WSJ’s Gordon Lubold reports from Kabul that even after American troops leave, the Taliban claim to control more than a third of the current Afghan government. A recent assessment by US intelligence estimates that the Afghan government could fall victim to the insurgency within six months of the American withdrawal. Propaganda footage appears to show Taliban troops guarding a US-built border crossing between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Hundreds of Afghan troops have fled across the country’s northern border for security reasons, while the Taliban have continued a rapid offensive to capture districts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. According to the military monitor Long War Journal, the group has taken control of at least 10% of Afghanistan’s districts over the past six days, half of which are under Taliban control, and a third are claimed by the militant government. The group has taken dozens of districts since announcing Biden’s departure in April, and its offensives in the northern provinces have resulted in hundreds of Afghan troops surrendering or being killed.
The Taliban now control about half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers and have captured the country’s 34 provincial capitals, said General. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the Taliban capture more territory, Afghan security forces must consolidate their positions and protect key population centers including Kabul, said Milley.
The Taliban control now about 90 percent of Afghanistan’s borders, a spokesman told Russian media on Thursday after the offensives by hardline Islamists since the withdrawal of foreign troops. After seizing about a third of the country’s districts in a summer offensive, the Taliban moved this week through the northeastern province of Badakhshan to the mountainous border with China’s Xinjiang region. The group also controls about two-thirds of the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday.
Taliban negotiator Shahabuddin Dilawar said on a news conference that militants now control 85 percent of Afghanistan, reported the local news site Tolo News. The militants have succeeded in capturing a key economic center on the Afghan-Tajik border, Afghan officials said. The group also said it has taken control of the key city of Torghundi on the border with Turkmenistan.
In April, Afghan security forces the leader of the group’s Afghan Offshoot Abdullah Orakzai together with several other militants arrested in the southern city of Kandahar. On 11 May, the forces also announced that they had captured the group’s regional leader Abu Omar Khorasani in South Asia in an operation in Kabul. Afghan soldiers in the border of Islam Qala, a major transit route between Afghanistan and Iran, fled their positions and sought refuge in Iran, reported Iranian media.
A Taliban spokesman claimed Thursday that they now control 90 percent of the Afghan border after attacks by hardline Islamist militants following the withdrawal of foreign troops. The group is fighting to drive foreign forces out of Afghanistan and delegitimize the Afghan government. The militants have been advancing into Afghan-held territory since U.S. and NATO troops withdrew, seizing border crossings and surrounding towns.
The Taliban began their first direct peace negotiations with the Afghan government in 2020 after a deal with the United States. The Taliban is a Pashtun Islamic fundamentalist group that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when a US-controlled invasion toppled the regime and gave refuge to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Negotiations between the US and the Taliban began in 2018 and culminated in an agreement signed in February 2020 to withdraw foreign troops.
Afghanistan is divided between government forces supported by international troops, the Taliban and their militant ally the Islamic State extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups. The agreement provides for power-sharing between the Afghan government and the Taliban and a complete withdrawal of foreign troops. A Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul to discuss the release of prisoners as both sides prepare to begin direct peace talks, but most of the country is still contested and ravaged by violence, with the warring factions pursuing a strategy of direct combat.
An Afghan government source confirmed that two delegations from the Afghan negotiations had met in Doha and that they would meet again later in the day to discuss a ceasefire.
Under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, the United States has committed to withdrawing from Afghanistan all U.S. and NATO troops by May 2021 if the Taliban fulfill their obligations, including severing ties with terrorist groups. Experts say Taliban negotiators and Afghan officials are waiting to see how Joe Biden’s administration will handle the troop withdrawal. Some officials argue that the Taliban did not push through the start of intra-Afghan talks to change the timetable for withdrawal.