Civilians flee fighting in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley

Dozens of civilians have fled fighting in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley after an insurgent group launched an offensive against Taliban forces, residents said on Saturday.

The Panjshir Valley is famous for being a site of resistance by Afghans against Soviet forces in the 1980s and as a base for rebels opposing the Taliban regime during the group’s first stint in power in the late 1990s.

The National Resistance Front (NRF) was the last to resist the Taliban takeover of the country last year by retreating to the valley.

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Led by the son of late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, NRF forces last week announced an offensive against the Taliban – their first since hardliners seized power in August.

Both sides claim to have killed dozens of each other’s fighters in recent days.

“We were only able to recover one or two pieces of clothing,” Lutfullah Bari told AFP, claiming to have fled with dozens of families.

“Like us… [the families] now live with their relatives in different areas of Kabul,” he added.

Farid Ahmad, a father of 10, said he left his district with several others because of the fighting.

Another civilian, Aimal Rahimi, said people “are scared and running for their lives”.

Panjshir Taliban commanders, however, told AFP that the fighting had stopped.

“They [NRF fighters] fled to the mountains,” said Abdul Hamid Khurasani, head of the elite Taliban Badri unit in Panjshir.

“The situation is now normal and peaceful.”

The NRF said its offensive would continue in 12 provinces where its forces were present, mainly in northern Afghanistan.

Massoud, the group’s most revered figure and known as the “Lion of Panjshir”, was assassinated in 2001 by al-Qaeda, two days before the September 11 attacks in the United States.

His son, Ahmad Massoud, has since taken up the torch against Taliban forces, denouncing the extremist regime as “illegitimate”.

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