The Armed Resistance Against the Taliban Is Still Here

The Taliban say they don’t exist, but small groups of loosely linked resistance fighters still operate across Afghanistan and beyond.
afghanistan taliban resistance panjshir
Resistance fighters in Afghanistan last September. PHOTO:AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN/AFP via Getty Images
VICE World News marks the first anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, from the devastating consequences that ensued to the millions of lives that were transformed.

Nestled in hideaways in remote valleys in Afghanistan and in safe houses outside the country, groups of armed militias are operating a growing resistance against the Taliban. These fighters, loyal to the previous Western-backed government, are running a sustained insurgency in areas already hostile to the Taliban. 

Eleven months after the Taliban claimed to have neutralised the final resistance fighters in the Panjshir Valley, and a year since the Kabul government fell to the Islamists, resistance fighters are regrouping. 


On Monday, the National Resistance Front – the biggest active anti-Taliban group – used the eve of the first anniversary of the fall of Kabul to announce a new wave of attacks on Taliban outposts in the north of the country. 

Several hit-and-run attacks on Taliban militants in the outposts and checkpoints in Andrab and Panjshir have already been reported, also in parts Baghlan, Parwan and Kapisa provinces, all of which are north of Kabul. Other small groups have also emerged in the south and east of the country.  

In a statement to mark the “fall of the regime” in Kabul, the NRF said the group would continue to “fight until the people of Afghanistan are liberated” from the Taliban. 

The NRF and other loosely allied groups have carried out a limited series of clashes in areas with large populations of ethnic and religious minority groups, known for their hostility to the Islamists, who target them with impunity.


The Taliban seized the Panjshir valley in September 2021. PHOTO: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Taliban have claimed that they have a diverse interim cabinet set up, but in reality the group has made very little effort to include ethnic and religious minorities, such as Tajiks and Hazaras, which has prompted a rebellion from people in minority regions. 

The Taliban dismiss the threat the few hundred armed men pose, and there is no doubt that the NRF has exaggerated its strength. But nevertheless, the number of propaganda posts by different insurgent groups has grown on social media. The groups include the Afghanistan Freedom Front in the north part of the country, and the Afghanistan Islamic National and Liberation Movement, which is made up of ex-security forces and has claimed responsibility for a dozen attacks in the south and east of the country since announcing itself in February.


Much of the NRF’s leadership is based outside the country, settled in neighbouring Tajikistan after fleeing the Taliban advance toward the provincial capital of the Panjshir valley last year, the last anti-Taliban stronghold during the group’s takeover last year. Somewhere between  4,000 to 8,000 former Afghan army soldiers, police officers, and people allied to the groups that were in charge of Afghanistan have taken up arms in the Hindu Kush mountains. 

“Currently, there are many resistance groups. The National Resistance Front was the largest, most organised, and the first to emerge. However, in the following months and up to April 2022, numerous other fronts have emerged, mostly independent or based on ethnicity and geographical area,” said Daniele Garofalo, an expert in monitoring the propaganda of jihadist organisations, told VICE World News in an email. 

The Taliban’s security forces are in control of every provincial capital across Afghanistan, and repeated reports show that they crack down harshly on any opposition in Tajik- and Hazara-majority areas. Most of the new resistance groups are made up of men in these persecuted ethnic minorities. 

The NRF is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud who was known as the Lion of Panjshir. The young Massoud has repeatedly called for people to join in to fight against the Taliban despite being in Tajikistan. The  group’s official website says that his front is fighting to “create a democratic system with elections, freedom of speech, human and women’s rights, inclusiveness of all ethnic groups in the government, fight corruption and terrorism.”


The resistance group claims to be a supporter of a “moderate Islam” and seek a “decentralised” system in Afghanistan that reflects the ethnic and religious components of the country.

“Massoud’s decision to organise a large council in which to unite the leaderships of all resistance groups and conduct a common, organised armed struggle with a single leadership could be decisive,” Garofalo said.

Last September, just weeks after the NRF was announced, the Taliban launched an offensive against the group. In 2021, for the first time in its history, the Taliban managed to take the capital of Panjshir – known for its ferocious anti-Taliban fighters – and announced the complete takeover of Afghanistan. The fighters, however, say they never surrendered. 

The NRF has published a number of videos on social media with calls for Afghan people to join in the fight. They boast about their victories in media releases, but the Taliban outright deny any existence of any serious armed opposition.

The resistance groups are formed of supporters of the jihadi groups that fought the Soviets, and later allied with the US’s Nato-led campaign in Afghanistan. The ranks are also filled with former government security personnel laid off after the fall of Kabul, as the Taliban continue a harsh crackdown on any dissidents across the country. 

The Western-backed government ran the country for two decades and was marred by overwhelming corruption, nepotism, and internal rivalries over lucrative contracts.  Ultimately, it could not defend itself against the Taliban, which was emboldened by the sheer unpopularity of the official government. 


The overall resistance to the Taliban since the Islamists has been disorganised, and their affiliations to the past Western-backed governments have not endeared them to all Afghans. The NRF leaders operate outside the country – mostly in neighbouring Tajikistan – and have not managed to create a united front. A number of other former prominent figures who fled the country have announced a Supreme Council for National Resistance for the Salvation of Afghanistan from Turkey, mainly made of high-profile former warlords like Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Mohaqeq, Yunus Qanoni, Atta Mohammad Noor, and Ismail Khan. But the group is yet to show any signs of active military presence inside Afghanistan. 

When anti-Taliban attacks in Andarab and Panjshir provinces intensified during May this year, the Islamists sent thousands of soldiers to regain control. Under the guise of search-and-destroy operations, dozens of men were rounded up. In one village in Panjshir, 80 men were detained and beaten by the Taliban soldiers who accused them of cooperating with the resistance groups. They kept 10 people in custody, claiming they were associated with armed groups entrenched in the far mountain peaks. 

The Taliban has promised a general amnesty for former security forces, but the United Nations reported 160 extrajudicial killings and even more detention and disappearance of former government personnel in the past year. With the fear of getting killed at the hands of the Taliban, tens of former army soldiers joined the ranks of budding resistance groups.  In June, Human Rights Watch released a report which found that the Taliban was using collective punishment and torturing residents accused of association with armed opposition groups.

The limited number of clashes staged by resistance fighters is yet to prove a serious challenge to the Taliban’s authority, but the Taliban is struggling to keep up with a growing number of attacks on the outposts and checkpoints across the country. 

The US and Western countries have so far distanced themselves from the resistance groups, even though they are led by their former allies. 

“The military part [of these groups] is made up of highly trained soldiers who are perfectly familiar with the territory in which they operate. They have made considerable progress in the last year,” said Garofalo, the monitoring expert. “But they still need a lot of time.”