The Taliban are pressing on with their surge in Afghanistan, saying they seized a strategic border crossing with Pakistan on Wednesday — the latest in a series of key border posts to come under their control in recent weeks.
The development was the latest in Taliban wins on the ground as American and Nato troops complete their pull out from the war-battered country.
On Tuesday, an Afghan official said a senior government delegation, including the head of the country’s reconciliation council, would meet the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, to jump-start the long-stalled peace talks between the two sides.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted a video purporting to show Taliban fighters on Wednesday in the south-eastern town of Spin Boldak along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
On the Pakistani side, residents of the border town of Chaman reported seeing the Taliban’s signature white flag flying just across the boundary line and Taliban fighters in vehicles driving in the area.
However an Afghan government official from southern Kandahar province, where Spin Boldak is located, denied that the Taliban had taken control.
The official declined to be identified by name, without explaining why.
The Taliban have in recent weeks taken a string of major Afghan border crossings, including with Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Afghanistan has been at war for 43 years — it isn’t that Afghanistan has been peaceful and now we are withdrawing and therefore it’s becoming a battlegroundZalmay Khalilzad
The border crossing with Iran at Islam Qala in Afghanistan’s western Herat province is particularly lucrative and an important trade route.
Spin Boldak is a key crossing for all goods from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi to Afghanistan, a landlocked nation dependent on the Arabian Sea port.
Last week, the Taliban said they now control 85% of Afghanistan’s territory — a claim that is impossible to verify but that was considerably higher than previous Taliban statements that more than a third of the country’s 421 districts and district centers were in their control.
Many Afghan districts have fallen to the Taliban without a fight as Afghan forces abandoned their posts. Reports indicated that Spin Boldak also fell without a fight.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, acknowledged the ongoing chaos in remarks on Wednesday.
However, he pointed to the decades of unrest in the country since the 1979 Soviet invasion.
“The fact is that Afghanistan has been at war for 43 years — it isn’t that Afghanistan has been peaceful and now we are withdrawing and therefore it’s becoming a battleground,” Mr Khalilzad told an online seminar organised by the Beirut Institute.
“The Taliban were making progress each year over the last several years while we were still there.”