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Panjshir Valley; Land of Five Lions

The Panjshir Valley, also called the land of five lions, is controlled by the National Resistance Front, the successor of the Northern Alliance rebel group that fought alongside U.S. forces during the 2001 invasion.

Known as the 'Lion of Panjshir', Ahmad Shah Massoud was a guerrilla commander during the resistance of Soviet Union occupation between 1979 to 1989. Massoud was a military genius and master of guerrilla warfare, who helped fight the Soviet Union to a standstill in the 1980s.

When most of the country fell to the Taliban in 1996, Massoud as leading commander of the Northern Alliance managed to keep the Panjshir Valley free from the militant group throughout its five-year rule.

Currently, leading the National Resistance Front is Ahmad Massoud, son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud. He was 12 years old when his father was assassinated. Two years ago he was appointed as head of the forces in Panjshir. Unlike his father, he has no combat experience. However, he trained as a foreign cadet at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, studied at King's College, and later received a master's degree in international politics from London's City University.

Three days after the Taliban marched unopposed into Kabul, Ahmad Massoud said, “No matter what happens, my mujahideen fighters and I will defend Panjshir as the last bastion of Afghan freedom. Our morale is intact. We know from experience what awaits us.”

Recently, both groups confirmed that the Taliban had launched an offensive to take the region, which is around 60 miles north of Kabul. The Taliban has claimed they have seized control of the area, however the NRF refute this.

NRF spokesperson Ali Nazari said they had in fact pushed the Taliban onto the back foot. Nazari said, "The Taliban's propaganda machine keeps publishing the same claims that Panjshir has fallen. We have seen it for the past week that it is false, and it's the opposite. It's the National Resistance Front that has caused them to retreat."

Nazari claims NRF forces had encircled and besieged Taliban fighters in the north-eastern part of the Valley. He said, "There are well over a few hundred Taliban who are trapped. And they are running out of munitions and they are negotiating terms of surrender right now."

Amrullah Saleh, former Afghan vice president who declared himself the country's rightful president after Ashraf Ghani fled, said, "There is no doubt we are in a difficult situation. We are under invasion by the Taliban. They have had casualties, no doubt we have had casualties. Yesterday I attended the funeral of my fallen brothers who lost their lives in this sacred and holy defence of Afghanistan. We will not surrender, we are standing for Afghanistan."

Massoud is looking for a deal giving Panjshir, and other regions, a degree of autonomy. The Taliban would also need to commit to basic human rights. The Taliban forces vastly outnumber the NRF, however the geography is on Massoud's side.

Ahmad Massoud wrote, "I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father's footsteps with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban. We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father's time, because we knew this day might come."

The resistance fighters have asked the U.S. and its allies for humanitarian aid, including food, fuel and tents, as they prepare for the looming Afghan winter. Massoud said, “The United States and its allies have left the battlefield, but America can still be a great arsenal of democracy.”

Nazary said that with or without U.S. support, his people would hold firm to their tradition of resistance whatever happens. He said, “The people of Panjshir know how to survive, and they know how to fight invaders.”

The Taliban have surrounded Massoud's resistance fighters and cut off their access to supplies. It is unclear how long they can hold out.

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