Taliban fighters yesterday advanced deep into the last holdout province of Panjshir, as a top US general warned Afghanistan faces a wider civil war that would offer fertile ground for a resurgence of terrorism.
Following their lightning-fast rout of Afghanistan’s army last month — and celebrations when the last US troops flew out after 20 years of war on Monday last week — the Taliban are seeking to crush resistance forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.
The Taliban, who rolled into Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the hardline Islamists themselves, have yet to finalize their new regime.
However, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley questioned whether they can consolidate power as they seek to shift from a guerrilla force to government.
“I think there’s at least a very good probability of a broader civil war,” Milley said.
“That will then in turn lead to conditions that could, in fact, lead to a reconstitution of al-Qaeda or a growth of ISIS [the Islamic State group],” he told Fox News on Saturday.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more accommodating than during their first stint in power, which also came after years of conflict — first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war.
They have promised a more “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup — although women are unlikely to be included at the top levels.
However, few in Panjshir, a rugged valley north of Kabul which held out for nearly a decade against the Soviet Union’s occupation and also the Taliban’s first rule from 1996-2001, seem to trust their promises.
Taliban official Bilal Karimi yesterday reported heavy clashes in Panjshir, and while resistance fighters insist they have the Taliban at bay, analysts said they are struggling.
The Italian aid agency Emergency said that Taliban forces had reached the Panjshir village of Anabah, where it runs a surgical center.
“Many people have fled from local villages in recent days,” Emergency said in a statement on Saturday, adding that it was continuing to provide medical services and treating a “small number of wounded.”
Anabah lies about 25km north inside the 115km-long valley, but unconfirmed reports said the Taliban had seized other areas, too.
Bill Roggio, managing editor of the US-based Long War Journal, yesterday said that while there was still a “fog of war” — with unconfirmed reports the Taliban had captured multiple districts — “it looks bad.”
Both sides claim to have inflicted heavy losses on the other.
“The Taliban army has been hardened with 20 years of war, and make no mistake, the Taliban trained an army,” Roggio wrote on Twitter, adding that “the odds were long” for the Panjshir resistance.
Former Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh, who is holed out in Panjshir alongside Ahmad Massoud — the son of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud — warned of a grim situation.
Saleh in a statement spoke of a “large-scale humanitarian crisis,” with thousands “displaced by the Taliban onslaught.”
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