The Taliban have claimed to be in control of 85% of Afghanistan, including a key border crossing with Iran, following a sweeping offensive launched as US troops pull out.
Hours after Joe Biden issued a staunch defence of the US withdrawal, the Taliban said fighters had seized the border town of Islam Qala – completing an arc of territory from the Iranian border to China.
A delegation of Taliban officials in Moscow said the groups controlled 250 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts, a claim impossible to independently verify and disputed by the government.
An Afghan government official said efforts were under way to recapture Islam Qala – the main conduit for trade between Afghanistan and Iran – as the insurgents continued to make sweeping gains across the country.
“All Afghan security forces including the border units are present in the area, and efforts are under way to recapture the site,” said an interior ministry spokesperson, Tareq Arian.Advertisementhttps://5677a234689f88a6ff53e5de28ba8a6f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Hours earlier, Biden said the US military mission would end on August 31 – nearly 20 years after it began – having “achieved” its goals.
But he admitted it was “highly unlikely” Kabul would be able to control the entire country.
“The status quo is not an option,” Biden said of staying in the country. “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan.”
With the Taliban having taken much of northern Afghanistan in recent weeks, the government is holding little more than a constellation of provincial capitals that must be largely 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.
Afghan commandos and the insurgents have clashed this week in a provincial capital for the first time, with thousands of people fleeing Qala-i-Naw in north-west Badghis province.
The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, said the government could handle the situation, but admitted difficulties lay ahead. “What we are witnessing is one of the most complicated stages of the transition,” he said in a speech in Kabul. “Legitimacy is ours; God is with us.”
“What we are witnessing is one of the most complicated stages of the transition,” he said in a speech in Kabul.
The Taliban have been emboldened by the troop withdrawal and with peace talks with the government deadlocked, appear to be pressing for a full military victory.
This week more than 1,000 Afghan troops fled into Tajikistan in the face of a Taliban onslaught.