Afghanistan to rush troops to border

Afghan authorities prepared on Saturday to try to retake a key border crossing seized by the Taliban in a sweeping offensive that the insurgents claim has helped capture a vast swath of the violence-wracked nation.

As U.S. troops continued their withdrawal, the Taliban said its 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 said on Friday, controlling about 250 of Afghanistan’s nearly 400 districts — a claim impossible to independently verify, and disputed by the government.

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 on Saturday the authorities were deploying fresh troops to retake Islam Qala post, the biggest trade crossing between Iran and Afghanistan. “They will be sent there soon,” he said.

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’ 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 on 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.

Severe strain

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 U.S. military mission would end on August 31. Afghan commandos clashed with the insurgents 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 control” of the city, but a local official said on Saturday the insurgents had attacked again during the night.

Afghanistan to rush troops to border