The next battle for Afghanistan is already starting in the one valley where battle never really ends. Freedom fighters and remnants of the Afghan military are holed up in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, to the north of Kabul, and near the Pakistan border. The fighters, led by longtime warlords and the son of a legendary one, say they are prepared to defend the province against the Taliban, who have dispatched men to seize control of the north.
The Panjshir Valley has a historical reputation of defiance in the face of invading forces, from the Russians to the Taliban. Now, the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan is rallying in the region, made up of former Afghan soldiers and local militia members.
The size of the NRF is unclear and difficult to verify, but the BBC reported “thousands” of fighters have gathered in the north, an estimate that matches the boasts of the new resistance leaders, acting President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, who is following in his father’s footsteps. The region also appears to be where troops from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif — another hotbed of anti-Taliban resistance — have collected. That city, long controlled by Abdul Rashid Dostum, 67, surrendered without much of a fight in mid-August, but troops from the region under Dostum’s son, Yar Mohammad Dostum, may be in Panjshir.
Today the forces led by Yar Mohammad Dostum, joined Ahmad Massoud in Resistance Front in Panjshir. pic.twitter.com/nBYZc5TXwU
— Natiq Malikzada (@natiqmalikzada) August 19, 2021
Ahmad Shah Massoud Sr., known as “The Lion of Panjshir,” defended the region against the Soviet Union 40 years ago. In the years that followed, under the banner of the Northern Alliance or National Resistance Front, he fought tooth and nail against Taliban rule in the region until he was assassinated two days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The NRF has fortified positions with mortars, machine-gun nests, and observation posts throughout the mountainous terrain, Al Jazeera reported. Other fighters are conducting vehicle-mounted patrols in US-provided HMMWVs and pickup trucks. And though he and his men are prepared to fight, Massoud is calling upon allies in the West for help.
And Massoud — as much a citizen of the modern digital world as a warrior in Afghanistan’s ancient one — has been on a media blitz. “If Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face staunch resistance from us,” Massoud wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “The flag of the National Resistance Front will fly over every position that they attempt to take, as the National United Front flag flew 20 years ago. Yet we know that our military forces and logistics will not be sufficient. They will be rapidly depleted unless our friends in the West can find a way to supply us without delay.”
.@DavidLoyn tells me the anti-Taliban resistance movement in the Panjshir Valley has between somewhere between 7,000 and 20,000 members, they have helicopters, weapons and ammunition and that the fight back against the Taliban could begin from there pic.twitter.com/PPGNlmOCvT
— Yalda Hakim (@BBCYaldaHakim) August 24, 2021
Fighting has been continuous since the fall of Kabul. Local militia groups had seized Bano, Deh Saleh, and Pul e-Hesar districts just outside of Panjshir from the Taliban last week, but as of Monday, Aug. 23, Reuters reported that the Taliban had retaken all three districts. The Taliban also announced they were sending hundreds of troops to take the province by force.
Both sides have kept up a steady stream of social media propaganda, with videos of fighters on trucks and other staples of the region’s combat tactics.
Massoud said he and the NRF are prepared to fight but he hopes to negotiate with the Taliban through peace talks instead of bloodshed.
“We want to make the Taliban realise that the only way forward is through negotiation,” he told Reuters. “We do not want a war to break out.”