The Taliban’s march through northern Afghanistan gained momentum overnight with the capture of districts from troops, several hundred of whom fled across the border into Tajikistan, officials said on Sunday.
More than 300 Afghan military personnel crossed from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province as Taliban fighters advanced toward the border, Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security said.
The troops crossed the border about 6.30pm local time on Saturday
“Guided by the principles of humanism and good neighbourliness", authorities allowed the retreating troops into Tajikistan, the committee said.
Since mid-April, when US President Joe Biden announced the end to Afghanistan’s “forever war", the Taliban have made gains throughout the country.
But their most significant progress has been in the northern half, a traditional stronghold of the US-allied warlords who helped to defeat them in 2001.
The Taliban now control about a third of all 421 districts and district centres in Afghanistan.
The gains in north-eastern Badakhshan province in recent days have mostly been without a fight, said Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial council member.
Mr Rahman blamed Taliban successes on the poor morale of troops who are mostly outnumbered and without supplies.
In the past three days, 10 districts fell to Taliban, eight without a fight, he said.
Hundreds of Afghan army, police and intelligence troops surrendered their military outposts and fled to the Badakhshan provincial capital of Faizabad, Mr Rahman said.
As a security meeting was being held early on Sunday to plan for strengthening the perimeter around Faizabad, some senior provincial officials were leaving for Kabul, he said.
In late June, the Afghan government reformed militias to support the beleaguered Afghan forces.
But Mr Rahman said many of the militias in the Badakhshan districts put up only a half-hearted fight.
The areas under Taliban control in the north are increasingly strategic, running along Afghanistan’s border with central Asian states.
Last month the religious movement took control of Imam Sahib, a town in Kunduz province opposite Uzbekistan, and gained control of a key trade route.
The inroads in Badakhshan are particularly significant as it is the home province of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011.
His son, Salahuddin Rabbani, is part of the current High Council for National Reconciliation.
The former president also led Afghanistan’s Jamiat-e-Islami, the party of famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud who was killed by a suicide bomber two days before the 9/11 attacks in America.
The Interior Ministry on Saturday said the defeats were temporary, although it was not clear how it would regain control.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the fall of the districts and that most were without a fight.
The Taliban in previous surrenders have shown video of Afghan soldiers taking transport money and returning to their homes.