The Taliban gained momentum overnight with the capture of several districts from fleeing Afghan forces, several hundred of whom fled across the border into Tajikistan, officials said.
More than 300 Afghan military personnel crossed from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province as Taliban fighters advanced towards the border, Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security said in a statement on Sunday. The Afghan troops crossed over at about 6:30pm local time on Saturday.
“Guided by the principles of humanism and good neighbourliness,” the Tajik authorities allowed the retreating Afghan government forces to cross into Tajikistan, said the statement.
Since mid-April, when US President Joe Biden announced the end to Afghanistan’s “forever war”, the Taliban has made strides throughout the country. But its most significant gains have been in the northern half of the country, a traditional stronghold of the US-allied strongmen who helped defeat them in 2001.
The Taliban now controls roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centres in Afghanistan.
Gains in northeastern Badakhshan province in recent days have mostly come to the armed group without a battle, said Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial council member. He blamed Taliban successes on the poor morale of troops who are mostly outnumbered and lacking supplies.
The Taliban also captured a key district in its former bastion of Kandahar after fierce night-time fighting with Afghan government forces, officials said on Sunday.
The fall of the Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar comes just two days after US and NATO forces vacated their main Bagram airbase near Kabul, from where they led operations for 20 years against the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies.
Over the years, the Taliban and Afghan forces have regularly clashed in and around Panjwai, with the armed group aiming to seize it given its proximity to Kandahar city, the provincial capital.
The province of Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, which went on to rule Afghanistan until being overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2001.
Panjwai district Governor Hasti Mohammad said Afghan forces and the Taliban clashed during the night, resulting in government forces retreating from the area.
“The Taliban have captured the district police headquarters and governor’s office building,” he told the AFP news agency.