The Taliban said Tuesday their forces had killed at least 40 fighters of an Afghan insurgent group led by the son of a late anti-Taliban commander during renewed fighting in the northern Panjshir province.
The scenic Panjshir Valley is famed for being a site of Afghan resistance against Soviet forces in the 1980s and an anti-Taliban rebel base during the Islamists’ first stint in power in the late 1990s.
The National Resistance Front (NRF) was the last to hold out against the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August last year by retreating to the valley.
Headed by the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, NRF forces in May announced an offensive against the Taliban — their first since the hardline Islamists seized power.
Scores of civilians had fled the valley in the initial bout of fighting, but there has been a lull in recent weeks.
However, fresh fighting erupted in the valley in the past few days, residents and the insurgent group said.
Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said 40 NRF fighters, including three commanders, had been killed by Taliban forces.
“Sweeping clearance operations were conducted against the rebels in Rukha, Dara and Abshar district of Panjshir province,” Mujahid said on Twitter, adding that another 101 insurgents had been arrested.
He did not say when the NRF fighters were actually killed.
NRF, though, said the Taliban was exaggerating the number of fighters killed.
“We refute the numbers. They have inflated the numbers,” Ali Nazary, head of NRF’s foreign relations, told AFP.
“Only a small group of our forces were captured and killed by the Taliban. Our forces fought fiercely till the last bullet.”
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 picked up the mantle against Taliban forces, repeatedly denouncing the Islamist regime as “illegitimate.”
NRF says its offensive would continue across 12 provinces where its forces have a presence, mostly in the north.