The Taliban claimed Friday that it has made sweeping advances and now controls 85% of Afghanistan as the U.S. military enters its final phase of withdrawal.
During a news conference in Russia, Taliban leaders boasted that the group controls about 250 of the 398 districts in Afghanistan, according to Agence France-Presse. The claim, which can’t be verified, 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. There was no immediate response from the government in Kabul on the latest claim.
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Earlier this week, Taliban advances forced hundreds of Afghan soldiers to flee across the border into Tajikistan, which hosts a Russian military base. Tajikistan in turn called up 20,000 military reservists to strengthen its southern border with Afghanistan. Russian officials have expressed concern that the Taliban surge could destabilize the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations north of Afghanistan.
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 Shi’ite Hazaras. Torghundi, a northern town on the border with Turkmenistan, had also been captured by the Taliban overnight, Afghan and Taliban officials said.
Taliban insurgents were now in complete control of the police headquarters, intelligence services, customs operations and the municipal center, they said. Shahabuddin Delawar, a negotiator for the Taliban, said the group is not planning to take provincial capitals by force.