Following a sweeping offensive launched as US troops pull out of Afghanistan, Taliban said Friday they have completely seized border town Islam Qala in the western Herat province, through which lucrative trade with neighboring Iran flows, completing an arc of territory from the Iranian border to the frontier with China, RFI reports.
An anonymous Afghan official confirmed on Thursday evening that the Taliban took over customs at the crossing point while Afghan officials loyal to the central government in Kabul reportedly fled to Iran for safety as the insurgents continue to make sweeping gains across the war-torn nation.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP that Islam Qala is now under their full control and they’ll try to put it back in operation today.
At the same time, Afghanistan interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said efforts were under way to recapture Islam Qala, which is the main conduit for trade between Afghanistan and Iran, a major supplier of goods to Afghanistan with exports reaching some $2 billion last year.
Amid the ongoing withdrawal of NATO-led foreign troops from the country, Taliban have been rapidly seizing more territory in Afghanistan lately, claiming on Friday to be in control of 85 percent of the country or some 250 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts, which is impossible to independently verify. They took over border crossings with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan last week with little or no resistance from the government forces.
President Biden issued a staunch defence of the US withdrawal several hours before announcing the US military mission, having achieved its goals, would end on August 31, admitting at the same time that it’s highly unlikely Kabul would be able to control the entire country.
Biden underlined that status quo is not an option and that he will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, pointing that the US did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build and that the Afghan people alone should determine their future.
He argued, faced with surprisingly hostile and rambunctious White House press corps, that although the Taliban are the strongest they’ve been in 20 years, they are still less capable than the US-backed Afghan security forces and that a Taliban takeover of Kabul is not inevitable, pointing out the Afghan army has 300,000 troops and an air force while the Taliban number 75,000 fighters.
Biden refuted claims that the US intelligence had concluded the government in Kabul would collapse, noting that Afghan government has the capacity, the forces and the equipment to fight, but must come together and reach a unity of purpose.
Meanwhile, the Taliban welcomed Biden’s statement with spokesman Suhail Shaheen saying that any day or hour that US and foreign troops leave earlier is a positive step.