PANJSHIR, Afghanistan — On this lush strip of land — walled off from potential invaders by excessive mountain peaks and slim, ambush-prone passes — former mujahedeen fighters and Afghan commandos regrouped within the days after the Taliban toppled the Afghan authorities, vowing to battle to the final man. With its historical past of resistance and its popularity for impenetrability, the Panjshir Valley appeared an excellent place for a decided pressure of renegades to base an insurgency towards the Taliban.
By Sept. 6, nevertheless, the Taliban claimed to have captured your complete province of Panjshir, a momentous victory in a area that repelled quite a few Soviet offensives within the Eighties, and had remained past the Taliban’s management throughout its rule from 1996 to 2001.
On Tuesday, The New York Occasions traveled to the valley for the primary time for the reason that Taliban’s lightning offensive led to their seizure of energy in Afghanistan final month. On the edges of the street, posters of fallen resistance fighters from earlier wars had been torn down. The normally busy visitors had been changed with wandering cattle, and the silence was punctured solely by Islamic chants blaring sometimes from audio system on the few Taliban vehicles.
A spokesman for the Nationwide Resistance Entrance maintained that the battle was removed from over.
“Our forces are stationed all through the valley,” the spokesman, Ali Maisam Nazary, stated by way of WhatsApp. “The Soviets additionally claimed victory after they would enter Panjshir and see no preventing for days or even weeks. However the mujahedeen within the ’80s would wait after which assault on the proper time.”
However in a journey via 40 miles of the province and the provincial capital, Bazarak, it grew to become clear that fight had largely ceased, at the very least for now, and what resistance remained appeared confined to mountainous areas virtually inaccessible by foot or by car. Many of the residents had fled earlier than the preventing. Those that stayed behind have been fighting spiking market costs and an absence of meals.
Throughout these weeks of preventing and even after, stories of the Taliban committing human rights abuses towards captured resistance fighters and civilians circulated on social media. But the accounts of door-to-door search and seizures in addition to public executions, all of which the Taliban denied, have been unattainable to confirm or debunk.
Electrical energy and cellphone towers have been reduce, leaving an data vacuum that shortly crammed with opposing narratives and claims of massacres, ethnic cleaning and false costs. A broadly shared video claiming Pakistani drones have been working over the valley turned out to be graphics from a online game. One other video confirmed wads of money and items of gold discovered by the Taliban at a home supposedly belonging to Amrullah Saleh, the previous Afghan vp. This report was denied by some Taliban officers, whereas others stated it was true.
Patricia Gossman, affiliate director for Human Rights Watch Asia, stated her group has been monitoring quite a few claims of atrocities, however has struggled to verify them. “There may be an avalanche of unverified data on social media, however what is required is a reputable investigation of the claims of abstract executions and different abuses,” Ms. Gossman stated. “There isn’t any different option to set up the reality and press for accountability.”
Earlier this week, Basir Abdul, who spent 40 years residing in Germany exporting automobiles to Afghanistan and the Center East, made his approach house via the Panjshir Valley, which he discovered largely abandoned.
“Everybody goes ‘Taliban, Taliban,’” he stated, “So I stated to myself, ‘I’ve to see this.’”
Upon arriving at his home, Mr. Abdul, 58, assessed the harm: a couple of shattered home windows and indicators of intruders who had slept within the rooms. Somebody had left behind a pair of fight boots and an orange scarf hanging from a department.
“I’m not positive if this was the work of the Taliban or thieves,” he stated, “however individuals broke in whereas I used to be gone.”
Exterior, Mr. Abdul scanned the horizon. His property sat in clear view of the tomb of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famend mujahedeen chief of the Northern Resistance who was assassinated by Al Qaeda operatives 20 years in the past.
“The valley appears quiet,” Mr. Abdul stated.
