Taliban security forces in Afghanistan have launched a large-scale “clearance operation” against insurgent forces in parts of the turbulent northern Panjshir province, killing dozens of them and capturing many more.
Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA Wednesday that the security action was carried out in three districts of the mountainous province to prevent “rebels” from threatening public security there.
“The clearance operation in Rekha, Dara and Afshar of Panjshir killed 40 rebels, including four commanders, and captured more than 100 others,” Mujahid said.
He said the operation was launched in response to subversive acts by insurgents earlier in the week. “Mujahedeen (security forces) concluded late last night and fighting has died down there.”
Critics say the anti-rebel offensive indicates the Taliban are struggling to contain the National Resistance Front, or NRF, a growing insurgency in Panjshir and parts of neighboring Baghlan province since taking over the war-torn country a year ago.
The NRF, which is led by Ahmad Massoud — an ethnic Tajik leader — has in recent months regularly claimed guerrilla attacks against Taliban forces in Panjshir, one of the smallest Afghan provinces. It is located just north of the capital, Kabul.
Until this week, the Taliban have consistently denied reports of widespread fighting in the area and dismissed the NRF as an “opposition force existing merely in social media,” saying they are in control of all of Afghanistan.
Sibghatullah Ahmadi, an NRF spokesman, accused via Twitter the Taliban of executing eight insurgent fighters after capturing them. He went on to claim that the action was in retaliation for repeated fatal NRF guerrilla attacks against Taliban forces over the past few days.
VOA was unable to immediately verify the Taliban or NRF claims from independent sources.
Last month, the Taliban appointed one of their senior military commanders, Abdul Qayum Zakir, to counter NRF activities, reportedly leading to the deployment of large number of security forces in and around Panjshir, with air assets supporting ground operations.
The Taliban regained power in August 2021 when the internationally recognized Afghan government security forces collapsed in the face of stunning nationwide attacks by the then-insurgent group and all international troops withdrew from the country.
Panjshir was at the center of resistance against the Taliban when they were previously ruling the country (from 1996 to 2001) before being ousted by a United States-led foreign military intervention in Afghanistan days after the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida-plotted terror strikes against America. The province also played a crucial role in the U.S.-backed and -funded Afghan armed resistance against Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s.
Massoud is the son of anti-Taliban mujahedeen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, whom al-Qaida suicide bombers, posing as journalists, assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks.
Critics are skeptical whether the NRF could pose a serious threat to the new Taliban rule. They say that unlike their previous stint in power, Taliban fighters are now better armed, possessing U.S. armored vehicles and other sophisticated military weapons left behind by the United States and NATO militaries.