HERAT, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban on Thursday seized another key Afghan border crossing, this time with Iran, according to an Afghan official and Iranian media. The seizure is part of a Taliban surge as American troops complete their pullout from Afghanistan.
It was the third border crossing the insurgents have taken in the past week, after previously seizing crossings with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The development came as President Joe Biden said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31.
The Taliban wins have caused some countries to close their consulates in the region, while Tajikistan has called up reservists to reinforce that country’s southern border with Afghanistan.
An Afghan official said the Taliban on Thursday took control the Islam Qala crossing point in western Herat province. The official, who is in Herat, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information to reporters.
Afghan soldiers in the border area of Islam Qala — a major transit route between Afghanistan and Iran — fled from their positions, crossing into Iran for refuge, Iranian media reported. The crossing is around 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the city of Herat, the provincial capital.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted to confirm the taking of Islam Qala and said that Taliban fighters entered the Islam Qala town itself, and were greeted warmly by the local residents. Mujahid also posted a video purporting to show Taliban riding on the back of trucks in Islam Qala and shooting off into the air in celebration as a crowd of men cheered on.
Afghanistan has seen a Taliban surge as the American and NATO pullout stepped up over the past few months. On Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command said 90% of the withdrawal of U.S. troops and equipment from Afghanistan is complete. The U.S. says the last troops will be gone by August.
On Sunday, the Taliban seized control of several districts from fleeing Afghan forces, several hundred of whom fled across the border into Tajikistan.
Since mid-April, when Biden announced the end to Afghanistan’s “forever war,” the Taliban have made strides throughout the country. On Thursday, Biden said he didn’t trust the Taliban but trusted the capacity of the Afghan military to defend the government. He also urged the Afghan government to reach a peace deal with the Taliban.
But their most significant gains have been in the north, a traditional stronghold of the U.S.-allied warlords who helped defeat the Taliban in 2001. In Badakhshan province, many districts fell without a fight. The consulates of Turkey and Russia have reportedly closed in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, and Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city.
The Taliban now control roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centers in Afghanistan. Their victories are also putting pressure on provincial cities and taking away government control of key transportation routes.
Islam Qala made headlines in February, when a massive fire erupted following an explosion of a fuel tanker. At least 20 people were injured and hundreds of trucks lined up at the crossing carrying natural gas and fuel were engulfed in the blaze. It took firefighters from both countries three days to put out. There was no suggestion of Taliban involvement in the explosion.
Faiez reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.