Not far down the street, a bunch of Taliban fighters was packing up their pickup vehicles, nonetheless bearing the emblems of the now fallen Afghan safety forces. “The battle has resulted in Panjshir,” stated the unit commander, Sabawoon, who goes by just one title. “There can be peace now. Those that laid down their weapons, we welcomed, and those that fought, issues didn’t finish effectively for them.”
His unit of 200 hailed from northern Afghanistan. They fought their approach into Panjshir from neighboring Baghlan Province and made it to Bazarak final week.
Commander Sabawoon stated that his males have been headed to Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, the place they would offer safety.
Alongside the primary street south of Bazarak, indicators of heavy preventing have been scarce. Some buildings had damaged home windows or the odd bullet mark, however structural harm was laborious to seek out. A few half-dozen wrecked army automobiles dotted the street.
A surgical and maternity hospital within the valley acquired 60 to 70 individuals with conflict-related accidents in latest weeks, stated Dr. Gina Portella, medical division coordinator for Emergency NGO, an Italian nonprofit that runs the power.
“We had ready for a mass casualty state of affairs earlier than the clashes began right here,” Dr. Portella stated. “As a result of many civilians left the valley prematurely, the numbers stayed comparatively low.”
On the facet of the primary street, Talibs fashioned a human chain and unloaded metallic cans of ammunition from the parked vehicles. Mortars, rockets, cartridges of assorted calibers and anti-personnel land mines recovered from decades-old weapons’ caches piled up round a rusting Soviet armored personnel service.
Additional alongside the winding street, deep the facet valley of Dara-e Hazara, a blockade spanned the street, manned by armed fighters with thick Panjshiri accents. Considered one of them defined they belonged to items that served beneath the earlier authorities and that whereas they have been now not resisting, they’d not but surrendered.
He stated that Qari Qudratullah, the brand new provincial governor, was assembly with elders to debate a peaceable handover.
Perceive the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who’re the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Right here’s extra on their origin story and their record as rulers.
A Taliban army fee official, Mullah Hafiz Osman, later confirmed this was true, whereas Mr. Nazary, the resistance spokesman, denied the declare.
Behind the Panjshiri fighters flew the inexperienced, white and black flag of the Northern Alliance, repurposed to suggest the Nationwide Resistance Entrance, which is led by Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shad Massoud, the chief assassinated in 2001. However villagers stated that the Taliban had lengthy been energetic within the valley, and that their takeover had been negotiated by among the residents.
Exterior the tomb of the elder Massoud, a younger Talib, removed from his house in Helmand Province within the south, carried out his night prayers.
Days earlier, images of the partially destroyed tomb, in a dramatic hilltop mausoleum overlooking the valley, appeared on social media alongside accusations that the Taliban had ransacked the place. “This wasn’t our work,” one of many Taliban guards stated. “Civilians broke in and smashed the glass.”
The positioning had since been repaired by the Taliban and was now in its authentic state. A gaggle of guards stood across the tomb, and as night fell, they stretched a inexperienced shroud over it and closed the doorways for the evening.
Exterior the valley, those that had fled questioned if they’d ever be capable to return.
When the Taliban first entered Panjshir, Sahar, 17, and her household barricaded themselves at house, considering the resistance would finally chase the Talibs away. However the preventing steadily drew nearer.
Neighbors began to flee, stated Sahar, whose final title is being withheld to guard her id. Her uncle and cousin have been stopped at a Taliban checkpoint close to the village, she stated, the place they have been overwhelmed and ordered to show over their weapons and the names of resistance fighters.
Final week, the household escaped via the mountains. They walked for 5 days, via distant valleys and over mountain ridges. Sahar fainted thrice from dehydration, she stated, and her mom had blisters and swollen ft. Her father, who’s diabetic, almost collapsed.
Ultimately, they hitched a experience to Kabul, the nation’s capital, the place they’d relations with whom they’re now residing.
“We don’t know what is going to occur,” Sahar stated by cellphone from Kabul. “We might by no means be capable to get again.”
Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York, N.Y. Wali Arian contributed from Istanbul, Turkey.