An undated photo of a flag associated with the anti-Taliban militia, the Northern Alliance. Hundreds of Afghan military members are reportedly flocking to Panjshir province, joining forces with local fighters in what may be the first sign of organized resistance to the Taliban takeover. Photo via Twitter.
Resistance fighters are gathering in Panjshir province on Afghanistan’s eastern border, according to reports trickling out of the country. Videos and news reports indicate that several bands of anti-Taliban militias and groups are gathering in defiance of Taliban claims to rule. Meanwhile, Afghan military forces in the north — which ceded ground in largely bloodless withdrawals in recent weeks — are said to be establishing ties with the movement, which is led by Ahmad Massoud and Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh.
One Afghan National Army colonel, who requested to remain anonymous for his safety, said Afghan special forces soldiers across the north are making their way to Panjshir to answer Massoud’s call to arms. He said Afghan Air Force Brig. Gen. Abdul Fahim Ramin and hundreds of soldiers have secured helicopters and are en route to Panjshir. “All the locals are armed and they are using their past experiences to fight,” the colonel said.
Taliban forces have seized every major city in the country and are in a position of power unseen since the United States invasion in 2001. Nearly every military and political leader who once pledged to fight for Afghanistan appeared to give in quickly the last week, but now a select few may be coalescing.
Clarity: As per d constitution of Afg, in absence, escape, resignation or death of the President the FVP becomes the caretaker President. I am currently inside my country & am the legitimate care taker President. Am reaching out to all leaders to secure their support & consensus.
— Amrullah Saleh (@AmrullahSaleh2) August 17, 2021
Saleh posted a tweet on Tuesday, Aug. 17, calling on the heads of the international community to come to his aid and staking a claim as the rightful ruler of the country in the absence of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country two days ago. Saleh also called upon fellow Afghans to join the resistance.
“I will never, ever & under no circumstances bow,” he tweeted Sunday. “I won’t [disappoint] millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with Taliban. NEVER.”
Amrullah Saleh, Vice President of Afghanistan and Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud spotted in Panjshir.They are bringing all Anti-Taliban commanders together in Panjshir. This province is still free from Taliban. pic.twitter.com/bgb8hUdfwi
— Sudhir Chaudhary (@sudhirchaudhary) August 16, 2021
Saleh has reportedly retreated to Panjshir to join forces with Massoud, the son of the slain Afghan politician and Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. A powerful militia commander during the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989, Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by the Taliban two days before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
A video circulating across multiple social media platforms appears to show Massoud and Saleh boarding a helicopter together in Panjshir.
The province is the only remaining safe haven against the Taliban. Panjshir lies approximately 95 miles northeast of Kabul and about 60 miles from Bagram Airfield. Historically speaking, it is an area not easily conquered. The mountainous terrain provided by the nearby Hindu Kush range has given guerrilla fighters an edge against outside forces. Neither the Russians nor the Taliban were able to seize control of the region in previous conquests.
Dustin Jones is a former senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine covering military and intelligence news. Jones served four years in the Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied journalism at the University of Colorado and Columbia University. He has worked as a reporter in Southwest Montana and at NPR. A New Hampshire native, Dustin currently resides in Southern California.
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