How significant is resistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan?
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This article is part of a Fox News digital series examining the aftermath of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan this week a year ago.
When the Taliban swept across Afghanistan last year and brought down its Western-backed government, it declared itself the country’s legitimate government and pledged to ultimately bring peace and security to the Afghan people.
However, a resistance movement is seeking to challenge the Taliban’s rule, with growing opposition to the group in the country’s Panjshir valley.
“There’s something out there…there’s potential there,” Bill Rogio, executive editor of Long War magazine, told Fox News. “They’ve done this in the past. You used to have the Northern Alliance, and these are rabid anti-Taliban individuals.”
Rogio’s comments come as the National Resistance Front (NRF), a group of local volunteers and former Afghan army and police forces, has been seeking to expand their movement over the past year. Following the fall of the Afghan government and the withdrawal of American troops, members of the group were forced to regroup and regroup, eventually gaining a stronghold in the historically anti-Taliban Panjshir Valley.
This remote region of Afghanistan was once home to the Northern Alliance, which waged a civil war against the Taliban after it first took control of Afghanistan in 1996. After September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, U.S. and U.S. Allied Special Operations Forces joined forces with Northern Alliance fighters to overthrow the Taliban government.
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The leader of the new movement, Ahmed Massoud, has deep ties to the old Northern Alliance.Massoud’s father, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was the group’s respected leader before he was assassinated by al Qaeda operatives two days before the US terror attack
Ali Maisam Nazary, the NRF’s head of external relations, told Fox News Digital that the young Masood had inspired a growing resistance that he said continued to recruit new fighters with the goal of one day retaking Afghanistan.
“We started with two valleys,” Nazari said. “Today, we operate in 12 provinces within Afghanistan.”
Nazari touted the success of NRF forces on the battlefield, claiming that in one battle, NRF fighters captured 40 Taliban troops, while in other recent battles they killed another 40.
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“We were very successful,” Nazari said. “The Taliban have not achieved any military victories … they have shown their weaknesses and basically they have exhausted every military option.”
Nazari said the Taliban had brought many troops into the area, including some of its most elite fighters; however, the eradication of the NRF had been of little success. Nazari said the NRF has added luck in recruiting new fighters due to its success, helping its troops grow into what they hope will one day be able to launch an offensive capable of taking territory.
Nazari’s account contrasts with that of the Taliban, which has vehemently denied that fighting has been taking place in the area. Shortly after the last US troops left Afghanistan, the Taliban fought the remaining resistance forces in the Panjshir Valley and claimed to now have complete control of the security situation there.
Part of the challenge of tracking the true strength of the resistance stems from a lack of reliable information, Roggio said, noting that the Taliban have succeeded in keeping fighting away from major cities and holding it in the most remote parts of the country. There is also a lack of coverage in the independent media, who rely on the Taliban to gain access to the region and often only see what the Taliban wants them to see.
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Locals in the disputed valley have at least some doubts about the Taliban narrative, according to a June Washington Post report. Reports of heavy fighting and casualties passed from village to village, while civilian casualties also increased as a result of the fighting.
Roggio believes the truth may lie between competing narratives, and he believes the NRF poses a threat to the Taliban, but the Taliban maintains an edge in the areas it controls and the equipment it owns.
“They’re clearly more than a nuisance,” Roggio said of the NRF.
Roggio noted that the NRF movement currently relies mainly on guerrilla tactics, and a growing movement could help them control disputed areas with strong anti-Taliban sentiment. However, for the organization to truly succeed in its long-term goals, it will need some form of support, most likely from countries friendly to its cause.
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He told Fox News Digital that Nazari has spent most of his time lobbying for international support, placing himself outside Washington, D.C. and Tajikistan in an attempt to market the NRF as a legitimate challenger to Taliban rule. He described the battle as a continuation of the U.S. and allied war on terror, noting that NRF forces were also involved in operations against terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
“We will not characterize the current resistance as a civil war,” Nazari said. “This is a continuation of the global war on terror. However, our allies gave up the fight more than a year ago and we are fighting international terrorists alone.”
However, getting support from the international community to re-fight terrorism in Afghanistan has proven difficult, with Western governments showing little interest in supporting an armed uprising against the Taliban.
This reality was made clearer in July when the U.S. State Department said it “does not support organized violence against” the Taliban. Instead, the U.S. has called on Afghan factions to resolve their differences through diplomatic channels.
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Nazari said the State Department’s stance will only reinforce the NRF’s sense of abandonment after the U.S. ends its time in Afghanistan. He noted that just over a year ago, the U.S. government supported Afghan forces in resisting the Taliban takeover of the country.
“They fund these troops, they support these troops,” Nazari said. “Suddenly, there was a 180-degree shift in policy. NATO’s presence in Afghanistan is legal, but it is illegal today?”
“As far as I know, it’s official U.S. policy, and I think it’s crazy, but that’s what we are,” Roggio said of the State Department’s position.
However, Rogio believes the NRF could pose a legitimate threat to the Taliban’s rule, especially if the group does eventually gain sympathy from the international community. However, he noted that the group still has a long way to go and will face significant difficulties in achieving its goals.
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“It’s hard to judge how successful they will be,” he said. “They look doable.”
For his part, Nazari has an upbeat tone, noting that resistance to Taliban rule is only in the first phase. He believes that the NRF will continue to build on its capabilities, and said the leadership will have thought through their plans before entering the offensive phase.
“Right now, it’s easy for us to take over regions … especially in the north,” Nazari said. “But taking an area is very different from maintaining control over it. So we want to make sure that once we start taking areas… we’ll be able to maintain control.”
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Nazari said the NRF is slowly moving toward that goal, and it is not ready to enter a new phase of the war. However, he did express confidence in the team’s ability to get to this point.
“We are determined to continue and we believe that the days of the Taliban occupying the north are numbered,” he said.