Afghan Taliban seize border crossing with Pakistan in greater progress

  • The Wesh-Chaman crossing straddles the major trade route to the sea
  • The Taliban’s takeover forces Pakistan to close part of the border
  • Latest of several border points to be taken by Taliban
  • Taliban offensive fans across the country when US forces leave

KABUL, July 14 (Reuters) – Taliban fighters in Afghanistan on Wednesday seized control of a major border crossing with Pakistan, one of the main targets they have achieved so far during a rapid advance across the country as US forces withdraw.

Video released by the militants showed their white flags with black Koranic verses instead of the Afghan flag over the Friendship Gate at the border crossing in the Afghan city of Wesh, opposite the Pakistani city of Chaman.

“After two decades of the brutality of the Americans and their puppets, this gate and the Spin Boldak district were conquered by the Taliban,” a fighter told the camera.

“The strong opposition from the Mujahideen and its people forced the enemy to leave this area. As you can see, it is the flag of the Islamic Emirates, the flag that thousands of the Mujahideen shed their blood to travel.”

The crossing, in the Spin Boldak district south of Afghanistan’s southern capital Kandahar, is the insured country’s second busiest point of entry and commercial arteries between its vast southwestern region and Pakistani ports. Afghan government data indicates that the route is used by 900 trucks a day.

Afghan officials said government forces had pushed the Taliban back and had control of the district. But civilian and Pakistani officials said the Taliban remained in control of the crossing.

“Wesh, which is of great importance in Afghan trade with Pakistan and other countries, has been captured by the Taliban,” said a Pakistani security official posted at the border area.

Chaman officials said the Taliban had suspended all travel through the gate.

The Taliban have in recent days seized other major border crossings in the northern and western provinces of Herat, Farah and Kunduz. Border control allows the Taliban to collect revenue, said Shafiqullah Attai, chairman of Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Investment in the capital, Kabul.

The Islamist militants who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their ouster in 2001 by US bombings following the 9/11 attacks on the United States have since fought to overthrow the Western-backed government in Kabul.

US President Joe Biden has announced that he is withdrawing all US troops by August, and US forces left their main base in the country two weeks ago. Encouraged Taliban have made a new push to surround cities and conquer territory.

U.S. officials told Reuters the United States will send charter flights later this month to begin evacuating about 2,500 Afghans who worked as interpreters for the U.S. government and whose lives are now in danger. The program has been dubbed “Operation Allies Refuge”.

PRESIDENT LOVES TO BREAK THE TALIBAN ‘S BACK

President Ashraf Ghani traveled to the northern province of Balkh on Tuesday to assess security after the Taliban pushed government forces out of several districts there.

Ghani, 72, met with civilians and assured them that “the Taliban’s backbone will be broken”, and government forces would soon recapture areas lost to the militants, the Tolo News network reported.

In the western province of Herat, a security official said Taliban fighters had fired several mortars at the Salma dam, a major hydropower and irrigation project.

Officials at the National Water Affairs Regulation Authority appealed to the Taliban to treat the dam as a “national treasure (which) is everyone’s common property and should not be damaged in military conflict”.

Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the Taliban forced members of a small ethnic minority to either convert to Islam or leave their homes in the northern province of Badakhshan.

“These are the minority Kerghiz who lived there for centuries … They are now (across the border) in Tajikistan, awaiting their fate,” he said on Twitter.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said it was increasingly concerned about reports of rights violations as the fighting spread. “The reports of homicide, ill – treatment, persecution and discrimination are widespread and disturbing, creating fear and insecurity,” the mission said in a statement.

Educated Afghans – especially women and girls who were expelled from school and most work under the Taliban regime – have sounded the alarm over their rapid advance, as have members of ethnic and sectarian minorities persecuted under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Taliban spokesmen deny allegations that they are abusing rights, saying women will not be abused if the Taliban return to power.

“The best way to stop civilian casualties is to revive peace talks so that a negotiated solution can be reached,” the UN mission said.

The Taliban pledged to negotiate with their Afghan rivals as part of a deal, after which the United States agreed to withdraw. But little progress has been made towards a ceasefire in several rounds of negotiations in Qatar.

Senior politicians from Kabul were preparing to travel to Qatar for more talks this month as Western diplomats urged rival sides to work towards a power-sharing agreement.

Further reporting by Gul Yosuefzai in Quetta, Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad Writing by Rupam Jain and Peter Graff Editing by Robert Birsel, Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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