Pro-democracy fighters in Afghanistan‘s Panjshir Valley may be bloodied but are not bowed in opposing the Taliban, who have claimed victory over the entire country, a resistance leader told The Washington Times.
Ali Nazary, head of foreign relations for the National Resistance Front (NRF), said the pro-democracy fighters in Afghanistan‘s fabled valley need foreign nations to back their efforts to turn back the Taliban and the flood of terrorist groups that he says have poured into the country.
“Whatever happens in Afghanistan will impact the international community,” Mr. Nazary said in an interview. “We believe the U.S. and any other country that believes international terrorism is a threat to its security and to its national interests has to assist us because we are the only forces fighting against international terrorism.”
Since the U.S. withdrawal in mid-August, the Biden administration has ignored the scores of fighters backed by ISIS, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups pouring into the country, he said. And the estimated 50,000 strong Taliban, which has a long history of partnering with terrorist organizations, has no hope of providing security and stability in a country on the cusp of an economic and humanitarian disaster.
“These are facts that haven’t been accepted by the international community, especially the United States,” Mr. Nazary said. “The threat of international terrorism is growing every day that passes — and not only from ISIS but al Qaeda and the Taliban themselves.”
Mr. Nazary says the NRF, armed with an estimated 10,000 former Afghan soldiers, special forces commandos and police, is quickly becoming the U.S.’ last remaining option to counter the Taliban and the scores of terrorist groups flooding Afghanistan. But he says time is running out.
“We are the only forces inside Afghanistan that are militarily challenging all of them,” Mr. Nazary said.
“We cannot do this all alone,” he said. “My main appeal to the administration, to the U.S. Congress, and to others outside of government has been that this is the only option that the U.S. has. But it is not an option that will always persist.”
Led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the late U.S.-allied Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the NRF formed in mid-August amid the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.
The 32-year-old Mr. Massoud and his followers decamped to the mountainous region his father had defended amid a constant onslaught of Soviet offensives in the 1980s and later against the Taliban after they gained power in the 1990s. They pledged to stand up against the Taliban’s Islamic fundamentalism and fight for the same pro-democratic platform the Northern Alliance touted decades before.
Mr. Massoud says his forces need more arms for a protracted conflict because Taliban forces have surrounded Panjshir and cut off supply lines to replenish troops and weapons.
Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans, met with representatives from the NRF in late August and pledged support for the anti-Taliban resistance.
But neither the White House nor the State Department publicly backed the NRF, and in early September, Taliban fighters posted photos of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan‘s flag raised in over Panjshir — dashing hopes of stalling the fundamentalist government.
Mr. Waltz, a former Army Green Beret on the House Armed Services Committee, said that, from a national security standpoint, it is “grossly irresponsible” for the administration not to engage with the Afghan resistance.
“They’re begging us now to be a partner,” Mr. Waltz said. “If you look at what they stand for, versus what the Taliban are actually doing, what more does the administration need to see?”
A senior administration official said U.S. government officials talk “to a range of Afghan leaders,” but declined to comment on where the White House stands with the NRF.
“We do not go into the details of all our diplomatic engagements,” the official said.
Mr. Waltz pledged in September to “take a page out of ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’” referring to the book and movie about the flamboyant Texas Democratic congressman known for securing millions of dollars for the CIA to arm the Afghans fighting against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s.
Mr. Nazary said such support has yet to materialize, as the NRF’s pleas are met with silence from the Biden administration. “Seeing inaction from this administration is just mind-boggling,” he said.
In Panjshir, both sides claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties throughout weeks of clashes in September, though reports have not been independently verified.
Afghanistan’s former vice president, Amrullah Saleh, who joined the resistance in Panjshir, said the Taliban had blocked humanitarian access and cut phone service and electricity in the region. He also claimed that the Taliban had begun forcing “military-age men” to clear minefields in the area.
Still, Mr. Nazary said the Taliban will struggle to maintain control in the valley.
“Panjshir has never been somewhere where the people have welcomed invaders,” he said. “Anyone who enters that valley throughout history has faced defeat.”
He said the NRF currently controls more than 60% of Panjshir, which is made up of an endless network of sub valleys that branch off of the main artery. The NRF allowed the Taliban to take control of the highly visible thoroughfare, he said, as the group adjusted its strategy to avoid protracted skirmishes with the well-armed Taliban.
Furthermore, Mr. Nazary said support for the NRF is beginning to expand beyond Panjshir as the Taliban fails to deliver stability.
“The resistance is growing now because the population is now facing a humanitarian crisis,” he said.
