An article by Susannah George and Aziz Tassal published in The Washington Post on June 8 says Taliban forces have been locked for months in a shadowy on-again, off-again battle with opposition fighters based in the Panjshir Valley, which has long been an anti-Taliban stronghold and remains the only significant pocket of resistance to the group since the fall of Kabul last August.

“Inside the Taliban’s Secret War in the Panjshir Valley” says Taliban officials flatly deny there is any violence in the area, even though thousands of the group’s forces are visible across the valley.  

Yet residents reportedly say assaults on Taliban positions are a regular occurrence, and dozens of people have been killed, with some civilians imprisoned in sweeping arrests. Those residents spoke on the condition of anonymity or used only one name for fear of reprisals.

The Post says the clashes in Panjshir are unlikely to pose an imminent threat to the Taliban’s control of the province or the country, but the violent resistance there punctures key narratives propping up the movement’s claim to legitimacy: that its rule has brought peace to Afghanistan and that its fighters are capable of maintaining security.

The Taliban reportedly claimed to have taken full control of the valley in September, but spokesmen for the National Resistance Front say they never surrendered.

The current anti-Taliban movement is led by Ahmad Massoud — the son of legendary resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaeda two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States — and former vice president Amrullah Saleh.  Both men reportedly fled Afghanistan in late 2021, but they continue to direct operations from exile and are believed to command thousands of fighters.

According to The Post, a commander of approximately 100 fighters in Panjshir said the opposition is mostly armed with weapons shipped into Afghanistan across its borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. But the munitions, including heavy weapons such as rocket launchers, are reportedly not enough.

Taliban leaders have reportedly sought to contain news from Panjshir by limiting access to the valley and issuing sweeping denials when confronted with reports of fighting.

According to the article, The Post was officially granted access to the valley by Taliban leaders in Kabul and Panjshir, who said they wanted media coverage of security and stability in the area. After a guided tour of the province’s capital, The Post team was given permission to travel unaccompanied to villages and to interview civilians.  Those interactions reportedly offered a small window into an opaque struggle.

The Post says under Taliban rule, information that challenges the official line is increasingly difficult to verify. The country’s media landscape has shrunk, civil society faces constant intimidation, and human rights groups have either disbanded or operate under severe limitations.

At the same time, the article says that there are competing one-sided narratives in Panjshir as well.  As the Taliban maintains that all is calm,” spokesmen for the resistance post near-daily social media updates on their armed struggle.”  Meanwhile, residents have reportedly learned to be skeptical.

“There is a lot of propaganda [on both sides] in the war in Panjshir,” said a farmer in Dara village who was once a member of the Afghan police force, according to the article.  The farmer reportedly believes both sides are playing down civilian casualties.   

Both the Taliban and the National Resistance Front claim that no civilians have been killed in the recent fighting.

The Post notes that the province residents say clashes have increased since the end of the holy month of Ramadan in May.  Spring has reportedly always marked the beginning of Afghanistan’s fighting season, as the weather in the north becomes milder and makes it easier for fighters to maneuver.