Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents tightened their grip on the country's overland trade routes with the seizure of a major town on the border with Pakistan.
Residents of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province said Taliban fighters entered the town on Wednesday. The Afghan government said it was still in control of the area, but Pakistani officials in Chaman reported seeing the Taliban flag flying from the Friendship Gate at the border.
The crossing between Spin Boldak and Chaman is the landlocked country's second busiest entry point and main commercial artery between its south-west region and Pakistan's sea ports. Afghan government data indicates the route is used by 900 lorries a day.
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said the Taliban's attempt to take Spin Boldak had failed.
"The terrorist Taliban had some movements near the border area... The security forces have repelled the attack," he told AFP.
But social media was flooded with pictures of Taliban fighters relaxing in the frontier town.
"I went to my shop this morning and saw that the Taliban are everywhere. They are in the bazaar, in police HQ and custom areas. I can also hear the sound of fighting nearby," shopkeeper Raz Mohammad told AFP.
Officials in Chaman said the Taliban had suspended all travel through the gate.
The Taliban have in recent days seized other major border crossings – in Herat, Farah and Kunduz provinces in the north and west. Control of border posts allows the Taliban to collect revenue, said Shafiqullah Attai, chairman of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment in the capital Kabul.
"Income has started to go to the Taliban," Mr Attai told Reuters, but he could not estimate how much they were earning.
The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until they were toppled in 2001 by a US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks, has been fighting since to topple the western-backed government in Kabul.
Emboldened by the departure of foreign forces by a September deadline, the militants are making a fresh push to surround cities and capture territory while also holding peace talks with the government.
The Taliban agreed to negotiate with the government as part of an agreement under which the US offered to withdraw its forces. But little progress has been made towards a ceasefire in several rounds of talks in Qatar.
Senior politicians from Kabul were preparing to leave for Qatar for more talks this month as Western diplomats urged the rival sides to work towards a power-sharing agreement.