A band of Afghan resistance fighters holed up in Afghanistan's rugged Panjshir province northeast of Kabul has repelled repeated attacks by Taliban fighters in recent days, a representative for the group tells NPR.
Speaking with NPR's All Things Considered on Friday, Ali Nazary, the National Resistance Front's head of foreign relations, who is currently in the U.S., also denied reports that the Taliban have taken control of the province — the last major territory standing between the Islamist militia and total control over Afghanistan — calling the rumors "propaganda."
The Panjshir Valley "has not been breached," he told host Audie Cornish. "The Taliban are facing fierce resistance."
"The Taliban propaganda machine is trying to divert attention, is trying to spread propaganda, to weaken morale in Kabul and elsewhere," said Nazary, who says he has been in close contact with NRF officials in Panjshir.
Nazary's remarks came on a day that saw both the Taliban and the NRF claiming victories and denying defeats. In sharp contrast to Nazary's comments, there were reports of "celebratory gunfire" in Kabul, the Afghan capital, over the Taliban's purported victory in Panjshir.
The NRF, which says it has about 10,000 fighters, is made up of various local militias and former Afghan security force members. It is led by the Western-educated son of legendary mujahedeen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in the days leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The elder Massoud famously helped fight both the Soviet army and the Taliban to a standstill from his stronghold in the Panjshir Valley, situated in the Hindu Kush mountains.
Joining Massoud's opposition is Amrullah Saleh, who was vice president under President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Afghanistan as the Taliban closed in on the capital last month. In a video posted to social media, Saleh also denied rumors of a defeat.
Countering reports that he and Massoud had also fled, the former vice president told his supporters that he is in the Panjshir Valley and that the NRF has "held ground" and will continue to fight.
Nazary said that the Taliban launched their latest — and largest-to-date — offensive in hopes of conquering Panjshir before announcing a new government.
"Fortunately, our forces bravely fought them. They repelled all of their attacks," he said, adding that the Taliban had even retreated from some areas.
Panjshir has been described as a natural fortress against invaders, but it isn't clear how long the resistance can hold out against a larger and better-equipped Taliban force.
Nazary said that elements of al-Qaida have joined the Taliban and that the resistance is fighting them "all alone."
"The whole world has abandoned us," he said. "We're not receiving any type of assistance, whatever form it could be. And we're fighting al-Qaida and international terrorism at the moment. And everyone is ignoring this."
Although the resistance continues to fight, Nazary said, it maintains "lines of communication" with the Taliban and has made a so-far-unsuccessful call for a say in the new government.
"The Taliban movement does not represent the vast majority of Afghanistan's population. The vast majority are against them," he said. "In order for them to form an inclusive government, they have to include all ethnic groups, all political forces, all political parties from throughout the country, both women and men."
"Unfortunately, right now in their government that they're forming, they're ignoring 50 percent of the society, which are women," Nazary said.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We've been exploring what remains in Afghanistan following the exit of U.S. forces. And today, we hear from the resistance that's not only trying to fend off Taliban fighters, but also the Taliban's messaging about who has the upper hand. Afghanistan's national resistance front is led by Ahmad Massoud. He and the fighters in his effort are headquartered in the hard-to-reach Panjshir Province. Earlier today, we spoke with the head of Foreign Relations for the resistance, Ali Nazary. He denied any reports that the Taliban has taken over Panjshir.
ALI NAZARY: We have 20 years of experience with the Taliban propaganda machine. And that - it is not a credible source for reporting any type of incident, event. Since yesterday, the Taliban launched their largest offensive on Panjshir because they had plans to announce their government on Friday. Fortunately, our forces bravely fought them. They repelled all of their attacks. Not only did they repel all their attacks on Panjshir, but the Taliban retreated from many districts around Panjshir.
CORNISH: What do you think the goal is of the propaganda itself? What is the message that you think the Taliban is trying to send in doing this, not to the West, but within the country?
NAZARY: So because they're unable to win the physical war, they're resorting to a propaganda war right now. Because for the past week, they've been attacking Panjshir from all sides. And they've been repelled right now, as we speak. And they're trapped. And they're negotiating a surrender at the moment.
CORNISH: Does this mean that you also are in communication with the Taliban? Is there any kind of negotiation, so to speak?
NAZARY: We do have our line of communication. After August 15, we extended an olive branch saying that instead of fighting, instead of perpetual conflict in Afghanistan, let's come together and open a dialogue and see if we could form an inclusive government. So our message...
CORNISH: So what has their answer been? Because, of course, we are now hearing their reports that they plan to push ahead with forming their government. They're talking about the names they're putting forward for their leadership.
NAZARY: The Taliban - they say they want to form an inclusive government, but in action, they haven't shown anything. In order for them to form an inclusive government, they have to include all ethnic groups, all political forces, all political parties from throughout the country, both women and men. Unfortunately, right now in their government that they're forming, they're ignoring 50% of the society, which are women.
CORNISH: Now, thinking back just a few days ago, Ahmad Massoud, leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, wrote in The Washington Post that you needed support from the West. What kind of response are you getting?
NAZARY: What we believe is that the narrative that is being spread throughout the Western world and everywhere is that the conflict in Afghanistan is an internal conflict. It's a civil war. We refute this. Right now we're not only fighting against the Taliban. We're fighting against al-Qaida.
CORNISH: So you see a direct security consequence, you're saying, for the U.S. in the Taliban's takeover.
NAZARY: Of course. The whole world has abandoned us. We're all alone. We're not receiving any type of assistance. And I've been conveying this, that just how in the '90s, the United States and the rest of the Western world ignored the threat of al-Qaida inside Afghanistan. And we saw events like 9/11. The same will repeat itself again. So what we're looking for in the West, especially in the United States, is to prevent any sort of recognition for this movement that is trying to unilaterally form a government that still has strong connections with transnational terrorism. This is not a movement or force to be recognized.
CORNISH: That's Ali Nazary, head of foreign relations for Afghanistan's National Resistance Front.
Thank you for speaking with us.
NAZARY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.