Over 1,000 Afghan Troops Flood Tajikistan, Fleeing Taliban Fight

In this photograph taken on March 23, 2021, Afghan National Army (ANA) commander Dost Nazar Andarabi keeps watch with binoculars at an outpost set up against Taliban fighters in Kajaki, northeast of Helmand Province. - In the heart of territory under siege from the Taliban, one of Afghanistan's most important …
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The government of Tajikistan confirmed Monday that over 1,000 members of the Afghan military had crossed the border fleeing Taliban attacks in the north of the country, ceding critical Afghan territory to the jihadist group.

The Taliban has escalated its campaign against the legitimate government of Afghanistan in Kabul since President Joe Biden announced in April that he would break a deal brokered with Kabul and the Taliban by the administration of Donald Trump that would have seen American forces leave the country on May 1, 2021. Biden extended America’s presence in the country through September 11, 2021, a move Taliban spokesmen said voided the agreement and allowed the jihadists “every necessary countermeasure.” The original deal required the Taliban to cease attacking U.S. forces and cut ties to international terrorist groups.

While Taliban fighters announced their intention to resume attacks on Americans following Biden’s withdrawal delay, they have largely focused instead of invading and conquering Afghan territory that national military troops have shown little interest or effort in defending. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid used his Twitter account to announce several victories against Afghan troops in the past week, claiming soldiers not only refused to fight the Taliban, but joined its ranks.

The Taliban’s campaign to seize the country shifted focus this weekend to Badakhshan, a province bordering Tajikistan. Tajik National Security officials confirmed Sunday, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News, that the country had welcomed nearly 300 Afghan soldiers overnight who had crossed the border fleeing the Taliban.

“The officials though have not specified the exact area from where the soldiers crossed the border but said that there has been a heavy confrontation between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in Badakhshan districts bordering Tajikistan,” Khaama said. The number was over twice that of soldiers crossing into Tajikistan in the entirety of the month of June.

By Monday, Tajik national security officials had documented 1,037 Afghan soldiers crossing the border.

“Taking into account the principle of good neighbourliness and adhering to the position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, the military personnel of the Afghan government forces were allowed to enter Tajik territory,” the officials said in a statement, according to Tajik state media. The officials confirmed that the Taliban had taken “full control” of six districts in the Badakhshan border province.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, appeared to confirm the takeover on his official Twitter account, sharing photos he claimed to be of a senior Taliban official receiving a warm greeting from Badakhshan civilians. Mujahid described the photos as depicting a “glorious gathering of Mujahideen [Taliban] people.”

Other updates from Muhajid in the past 24 hours claimed that most of the Taliban victories in Badakhshan occurred without a fight.

“The enemy fled to neighboring Tajikistan for fear of Mojahedin [Taliban] attacks across the border. Weapons, tools, and equipment were seized by the Mojahedin,” Mujahid claimed.

The Associated Press (AP) relayed a similar testimony from a local Badakhshan official, provincial council member Mohib-ul Rahman.

“Unfortunately, the majority of the districts were left to Taliban without any fight,” Rahman asserted.

Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported Sunday that the Taliban had captured nine districts nationwide in the preceding day, most of them in Badakhstan, but including a strategic outpost in Kandahar province. The Taliban spokesman announced the capture of the Kandahar district and claimed that it, too, fell because Afghan forces simply joined the Taliban and handed them “heavy weaponry.”

Afghan military forces claimed to Tolo that the Taliban had suffered dozens of casualties in the campaign to capture those districts, contradicting Taliban and third-party claims that many of the victories did not involve military action because Afghan soldiers simply fled.

Tolo added that the Taliban appears to be in nearly full control of Takhar province, which borders Badakhshan, with the exception of its capital. Tolo quoted a resident of the province who lamented, “the central government [in Kabul] has paid no attention.”

The Afghan government has attempted to address growing reports of Afghan troop surrenders by convincing civilians to take up arms and form tribal militias to fight the Taliban. The campaign has achieved moderate success, particularly with ethnic and religious minority groups who fear the Taliban would attempt to exterminate them if they take over the country. Among those organizing to fight the jihadist group is at least one militia consisting of dozens of armed women.

“Dozens of women took up arms — some of them heavy weapons — and marched in the capital city of Feroz Koh to pledge their support the Republic and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces,” Tolo News reported Sunday, reporting that the women are joining “thousands” of vigilantes nationwide whose fighting is filling the void left by fleeing Afghan soldiers. Officials in Kabul have claimed that successful militia fighters would soon become formal wings of Afghanistan’s security forces if they continue to demonstrate that they can defeat Kabul’s enemies.

The United States, reportedly nearly done withdrawing troops months before the new September deadline, has played little to no role in the ongoing Taliban campaign in northern Afghanistan. The Biden administration has promised to commit to civilian aid for Kabul even as its military support concludes.

“Our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending,” Biden reportedly told an Afghan government delegation last week.

Asked about the apparent disintegration of much of the Afghan military last week, Biden expressed outrage at reporters for discussing Afghanistan at all.

“I want to talk about happy things, man!” Biden snapped at one reporter, declaring, “I’m not going to answer any more questions about Afghanistan … this is a holiday weekend, I’m going to celebrate it.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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