Afghan forces opposed to the Taliban are insisting the fight is not over despite claims by Taliban officials that the last stronghold of the resistance is under their control.
Speaking in Washington, the foreign relations chief for Afghanistan’s National Resistance Front (NRF) acknowledged that the situation “isn't as optimistic as we want it to be” after Taliban incursions into the northern Panjshir Valley, but that “there's still hope.”
“Their entrance doesn’t mean defeat,” the NRF’s Ali Nazary said Friday during a brief appearance at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy research group in Washington.
"It was a tactical retreat,” he said, claiming that the NRF still controls 60% to 65% of Panjshir province.
"Our fighters have retreated to the sub valleys. Our families have retreated to the sub valleys," Nazary said. “There's thousands of fighters right now inside Panjshir, in the neighboring districts that have the motivation and the morale to resist the Taliban and to liberate Afghanistan.”
The NRF claims appeared to contradict Taliban assertions from earlier in the week that all of the Panjshir Valley was under their control and that the war for Afghanistan was over.
On Friday, though, the Taliban confirmed that some resistance forces were continuing to seek “refuge in the mountains.”
“Talks with them were underway to encourage them to come back and lead a peaceful life,” according to a statement from Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission.
But reports of fighting, from families trying to flee Panjshir, have died down, with some telling local media that the Taliban were in control.
The NRF is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of former Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, nicknamed the “Lion of Panjshir” for his efforts to resist Taliban rule in the 1990s.
Its fighters come from the remnants of the U.S.-trained Afghan security forces and from local militias, and they suffered key losses after Taliban forces stormed the valley last week, including the deaths of spokesperson Fahim Dashti and Ahmad Massoud’s cousin, General Abdul Wadood.
Still, the NRF’s Nazary on Friday remained defiant.
"The short-term goal is to sustain our resistance in Afghanistan and expand," he said. “The people have the resilience and the will to continue.”
In the meantime, there also appeared to be some frustration with the Taliban in Panjshir.
Despite Taliban promises to reopen roads and restore mobile phone and internet service, a number of residents said they were seeing little progress.
Residents complained that telecom services were still down and that roads into the province remained blocked even as the valley faced food shortages.
VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem contributed to this report.