“They see the Taliban as a disruptive force, a force that is unable to bring stability and security, a force that is unable to deliver services to feed them,” he said. “So they have no other choice and the only reasonable option that they have is the NRF.”
But, Mr. Nazary said, the NRF can only hold out so long without U.S. assistance.
In the absence of constant, on-the-ground reporting, the state of play in Panjshir is difficult to verify. Western media outlets have noted few signs of Taliban opposition in the region in the weeks following the Taliban offensive, and some analysts in Washington maintain a more pessimistic view of the emergence of a formidable challenge to Taliban control.
Nonetheless, Mr. Nazary said supporting the NRF’s resistance may be the U.S.’ only option to thwart the growing threat of international terrorism and keep the Taliban in check.
In September, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley told the House Armed Services Committee that terrorist organizations could regain footing in Afghanistan in as soon as six months.
Gen. Milley also conceded that the pullout damaged the ability to confront potential terrorist threats in the region.
“I think the ends are going to remain the same to protect the American people, but I think the ways and means are going to change,” he said. “I think it is going to become much more difficult now to conduct counterterrorism operations against a reconstituted al Qaeda or ISIS in Afghanistan. Not impossible … but it will be more difficult.”
The Biden administration has lauded its over-the-horizon counter-terrorism strategy, but with no military footprint and degraded intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan and the closest air base from which to fly unmanned intelligence aircraft hours away, many in Washington remain skeptical of the strategy.
The Taliban continues to vie for international recognition and claims that it has distanced itself from al Qaeda and has promised to comply with international standards for human rights.
“It is a false premise from those who believe that they have bargaining chips with the Taliban, that will enable change in the Taliban behavior over the long term,” said Richard Goldberg a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “If anybody has watched the Taliban for the last couple of years, we should be very clear-eyed that any promise or statement from the Taliban is completely worthless.”
Mr. Nazary said he fears international leaders have already begun to cave to the Taliban and says that as long as they remain in power, the threat of terrorism continues to grow.
Last week, the Biden administration announced it was easing some restrictions on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to help alleviate the worsening economic crisis. More aid organizations will now be able to assist in the Taliban-ruled country without violating sanctions against the Taliban and Haqqani network, a group of Afghan Islamic guerrilla insurgents.
Critics said the move sends the wrong message.
“Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s shortsighted decision to offer broad sanctions carveouts could result in using American taxpayer funds to reward, legitimize and enable the same Taliban that took power by force and has shown no interest in abiding by international norms,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Mr. Nazary fears the Biden administration and leaders across the globe are on a slippery slope toward recognizing the fundamentalist government.
“We believe there’s too much being given away to the Taliban, even if they’re not recognized,” Mr. Nazary said.
“The only thing the Taliban know is destruction. That’s what they were made for. They weren’t made for good governance. They weren’t made to become statesmen.”
The White House has reiterated that no country, including the U.S., has recognized the Taliban. Both the Taliban and the Haqqani network remain sanctioned by the U.S. and United Nations.
“We have worked with the United Nations and other international institutions to accelerate the provision of liquidity, as well as resources to ensure that the basic human needs of the people of Afghanistan are being met,” a senior administration official said. “We are getting the relief to people across the country as winter approaches”
“Our diplomats will continue to press the Taliban through multiple channels to address basic human rights issues, provide access to education for women and girls, and to fulfill their counterterrorism commitments,” the official added.
While Mr. Goldberg did not specifically endorse the NRF, he said it could make sense for the U.S. to look for partners in Afghanistan as a potential check on the Taliban.
“Members of Congress should ask for a series of briefings from the intelligence community to be looking very closely at any opposition that exists,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Mr. Nazary said the NRF’s calls for U.S. support went unheeded by the administration, despite the increasingly dire picture in Afghanistan.
As the NRF waits for its chance to retake Panjshir, it has ramped up efforts to influence powerbrokers outside of Afghanistan. Last month, NRF supporters staged demonstrations in 22 cities around the globe.
“We were able to show that the diaspora communities throughout the globe support the National Resistance Front,” Mr. Nazary said. “We have the popular support whether inside Afghanistan or outside.”
Mr. Nazary said the NRF has mobilized Afghan communities around the globe.
“If the Taliban control the geography, we have the popular support with us,” he said. “We have legitimacy.”
In October, the NRF registered in Washington as a lobbying group.
“If the United States completely ignores the situation inside of Afghanistan and believes that the Taliban will stabilize the situation, we’re going to see many threats in the West, especially in the United States, in the years to come,” Mr. Nazary said.