabul.

The leader of the Afghan opposition group said he welcomed proposals from religious scholars for a negotiated settlement to end the fighting.

Mr Ahmad Massoud, head of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), made the announcement on the group's Facebook page on Sunday.

"The NRF in principle agree to solve the current problems and put an immediate end to the fighting and continue negotiations.

"To reach a lasting peace, the NRF is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements on Panjshir and Andarab," he said, referring to a district in the neighbouring province of Baghlan.

The NRFA had said earlier the Taliban "propaganda machine" was trying to spread distracting messages and that it had pushed Taliban forces back from another part of the valley.

The police headquarters and district centre of Rukhah, adjacent to the provincial capital Bazarak, had fallen, and opposition forces had suffered numerous casualties, with large numbers of prisoners and captured vehicles, weapons and ammunition, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said on Twitter.

Fighting was underway in Bazarak, he said. It was not possible to confirm the report, which was echoed on other Taliban Twitter accounts.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Fahim Dashti, spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), which groups opposition forces, said the Taliban "propaganda machine" was trying to spread distracting messages.

"The resistance forces are ready to continue their defence against any form of aggression," he said.

On Saturday, Italian aid group Emergency said Taliban fighters had reached the trauma hospital it operates in Anabah district, within the Panjshir valley.

Taliban officials have said previously their forces had secured full control of Panjshir but fighting has been continuing for days, with each side saying it had inflicted large numbers of casualties.

Mr Massoud, leader of the NRFA, has pledged to continue resisting the offensive and has called for international support.

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Panjshir, a rugged mountainous valley north of Kabul still littered with the wreckage of destroyed Soviet tanks, has proved very difficult to overcome in the past.

Under Mr Massoud's late father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, it resisted both the invading Soviet army and the previous Taliban government.

On Sunday, Mr Massoud said hundreds of Taliban fighters had surrendered to NRFA forces, which included remnants of regular Afghan army and special forces units as well as local militia fighters. It was not possible to confirm that independently.

The Panjshir fighting has been the most prominent example of resistance to the Taliban, whose forces swept into Kabul on Aug 15 as the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

But small individual protests for women's rights or in defence of the green, red and black tricolour flag of Afghanistan have also been held in different cities.

Mr Massoud originally called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and several attempts at talks were held but they eventually broke down, with each side blaming the other for their failure.

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