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New Reports Of Fighting In Afghanistan's Panjshir Trigger Fresh Claims Of Taliban War Crimes

Taliban soldiers ride in a car on a street in Panjshir in December 2021.

PARWAN, Afghanistan -- Resistance to the Taliban is flaring up in northeastern Afghanistan, and as reports of deadly fighting increase, so are claims of war crimes against civilians.

The fighting is centered in the center and south of Panjshir Province, a traditional hotbed of ethnic Tajik resistance to the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and the last province to fall to the extremist group after it seized control of the rest of the country in August.

Residents of the southern Dara district's Abdullah Khel Valley told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi by telephone that an influx of Taliban fighters to counter growing unrest had led to extrajudicial killings, torture, and beatings.

The violence has been attributed by some to defiance of the Taliban's declaration that Eid al-Fitr be celebrated on May 1. Locals marked the Islamic holiday on May 2 after a prominent imam criticized the Taliban's decision as politicized, and issued a fatwa calling for it to be celebrated in keeping with the date set by Mecca.

They also report high casualties among Taliban fighters deployed from other provinces to quell fighting led by the resurgent anti-Taliban National Resistance Front (NRF) and to round up local religious figures and other potential insurrection leaders.

"As they [the Taliban] searched for the resistance, they encountered difficulties but took a number of young men hostage," said one resident of Abdullah Khel Valley, who declined to give his name out of fear of retribution from the Taliban.

"There are dead bodies in every corner," said Mullah Mahad, 41, another resident of the valley. "But they [locals] don't have the right to bury their dead."

Anti-Taliban forces take part in military training in the Dara district in Panjshir Province in September 2021.
Anti-Taliban forces take part in military training in the Dara district in Panjshir Province in September 2021.

Another valley resident, Gul Aqa, said that clashes with the NRF resulted in heavy losses for the Taliban. "The Taliban sent more troops and military weapons to suppress the gunmen, but this time the National Resistance Front forces based in the Abdullah Khel Valley attacked the Taliban convoy," he said.

The reported fighting has led to a war of words between the NRF and the Taliban, with the resistance group claiming in recent days that it had killed scores of Taliban fighters and taken control of large parts of the Panjshir Province's southern Abshar and Dara districts, including the Abdullah Khel Valley.

The Taliban has denied the NRF's claims, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid telling Radio Azadi last week that no such militant group is currently active in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban's provincial police chief, Maulvi Dad Mohammad Batar, acknowledged that "there have been shootings," but dismissed them as few in number and as acts of desperation carried out from the mountaintops.

Abubakar Sadiq, a spokesman for the Taliban's governor of Panjshir Province, told Radio Azadi that the police chief in Rokha district had been arrested in connection with recent clashes and that "if it becomes clear that people who have been detained are involved, they will be arrested, and if they are guilty they will be dealt with legally."

The spokesman later confirmed that six Taliban fighters had been killed in clashes in the southern Dara district, according to the Taliban-run Islamic News Agency of Afghanistan.

Reports have suggested that dozens of Taliban fighters have been killed in clashes in Panjshir, in the most significant military resistance to the militant group since it seized power.

Anti-Taliban fighters patrol in the Anaba district.
Anti-Taliban fighters patrol in the Anaba district.

The reports of renewed fighting have been accompanied by multiple videos on social media of apparent war crimes being carried out by Taliban fighters. The videos, which RFE/RL was not able to independently verify, purportedly show Taliban fighters beating civilians and firing at civilian homes.

Other videos show alleged Taliban fighters shooting men one by one in a trench and allegedly executing a resistance fighter.

The reports of the mistreatment and killings of civilians led the European Union's envoy to Afghanistan, Andreas von Brandt, to express his concerns about the situation in Panjshir Province. "We mourn the innocent loss of life," von Brandt wrote on Twitter on May 10. "Once more, the situation underlines the need for overdue inclusive solutions in governing Afghanistan."

The NRF was formed after the Taliban recaptured Kabul on August 15, 2021, and held out against the extremist group for several weeks.

The militia is made up of civilians and former Afghan government forces. It is led by Ahmad Masud, son of former mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Masud, who used the Panjshir Valley as a base to fight the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s.

Masud's assassination by Al-Qaeda militants preceded the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The September 11 attacks, in turn, led to the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 that overthrew the Taliban's hard-line regime.

Local residents alleged in comments to Radio Azadi that some civilians were being subjected to torture for showing any allegiance to the slain Masud.

The resident of Abdullah Khel Valley who declined to give his name claimed that one man was thrown off a cliff by Taliban fighters because he had been photographed alongside a poster of the legendary commander. The source further claimed that the Taliban cut the ears off the man's 16-year-old companion.

The Taliban has denied accusations by the NRF that is has detained and killed civilians, and has even claimed that many civilians in Panjshir Province's Dara district have sided with the Taliban since their arrival. The extremist group recently distributed a video purportedly showing a gathering of Panjshir residents to discuss their security issues with the Taliban.

Ali Meysam Nazari, who heads foreign relations for the NRF, responded by denouncing the Taliban's claims as lies, saying civilians had only gathered for the video under threat.

Aside from the reports of fighting in Panjshir, there have also been reports of increasing resistance to Taliban rule in the neighboring provinces of Kapisa, Parwan, Baghlan, and Badakhshan.

The Taliban has vowed to counter any resistance in those provinces.

Written by Michael Scollon based on reporting in Afghanistan by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. The correspondent's identity has been withheld for security reasons
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