- Afghan authorities to deploy recent troops to retake the Islam Qala submit, the most important commerce crossing between Iran and Afghanistan.
- The seizure of a number of border crossings and the taxes they generate will possible fill the Taliban’s coffers with new income.
- Beijing, in the meantime, criticises Washington for its hasty withdrawal; urges its residents to depart the nation “as soon as possible.
KABUL: Afghan authorities prepared Saturday to try to retake a key border crossing seized by the Taliban in a sweeping offensive that the group claim has helped capture a vast swath of the violence-wracked nation.
As US troops continued their withdrawal, the Taliban said their fighters had seized two crossings in western Afghanistan — completing an arc of territory from the Iranian border to the frontier with China.
It now held 85% of the country, a Taliban official claimed Friday, controlling about 250 of Afghanistan’s nearly 400 districts — a claim impossible to independently verify, and disputed by the government.
Taliban claim 85% of Afghan territory under their control
Beijing, meanwhile, which has criticised Washington for its hasty withdrawal, urged its citizens to leave the country “as quickly as attainable” after evacuating 210 nationals.
The “advanced and extreme home safety scenario” prompted the evacuation warning, the foreign ministry said, adding that 22 of those flown out tested positive for coronavirus on arrival in China.
On Friday Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP their fighters had captured the border town of Islam Qala on the Iranian frontier and the Torghundi crossing with Turkmenistan.
Herat governor spokesman Jilani Farhad said Saturday the authorities were deploying fresh troops to retake Islam Qala post, the biggest trade crossing between Iran and Afghanistan.
“They are going to be despatched there quickly,” he told AFP.
The Afghan government has repeatedly dismissed the Taliban’s gains as having little strategic value, but the seizure of multiple border crossings and the taxes they generate will likely fill the group’s coffers with new revenue.
In a clear sign fighting was getting closer to major urban centres, an official at one hospital in Kandahar — the country’s second-largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban — said Saturday dozens of wounded had been admitted in the past 24 hours, including at least 15 service members.
With the Taliban having routed much of northern Afghanistan in recent weeks, the government holds little more than a constellation of provincial capitals that must largely be reinforced and resupplied by air.
The air force was under severe strain even before the Taliban’s lightning offensive overwhelmed the government’s northern and western positions, putting further pressure on the country’s limited aircraft and pilots.
On Thursday President Joe Biden said the US military mission would end on August 31 — nearly 20 years after it began — but he admitted it was “extremely unlikely” Kabul would be able to control the entire country.
“The established order will not be an possibility,” Biden said of staying in the country. “I cannot ship one other era of Individuals to conflict in Afghanistan.”
Fall of Kabul to Taliban not inevitable, says Joe Biden
Biden said the Afghan people alone should determine their future, but he acknowledged the uncertainty about what that would look like.
Asked if a Taliban takeover was inevitable, the president said: “No, it’s not.”
Afghan commandos clashed with the Taliban this week in a provincial capital for the first time, with thousands of people fleeing Qala-i-Naw in northwest Badghis province.
On Friday the Afghan defence ministry said government forces had “full management” of the city, but a local official said on Saturday the group had attacked again during the night.
On Saturday, the Taliban also claimed to have captured a district in the province of Laghman, neighbouring Kabul.
Around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Iranian border, Ismail Khan — a veteran warlord whose fighters helped US forces topple the Taliban in 2001 — vowed to back government forces fighting against the group.
“We are going to quickly go to the entrance traces and with the assistance of God change the scenario,” Khan told reporters in the western city of Herat.
On Saturday, hundreds of Khan’s fighters deployed across the city and manned its gates, an AFP correspondent reported.
US pushes for deal
The Taliban have been emboldened by the US troop withdrawal and — with peace talks in Doha deadlocked — appear to be pressing for a full military victory.
Still, on Thursday, Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiating team, insisted the insurgents were seeking a “negotiated settlement”.
But President Ashraf Ghani said the insurgents were not interested in talks.
“When one aspect desires negotiations however the different aspect would not wish to speak, is that proper?” he said in a speech on Saturday.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for international pressure to force a deal.
“The whole world may also help by persevering with this push,” he said in a tweet.
The Pentagon chief did not specify which countries he was urging to help, but Pakistan is widely believed to have significant influence over the Afghan Taliban.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seeks international support to resolve Afghan conflict
In recent weeks China, another neighbour, has harshly criticised what it sees as a hasty and chaotic withdrawal by Washington.
“The US disregards its duties and duties and withdraws troops from Afghanistan rapidly, dumping the mess and conflict on the Afghan individuals and nations within the area,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a routine briefing Friday.
“The US, as the unique offender of the Afghan problem, bears unavoidable duty.”