THE Taliban is claiming it has "completely conquered" Afghanistan after "crushing" resistance fighters.
Thousands of militants have now reportedly taken complete control of the mountainous Panjshir province.
Jihadis previously seized four of the area's seven districts, including provincial capital Bazarak, from anti-Taliban forces known as the Lions of Panjshir following days of bloody battle.
The region, 80 miles north of Kabul, was the final territorial obstacle standing in the way of the Taliban announcing a government.
And today, a spokesman for the group, Zabihullah Mujahid, issued a statement saying the area had been "completely conquered" and a "number of people" were killed while the "rest fled".
This has been denied by opposition group, National Resistance Front (NRF), who say: "The Taliban's claim of occupying Panjshir is false.
"The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight.
"We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails."
The province had been regarded as an impenetrable natural fortress.
The Taliban hadn't previously breached the 60-mile-long valley over the course of the past 26 years.
However, news it could fall came last night, when the terror group announced it had taken control of a police HQ and a district centre of Rukhah, a town neighbouring Bazarak.
They reportedly stormed the valley after overrunning mountain outposts defended by the NRF.
The coalition has vowed never to surrender, fighting to the last man as the Taliban attempt to take control of the last free bastion in Afghanistan.
This morning, armed forces minister James Heappey told Sky it's "hard to verify" the truth – but admitted: "I don't think that the situation, whatever it is, really changes our calculus from the moment Kabul fell".
"The Taliban were effectively the government of Afghanistan, with whom we needed to work to facilitate the evacuation of UK nationals," he said.
"That doesn't mean we've recognised the Taliban.
"And if this [news] is correct, it doesn't change anything in terms of our willingness to recognise them."
As news of the fighting emerged over the weekend, the leader of the resistance, Ahmad Massoud, said he welcomed proposals from religious scholars for a negotiated settlement to end the fighting.
Writing on the NRF’s Facebook page, he said: “The NRF in principle agree to solve the current problems and put an immediate end to the fighting and continue negotiations.
"To reach a lasting peace, the NRF is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements on Panjshir and Andarab," he said, referring to a district in the neighbouring province of Baghlan.
On Sunday, the NRFA also confirmed that its main spokesman, Fahim Dashti, had been killed during the day.
Dashti had survived the suicide attack that killed Massoud's father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, on September 9, 2001, just days before the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Hundreds of fighters are reported to have died in clashes between the Lions of Panjshir fighters and the Taliban.
Officials claiming the area had fallen sparked wild celebrations in Kabul that left 17 people dead as fighters stupidly fired their guns into the air.
Around 200,000 people live in the region, with fighters holding out in the area beating back in the Soviets in the 80s and the Taliban in the 90s.
Opposition fighters in Panjshir are understood to be local tribesmen who are fighting alongside former Afghan soldiers and police, including Western-trained commandos and special forces.
And the force has stockpiled military equipment including tanks, helicopters, artillery guns and trucks as they prepare for a potentially long siege.
However, they are facing a Taliban who is armed with a massive multi-billion dollar arsenal of US weapons as the terrorists seized hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment that had been left behind.
'LIONS OF PANJSHIR'
The resistance are known as the "Lions of Panjshir" as they are in part led by Massoud, the son of a legendary freedom fighter known as "The Lion" who defended the valley in the 80s and 90s.
The narrow valley is still littered with the remnants of armoured vehicles – echoes of the unsuccessful attacks launched by the Russians.
And along with them is Amrullah Saleh, the former vice president of Afghanistan, who declared himself the country's rightful leader as decreed by the constitution.
"There is no doubt we are in a difficult situation. We are under invasion by the Taliban," he said in a video message to the BBC.
He added: "We will not surrender, we are standing for Afghanistan."
Saleh also denied Taliban claims that he had fled the country, and accused Pakistan of helping to support the terrorist forces – something firmly denied by Islamabad.
Usually known for his sharp Western suits, Saleh was filmed wearing a traditional shalwar kameez tunic and a flat woollen pakol cap favoured by Panjshiris.
"The resistance is continuing and will continue," he added.
The militia are fighting under the white, green and black flag of the Northern Alliance, a resistance movement which stood against the Taliban in the 90s.
Saleh has raged against the West's "betrayal" of Afghanistan as the sudden and muddled withdrawal by US forces is widely credited with allowing the Taliban to surge back to power once again.
British, American and other allied forces defeated the Taliban in 2001 after they allegedly harboured al-Qaeda terrorists who plotted the World Trade Centre attacks on 9/11.
Western nations have spent 20 years trying to rebuild Afghanistan as a new democratic government was installed and brutal laws enacted by the Taliban were ended.
However, the occupation was under constant attack from terrorist forces – and US President Joe Biden had declared his desire to end so-called "forever wars".
Some 20 years of work was undone in a matter of weeks as the Taliban surged back to power – sometimes unopposed – and recaptured Kabul as Western forces boarded evacuation planes.
"The fighting here is heavy now, with casualties on both sides. The Taliban are using American munitions against us and Blackhawk helicopters are being flown in to reinforce their attacks," Saleh wrote in the Daily Mail.
'HUMILIATION OF HUMANITY'
He went on: "The betrayal of Afghanistan by the West is colossal.
"The scenes at Kabul airport in recent days represented the humiliation of humanity, an embarrassment for any nation that has been involved in Afghanistan since the Taliban were routed by the US-led Coalition Force in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocity."
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan they imposed medieval-style laws with vicious executions, torture and brutal punishments.
We will not be recognising the Taliban anytime in the foreseeable future.
And despite promises of an "amnesty" for their enemies – and an appearance on Good Morning Britain – there have reports of door-to-door killings – with any allies of the West particularly at risk.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab today said that Britain will not be recognising the Taliban as Afghanistan's government "for the foreseeable future".
He said the Western world needed to "adjust to the new reality" that the brutal insurgents have captured the country and are now in charge.
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