Taliban claim its fighters had seized two border crossings

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Kabul

Afghan authorities prepared Saturday to retake a key border crossing seized by the Taliban in a sweeping offensive that the insurgents claim has helped capture a vast swath of the violence-wracked nation.

As US troops continued their withdrawal, the Taliban said its fighters had seized two crossings in western Afghanistan – completing an arc of territory from the Iranian border to the frontier with China.

Herat governor spokesperson Jilani Farhad said Saturday the authorities were deploying fresh troops to retake Islam Qala post, the biggest trade crossing between Iran and Afghanistan.”They will be sent there soon,” he told AFP.

The Afghan government has repeatedly dismissed the Taliban’s gains as having little strategic value, but the seizure of multiple border crossings and the taxes they generate will likely fill the group’s coffers with new revenue.

With the Taliban having routed much of northern Afghanistan in recent weeks, the government holds little more than a constellation of provincial capitals that must largely be reinforced and resupplied by air.

The air force was under severe strain even before the Taliban’s lightning offensive overwhelmed the government’s northern and western positions, putting further pressure on the country’s limited aircraft and pilots.

On Friday the Afghan defence ministry said government forces had “full control” of the city, but a local official said on Saturday the insurgents had attacked again during the night.

On Saturday, the Taliban also claimed to have captured a district in the province of Laghman, neighbouring Kabul.

Around 100 kilometres from the Iranian border, Ismail Khan — a veteran warlord whose fighters helped US forces topple the Taliban in 2001 — vowed to back government forces fighting against the insurgents.

“We will soon go to the front lines and with the help of God change the situation,” Khan told reporters in the western city of Herat.

On Saturday, hundreds of Khan’s fighters deployed across the city and manned its gates, an AFP correspondent reported.

The Taliban have been emboldened by the US troop withdrawal and – with peace talks in Doha deadlocked – appear to be pressing for a full military victory.—AFP

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