More than 1,000 Afghan soldiers have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan after clashing with Taliban militants, officials have said.The troops retreated over the border to “save their own lives”, according to a statement by Tajikistan’s border guard.
Violence has risen in Afghanistan, with the Taliban launching attacks and taking more territory in recent weeks.The surge coincides with the end of Nato’s 20-year military mission in the country.
The vast majority of remaining foreign forces in Afghanistan have been withdrawn ahead of a September deadline, and there are concerns that the Afghan military will collapse.
Under a deal with the Taliban, the US and its Nato allies agreed to withdraw all troops in return for a commitment by the militants not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.But the Taliban did not agree to stop fighting Afghan forces, and now reportedly controls about a third of the country.For the people of Afghanistan, it is a worrying time, says Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent. The Taliban, which has been accused of various human rights and cultural abuses, supports Islamic punishments – such as public executions of convicted murderers – as well as banning television, music and cinema, and disapproving of girls over 10 going to school.”They are uncertain about where their country is heading, uncertain about their own village or town or city, and uncertain about their own lives and the futures of their families,” she said.But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insists that the country’s security forces are fully capable of keeping insurgents at bay, however there have also been reports of more soldiers seeking refuge in Pakistan and Uzbekistan to escape the fighting.This is the third time Afghan soldiers have fled into Tajikistan over the past three days and the fifth case over the past fortnight. It has brought the total number of soldiers who retreated to Tajikistan to nearly 1,600.The latest group of Afghan troops sought refuge early on Monday morning after fighting with militants during the night, Tajikistan’s National Security Committee said in a statement that was reported by the Tajik state-run news agency Khovar.Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, which border Tajikistan, have seen a rapid Taliban advance, and the militants have now captured most of the territory. The group has also reportedly taken over at least one Afghan army checkpost on the border with Pakistan.Neighbouring countries, including those in central Asia, are bracing themselves for a potential influx of refugees if the fighting continues to intensify.
However Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC the Taliban is not responsible for the recent increase in violence.He insisted that many districts had fallen to the Taliban through mediation after Afghan soldiers refused to fight.US-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001. The group had been harbouring Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures linked to the 9/11 attacks in the US that triggered the invasion. However it has gradually regained enough strength to seize territory again.The Taliban entered direct talks with the US back in 2018, and President Joe Biden has said the American pull-out is justified as US forces have made sure Afghanistan cannot become a base for foreign jihadists to plot against the West again.