Taliban officials say they have taken control of 85 per cent of Afghanistan, as international concern mounts over problems getting medicines and supplies into the country.
- Afghan government officials deny claims the Taliban control large parts of the country.
- Local officials say a district with tens of thousands of Shiite locals has been captured
- Neighbouring countries are concerned extremists could infiltrate their borders
Afghan government officials dismissed the assertion that the Sunni Muslim insurgent group controlled most of the country as part of a propaganda campaign launched as foreign forces, including Australia, withdraw after almost 20 years of fighting.
But local Afghan officials said Taliban fighters, emboldened by the withdrawal, had captured an important district in Herat province, home to tens of thousands of minority Shiite Hazaras.
The Taliban have historically persecuted Shiite and Hazara communities in the country.
Torghundi, a northern town on the border with Turkmenistan, had also been captured by the Taliban overnight, Afghan and Taliban officials said.
Hundreds of Afghan security personnel and refugees continued to flee across the border into neighbouring Iran and Tajikistan, causing concern in Moscow and other foreign capitals that radical Islamists could infiltrate Central Asia.
Three visiting Taliban officials sought to address those concerns during a visit to Moscow.
Taliban official Shahabuddin Delawar (centre) reassured neighbouring countries Islamic State would not operate in Taliban-controlled areas. (REUTERS:Tatyana Makeyeva
“We will take all measures so that Islamic State will not operate on Afghan territory and our territory will never be used against our neighbours,” one of the Taliban officials, Shahabuddin Delawar, told a news conference.
He said, “you and the entire world community have probably recently learned that 85 per cent of the territory of Afghanistan has come under the control,” of the Taliban.
The same delegation said a day earlier that the group would not attack the Tajik-Afghan border, the fate of which is in focus in Russia and Central Asia.
When asked about how much territory the Taliban held, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined direct comment.
“Claiming territory or claiming ground doesn’t mean you can sustain that or keep it over time,” he said in an interview with CNN.
“And so I think it’s really time for the Afghan forces to get into the field and they are in the field and to defend their country, their people.
“They’ve got the capacity, they’ve got the capability. Now it’s time to have that will,” he said.