The Taliban raised their flag over the last Afghan provincial capital, Panjshir, even as representatives of the opposition forces there maintained that they would fight on from the mountains.
If the Taliban manage to keep Panjshir under control, it would be a symbolic capstone to the group’s lightning-quick conquest and return to national power.
The Taliban never managed to control Panjshir the last time they ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, and it was the launching point for the U.S.-led invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Soviet forces, during their occupation of Afgahnistan in the 1980s, made advances into the territory on at least nine occasions, only to be repelled each time, sometimes after suffering heavy casualties.
The Taliban have always been bitterly opposed to the fighters of the Panjshir and were complicit in the assassination of their storied commander Ahmad Shah Massoud 20 years ago.
While rumors of the Taliban’s having taken over in Panjshir swirled this past weekend, it was not until Monday morning that the group officially claimed control.
“Panjshir Province completely fell to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, wrote in a statement on Twitter.
Taliban fighters posted images online said to be of militants raising the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban call the country, in the provincial capital, Bazarak, as well as of their forces talking to local leaders.
But while the Taliban claimed that they had conquered the entire province, the opposition group, the National Resistance Front, disputed that account, saying that its forces were still positioned across the Panjshir Valley.
“We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails,” it said on Twitter.
The conflicting accounts of what was happening on the ground in the area 70 miles north of Kabul, the country’s capital, were hard to verify because internet and telephone service into the region has been cut off.
The resistance group’s leader, Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the commander who was assassinated in 2001, issued an audio recording on Monday calling for the nation to rise up against the Taliban.
“Wherever you are, whether inside the country or outside, we appeal to you to rise up in resistance for the dignity, integrity and freedom of our country,” he said, according to a transcript of the recording.