Taliban look set to unveil new government after claiming last holdout region

Nearly 20 years after being toppled by American forces, the Taliban on Tuesday said they were poised to unveil the new government of Afghanistan.

On Monday, the militant group declared they were in control of Panjshir province, the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces in the country after their sweep of Afghanistan last month. Their claims were refuted by the resistance forces that said they were still fighting the militants in the area.

Ahmad Massoud, the son of an iconic anti-Taliban fighter, posted a defiant audio message to social media, calling for a national “uprising" against the Taliban.

NBC News was not able to confirm any of the claims.

Meanwhile in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Taliban gunmen fired in the air to scatter protesters, witnesses told Reuters, as video showed scores of people scurrying to escape volleys of gunfire. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Hundreds of men and women shouting slogans such as "Long live the resistance" demonstrated against the Taliban, the news agency reported. Video posted on social media also appeared to show men and women taking to the streets of Kabul.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday they were in the final stages of forming the new government and were ready to announce it at any time. The timing of the move was striking, coming almost 20 years to the day after 9/11, which precipitated the American invasion after the Taliban government refused to hand over the attacks' architect, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

In recent days, there has been a lot of speculation about the composition of the government. While the group has not formally unveiled a cabinet or its new leaders, several high-profile Taliban figures are expected to remain prominent.

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One of them is Hibatullah Akhundzada, chosen as the leader of the Taliban in 2016. A hard-liner, he used his religious credentials to justify the Taliban’s insurgent campaign against America and the U.S.-backed Afghan forces as a “holy war.”

Another pivotal figure is expected to be Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the Taliban’s founding members and their political leader.

Baradar was arrested more than a decade ago in a joint U.S.-Pakistani operation before being released in 2018. He served as chief negotiator for the group during peace talks with the U.S. in Qatar and recently held a secret meeting with CIA chief William Burns.

Other prominent figures include Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed cleric who founded the Taliban and died in 2013, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani network, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization and whose forces took control of Kabul after Washington-backed President Ashraf Ghani fled.

The Taliban may be forming a government, but the U.S. for one is not in a hurry to establish official ties.

Asked whether the U.S. would recognize the Taliban, President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House late Monday, "That’s a long way off."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday there were still around 100 U.S. citizens left in Afghanistan who wanted to leave after the last U.S. plane departed last week ending America's 20-year presence in the country. Blinked added that the State Department was working with the Taliban to facilitate chartered flights to get people out.

U.S. rivals Russia, China and Iran, among others, have established relations with the Taliban leaders, and are expected to forge ties with the new government of Afghanistan.

Before completing its withdrawal, the U.S. said it had evacuated about 124,000 U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans, but thousands were left behind.

Speaking at a news conference in Qatar — where many of the evacuees went — Blinken said that the Taliban had reasserted that U.S. and Afghan citizens with valid papers would be allowed to freely leave.

"They have said they will let people with travel documents depart." he said. "We will hold them to that."

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