Taliban announces in Moscow it controls 85% of Afghan territory

Photo: EPA Afghan security forces patrol after they cleared the area of Taliban militants in Alishang district of Laghman province, 8 July 2021.

The Taliban said on Friday it now controls 85% of Afghanistan's territory and made no promise to the US to refrain from attacking Afghan administrative centres, as its militants mount an offensive amid a final pullout of US troops, news wires reported. At a press conference in Moscow, Taliban negotiator Shahabuddin Delawar said that "85 percent of Afghanistan's territory" is under the group's control, including some 250 of the country's 398 districts.

The Taliban delegation in the Russian capital sought to signal that the group did not pose a threat to the wider region however. The officials said the Taliban would do all it could to prevent Islamic State operating on Afghan territory and that it would also seek to wipe out drug production.

Delawar also said the Taliban is free to attack administrative centres in Afghanistan as it made no promise to the US to leave them alone. But, he added, the group would not take provincial capitals by force.

The Taliban negotiator was referring to a February 2020 US-Taliban agreement aimed at enabling US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan after two decades of bloodshed, now known as “America’s longest war” in the US. The Afghan government was not party to the agreement or involved in the talks leading up to it.

The three-page agreement lays out a timeline for the withdrawal of US and foreign troops, as well as guarantees that prevent the use of Afghan soil by groups against US security interests. But it includes no commitment to a ceasefire, leaving it as an “item on the agenda of [future] intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations”.

Friday’s press conference in the Russian capital comes as an intense Taliban offensive in northern and western Afghanistan put the fledgling Afghan air force under severe strain as the lightning operation overwhelmed government forces.

The fighting in the north has forced Moscow to close its consulate in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province and one of Afghanistan's largest and safest urban centres near the border with Uzbekistan.

Afghans opposed to the Taliban, including regional and ethnic militia groups, have also vowed to resist, raising the prospect of the country's descent into civil war.

At the Moscow news conference, three Taliban officials tried to signal that they did not pose a threat to the wider region, particularly Russia’s interests in Central Asia.

The latest Taliban claim came hours after US President Joe Biden announced the US mission in Afghanistan would end on 31 August, days before a previously announced pullout on 11 September timed to coincide with the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban welcomed Biden's statement.

Meanwhile in western Afghanistan, the Taliban on Friday claimed to have captured the country's biggest border crossing with Iran. "The port of Islam Qala is now under our full control and we will try to put it back in operation today," Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents, told AFP. There was no immediate confirmation of the government's loss of control of the border crossing, and the Taliban's claim could not be independently verified. Islam Qala is one of the major ports in Afghanistan, through which Kabul conducts most of its official trade with Iran.

 

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