Taliban forces reach Anabah district, some 25 kms north inside 115-km-long valley, says Italian aid agency, which runs a hospital there. Unconfirmed reports suggest Taliban fighters seized other areas too from so-called National Resistance Front.

Members of NRF observe by a house near Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan in this still image obtained from an undated video handout.
Members of NRF observe by a house near Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan in this still image obtained from an undated video handout. (Reuters)

Taliban fighters have advanced deep into Afghanistan's holdout Panjshir Valley, saying they control four of the seven districts now while militia fighters claim they are keeping the Taliban forces at bay, but analysts warn they are struggling.

Italian aid agency Emergency, which runs a hospital in Panjshir, said Taliban forces had reached the village of Anabah, where they run a surgical centre.

"Many people have fled from local villages in recent days," Emergency said in a statement on Saturday, adding it was continuing to provide medical services.

"There has so far been no interference with Emergency's activities," it said.

"We have received a small number of wounded people at the Anabah Surgical Centre."

'Odds were long' for Panjshir militias

Anabah lies some 25 kilometres north inside the 115-km-long valley, but unconfirmed reports suggested the Taliban had seized other areas too.

Bill Roggio, managing editor of the US-based Long War Journal, said on Sunday that there was still a "fog of war" with unconfirmed reports the Taliban had captured multiple districts – but that "it looks bad".

Both sides claim to have inflicted heavy losses on each other.

"The Taliban army has been hardened with 20 years of war, and make no mistake, the Taliban trained an army," Roggio tweeted on Sunday, adding that "the odds were long" for the Panjshir militias.

"The Taliban army was injected with a massive amount of weapons and munitions after the US withdrawal and collapse of the ANA" (Afghan National Army), he added.

Fighters from the so-called National Resistance Front (NRF) – made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces – are understood to have stockpiled a significant armoury in the valley, around 80 kilometres north of Kabul and guarded by a narrow gorge.

Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said on Saturday the districts of Khinj and Anabah had been taken, giving Taliban forces control of four of the province's seven districts. 

"The Mujahideen (Taliban fighters) are advancing toward the centre (of the province)," he said on Twitter.

Saleh warns of grim situation

Fighters in Panjshir held out for a decade against the Soviet military and also the Taliban's first regime from 1996-2001.

Ali Maisam Nazary – who is not in Panjshir but remains a spokesman for NRF – boasted on Sunday that the resistance to Taliban rule "will never fail".

But former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, who is holed out in Panjshir alongside Ahmad Massoud – the son of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud – warned of a grim situation.

Saleh in a statement spoke of a "large-scale humanitarian crisis", with thousands "displaced by the Taliban onslaught".

Panjshir has natural defensive advantage

Pro-Taliban social media have boasted of capturing swathes of the valley, but Nick Waters from the investigative website Bellingcat said the posts did not include verifiable photographs to back up the claims.

"It will be quite easy to verify a video showing Taliban within the Panjshir valley," Waters said.

Taliban and militia tweets suggested the key district of Paryan had changed hands several times in the last few days, but that also could not be independently verified.

The Panjshir Valley, surrounded by jagged snow-capped peaks, offers a natural defensive advantage, with fighters melting away in the face of advancing forces, then launching ambushes firing from the high tops down into the valley.

READ MORE: How international actors laid the groundwork for Taliban rule

Source: AFP