Taliban Fighters Attack Previously Spared Afghan Province

For the first time in two decades of conflict in Afghanistan, a historically secure province, Panjshir, has come under attack. Authorities say several members of the Taliban kidnapped locals on Tuesday, with residents saying they have taken up arms to help Afghan security forces.

The Taliban struck the outskirts of Panjshir province in northeastern Afghanistan, officials said. The province has never been attacked in nearly two decades of war although the Taliban had a presence in nearby provinces, like Nuristan, Baghlan, Badakhshan, and Kapisa.

Provincial officials said the militants took over several Afghan security force outposts in the Afshar district. District official Mohammad Sohrab told VOA that about 60 militants came from Nuristan province. He also accused the Taliban of taking a number of villagers hostage and holding them in a mosque.

Residents picked up arms and helped the security forces against Taliban, according to one local witness, Mahi Udin.

The attack came at a time when the nation was commemorating the 19th anniversary of Ahmed Shah Masood’s death. He was known as the ‘Lion of Panjshir.’ Ethnically Tajik, the powerful guerrilla commander was considered one of the fiercest rivals of the Pashtun Taliban as they expanded their influence in Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was killed by al-Qaida suicide bombers posing as journalists days before the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Tuesday’s attack in Panjshir also comes at a time when all sides are anticipating talks to start between the Taliban and an Afghan government sanctioned team.

Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said Tuesday that the talks would “begin soon.”

Meanwhile Mohammad Naim, the newly appointed Taliban spokesman, said the process of releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners that had been holding up talks since March was not yet complete.

“Once the prisoner release process is complete, our negotiation team will be ready to begin intra-Afghan talks,” he tweeted.