Taliban officials said on Friday the Sunni Muslim insurgent group had taken control of 85% of territory in Afghanistan, and international concern mounted over problems getting medicines and supplies into the country.
Afghan government officials dismissed the assertion that the Taliban controlled most of the country as part of a propaganda campaign launched as foreign forces, including the United States, withdraw after almost 20 years of fighting.
But local Afghan officials said Taliban fighters, emboldened by the withdrawal, had captured an important district in Herat province, home to tens of thousands of minority Shi’ite Hazaras.
Torghundi, a northern town on the border with Turkmenistan, had also been captured by the Taliban overnight, Afghan and Taliban officials said.
Hundreds of Afghan security personnel and refugees continued to flee across the border into neighbouring Iran and Tajikistan, causing concern in Moscow and other foreign capitals that radical Islamists could infiltrate Central Asia.
Three visiting Taliban officials sought to address those concerns during a visit to Moscow.
“We will take all measures so that Islamic State will not operate on Afghan territory… and our territory will never be used against our neighbours,” one of the Taliban officials, Shahabuddin Delawar, told a news conference.
He said “you and the entire world community have probably recently learned that 85% of the territory of Afghanistan has come under the control” of the Taliban.
The same delegation said a day earlier that the group would not attack the Tajik-Afghan border, the fate of which is in focus in Russia and Central Asia.
Asked about how much territory the Taliban held, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined direct comment.
“Claiming territory or claiming ground doesn’t mean you can sustain that or keep it over time” he said in an interview with CNN. “And so I think it’s really time for the Afghan forces to get into the field – and they are in the field – and to defend their country, their people.”
“They’ve got the capacity, they’ve got the capability. Now it’s time to have that will,” he said.