KABUL: Taliban fighters have seized control of Afghanistan’s major trade gateway with Turkmenistan, hours after capturing a main border crossing with Iran, Afghan officials confirmed on Friday.
In the past week, the Taliban have overrun areas bordering five countries — Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan — as US-led foreign troops step up their withdrawal from the country.
The fall of Torghundi town in Herat, on Afghanistan’s border with Turkmenistan, after the takeover of the Islam Qala crossing with Iran in the same province on Thursday, is the latest inroad gain by the group. Two weeks ago, they seized the Sher Khan border crossing with Tajikistan.
“First the Taliban captured Islam Qala on Thursday and at around eight last night, they entered Torghundi as well,” Masuada Karokhi, a lawmaker from Herat province, told Arab News.
“Some of the employees of Islam Qala fled to Iran, while from Torghudi’s side they crossed into Turkmenistan. Some of them surrendered to the Taliban. The government troops were under the Taliban’s siege for days and they received no government help at all during this period,” she added.
The Taliban are now in control of 17 out of 19 districts of Herat.
A video that went viral on social media showed a group of men in Afghan military uniform handing over their weapons to the Taliban near Islam Qala.
“The people and troops are exhausted of the war. They happily have welcomed the Taliban in the areas. The Taliban have asked the officials to show up for work on Saturday and they are not harassing people at all,” Karokhi said. “The government is losing ground because they lack any plan and relied on foreigners all this time.”
A senior security official from Herat, who is not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed to Arab News that both crossings, which are key sources of trade revenue for Kabul, are “now under Taliban control.”
“In going after border provinces, the Taliban seem to have a political and a financial strategy here,” Torek Farhadi, a former adviser to ex-President Hamid Karzai told Arab News. “Ports of entry give Taliban control of the flow of goods, imported food and almost all the fuel imported into Afghanistan, a country of 36 million people. The Taliban can now levy taxation and boost their finances,” he said. “Afghanistan is a landlocked country and highly import-dependent. Through occupying border provinces, the Taliban are going to control the economy.”
US-led troops began their last phase of departure in May, almost halting their support for the Afghan forces that have relied on them since 2001, when they invaded the country and toppled the Taliban for protecting Al-Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
The US combat mission in Afghanistan is expected to end by Aug. 31.
While Western officials have warned of a possible civil war in Afghanistan following the exit of foreign forces, US President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the decision, saying that he did not expect the Taliban to take over the whole country.