Afghan officials say the Taliban militant group has taken control of the country’s main border crossing with neighboring Tajikistan, as heavy fighting continues between government forces and the militants in northern provinces.
Khaliddin Hakmi, a Kunduz provincial council member, said on Tuesday that the entire town of Shir Khan, located in the far north of Afghanistan and about 50 kilometers from Kunduz City, had been captured by the militants.
“Unfortunately, this morning and after an hour of fighting, the Taliban captured Shir Khan Port and the town and all the border check posts with Tajikistan,” Hakmi said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an Afghan army officer confirmed the Taliban takeover and said, “We were forced to leave all check posts... and some of our soldiers crossed the border into Tajikistan.”
Amruddin Wali, another provincial council member, also said officials had “lost contact” with the captured area.
The northern Afghan provinces have been the scene of fierce fighting between government troops and the Taliban in recent days, with the militant group trying to capture key cities.
Since early May, the Taliban militant group has launched major offensives against Afghan government forces and civilians across the country, and claims to have seized at least 87 of the country’s 421 districts.
Afghan government forces, however, said they would soon launch a massive offensive to retake lost territory.
“The central command is in full control and all security forces and the military resources have been mobilized against the enemy,” General Ajmal Shinwari, spokesman for Afghan security forces. “You will soon witness our advances across the country.”
On Monday, Afghan government forces retook the two districts of Bangi and Khwaja Ghar in the northern Takhar Province from Taliban militants.
UN Afghanistan official warns over Taliban gains
Deborah Lyons, the United Nations (UN) secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, expressed concern on Tuesday about the military gains by the Taliban amid the withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-ravaged country.
“All of the major trends — politics, security, the peace process, the economy, the humanitarian emergency, and COVID — all of these trends are negative or stagnant,” Lyons told the UN Security Council in a video conference.
“But the Taliban’s recent advances are even more significant and are a result of an intensified military campaign,” she added. “For the Taliban to continue this intensive military campaign would be a tragic course of action.”
Lyons also said the prolonged violence by the Taliban “would extend the suffering of the Afghan people.”
In the same forum, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stressed that the world would not accept the Taliban seizing control of Kabul and the government as US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan.
“The world will not recognize the establishment in Afghanistan of any government imposed by force,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “There is only one way forward: a negotiated and inclusive political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.”
All foreign troops were to have been pulled out from Afghanistan by May 1, but US President Joe Biden pushed that date back to September 11.
Turkey accepts lead role in Kabul airport security: Pentagon
In a separate development, the Pentagon announced on Monday that Turkey had accepted a leading role in ensuring the security of Afghanistan’s Kabul International Airport amid the foreign troops’ withdrawal.
“Turkey agreed to take the lead on the protection of the airport in this meeting. However, there are still details to be worked out on this issue. There is much more work to be done,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told a news briefing, speaking about a meeting between Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels last week.
The comment was made as a US military delegation is due to visit Turkey later in the week to hold detailed consultations on a possible Turkish role to guard Kabul International Airport after the NATO withdrawal.
The Turkish president and his American counterpart agreed last week that Turkey would take a leading role to secure the airport, but Ankara also requested financial, logistical, and troop support from other allied countries.
The Pentagon press secretary also stressed on Monday that Biden’s deadline of a full withdrawal by September remained in place, but added that the pace could be adjusted based on conditions.
“The situation in Afghanistan changes as the Taliban continues to conduct these attacks and to raid district centers as well as the violence, which is still too high,” Kirby told reporters.