The Taliban march through northern Afghanistan gained momentum overnight with the capture of several districts by runaway Afghan forces, as several hundred people fled across the border into Tajikistan, say the officials.
More than 300 Afghan soldiers have crossed from Afghanistan’s province of Badakhshan as Taliban fighters advanced toward the border, Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security said on Sunday. Afghan troops are crossed around 6:30 p.m., local time Saturday.
“Guided by the principles of humanism and good neighborliness,” Tajik authorities have allowed retreating Afghan government forces to move to Tajikistan, the statement said.
Since mid-April, when U.S. President Joe Biden announced the end of Afghanistan’s “forever war,” the Taliban he took steps forward throughout the country. But its most significant gains were in the northern half of the country, a traditional stronghold of the strong allies in the United States that helped defeat it in 2001.
The Taliban now control about a third of all 421 districts and district centers in Afghanistan.
The gains in the northeastern province of Badakhshan in recent days have come mostly to the unarmed armed group, said Mohib-ul Rahman, a member of the provincial council. He blamed the Taliban’s successes on the poor morale of the troops who are overly numbered and lack supplies.
“Unfortunately, most of the districts were left to the Taliban without any fighting,” Rahman said. In the past three days, 10 districts have fallen to the Taliban, eight without a fight, he said.
Hundreds of Afghan soldiers, police and intelligence troops have surrendered their military outposts and fled to Badakhshan provincial capital, Faizabad, Rahman said.
Even as a security meeting was held early Sunday to track the reinforcement of the perimeter around Faizabad, some senior provincial officials were leaving the city for the Afghan capital Kabul, he said.
In late June, the Afghan government resurrected volunteer militias with a reputation for brutal violence to support besieged Afghan forces, but Rahman said many of the fighters in Badakhshan districts had fought only a half-hearted fight.
The Taliban have also captured a key district in their former Kandahar stronghold after fierce night fighting with Afghan government forces, officials said Sunday.
The fall of Panjwai district in southern Kandahar province comes just two days after U.S. and NATO forces released their main Bagram Air Base near Kabul, from where they led operations for 20 years against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.
Over the years, Taliban and Afghan forces have regularly clashed in the vicinity of Panjwai, with the armed group aiming to seize given its proximity to the city of Kandahar, the provincial capital.
Kandahar province is the birthplace of the Taliban, who went on to rule Afghanistan until it was overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2001.
Panjwai district governor Hasti Mohammad said Afghan and Taliban forces clashed overnight, resulting in government forces withdrawing from the area.
“The Taliban have seized the district police headquarters and the governor’s office building,” he told AFP news agency.
Kandahar provincial council chief Sayed Jan Khakriwal has confirmed the fall of Panjwai, but has accused government forces of “intentionally withdrawing”.
Areas under Taliban control in the north are becoming more strategic, running along Afghanistan’s border with Central Asian states. Last month, the group took control of Imam Sahib, a city in Kunduz province off the coast of Uzbekistan and took control of a key trade route.
The incidents in Badakhshan are particularly significant as it is the home province of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. His son, Salahuddin Rabbani, is part of the current Supreme Council for National Reconciliation.
The former president killed also led Afghanistan Jamiat-e-Islami, which was the party of the famous anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, killed by a suicide bomber two days before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
The interior minister released a statement on Saturday saying the defeats were temporary, although it was unclear how they would regain control.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the fall of the districts and said most were taken without a fight. The Taliban in previous resignations have shown videos of Afghan soldiers taking a transport franchise and returning to their homes.