'War has been forced on us': In Panjshir mountains, resistance fighters dig in against Taliban

The resistance is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary "Lion of Panjshir," Ahmad Shah Massoud, a guerrilla commander who fought Soviet forces inside Afghanistan and, later the Taliban.

Updated: August 30, 2021 - 10:50pm

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As the United States makes its final official exit from Afghanistan, a lone anti-Taliban province stands firm in the mountainous Panjshir region, rallying around the son of a legendary resistance leader who stood up to Soviet and Taliban forces.

Located northeast of Kabul, the province of Panjshir is home to fiercely independent people whose leader, Ahmad Massoud, has said he wants peace but will not surrender to the Taliban.

Afghanistan swiftly fell under Taliban control over the summer as the U.S. ended 20 years at war inside the country. The capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, prompting a chaotic and deadly exit, as Afghans tried desperately to escape the new regime. The capitulation was completed Monday when the U.S. military completely exited the city.

While Americans flew out, the resistance movement dug in. 

Afghans with knowledge of the resistance described for Just the News one remote training camp amid the mountains and waters of Panjshir. There, fighters work to perfect their military skills and physical training. The camp sends its recruits on American military-style marches, carrying heavy wooden logs across rivers and along roads.

According to photographs from on scene, the fighters' weapons both old and new include shoulder-launched rockets; Western and Russian-style rifles; machine guns; an American Humvee; and a Soviet-era tank.

Fighters arrive at the camp on foot, atop motorcycles, or packed inside pickup trucks, sources said. Their uniforms span a range of camouflage from various nations, along with traditional Afghan clothing, cargo pants, and tee shirts.

Amid the mix of equipment and clothing styles, the purpose is constant: to hold Panjshir.

Sources inside Afghanistan told Just the News that on Monday fighting flared on the outskirts of Panjshir, as resistance forces battled the Taliban. One unconfirmed dispatch from inside the country said that clashes took place in Gulbahar District and Jabul Seraj, north of Kabul. 

Elsewhere, in areas leading into Panjshir, resistance forces killed some 150 Taliban in recent days, according to one contact. Just the News was not able to confirm that information through official channels.

The resistance aims to maintain independence for the mountainous region, Massoud told an interviewer.

"Our people will not allow aggressors to invade their province and allow them to subordinate us," Massoud said.

The effort is not a civil war, he noted.

"This war has been forced on us by a group that is dependent on many countries and is not an independent national movement," Massoud said. "If the Taliban are willing to share power with everyone and are willing to establish justice and to give equal rights and freedom to all of Afghanistan, then I will step down and quit politics."

The conflict spreads beyond the borders of Afghanistan, he said.

"The countries of the region use Afghanistan for their competitions with each other, and they have been willing to fund proxies to fight against each other in Afghanistan on their behalf," Massoud said. "The global aspect of this war is the reemergence of international terrorism."

Two American lawmakers agree, and have urged support for the resistance movement. The two Republicans — Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Rep. Mike Waltz (Fla.) — on Friday issued a joint statement asking President Joe Biden to recognize Massoud and another leader, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh.

"These leaders chose to stay and fight for the freedoms of the Afghan people and oppose extremism," the lawmakers wrote. "They have established a safe haven in the Panjshir Valley for Americans left behind, our allies, and those seeking freedom from Afghan Taliban rule. They will also be on the front lines in the fight against global Islamic extremism, which will continue to plot attacks against the West in the wake of our withdrawal from the region."

Between the two Afghan leaders in Panjshir, Massoud in particular has captured local imagination, according to Afghan sources. The sources are subject to reprisal from the Taliban, and spoke only on condition that their names would not be published.

Massoud is the son of the legendary "Lion of Panjshir," Ahmad Shah Massoud, a guerrilla commander who fought Soviet forces inside Afghanistan. The "Lion" subsequently fought the Taliban regime, and was killed in 2001. The son is affectionately known by locals as the "Lion Cub."

Massoud has said that his movement is acting alone.

"I am not receiving any assistance from any foreign country," he said in the Monday interview. 

Graham and Waltz asked the Biden Administration to endorse Massoud's mission.

"We call on President Biden to designate the Afghan Taliban as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and we urge him to publicly support Congressional efforts to stand with our friends in the Panjshir Valley who will serve as a bulwark against regional terror,” the lawmakers wrote.

Afghans in neighboring Parwal have reported that phone and internet services have been cut off in Panjshir, and that a road going into the province has been blocked.

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