KABUL (Dispatches) – Taliban militants in Afghanistan said on Wednesday they had taken control of one of the main border crossings with Pakistan, perhaps the most strategic objective they have captured so far in a rapid advance across the country as U.S. forces pull out.
The Afghan interior ministry on Wednesday, however, insisted the armed group’s attack had been repelled and government forces had control.
But Pakistani authorities confirmed to Al Jazeera that they have sealed their side of the country’s border crossing with Afghanistan at the Chaman-Spin Boldak frontier.
“The Taliban presence can be seen at Afghan border along with Pakistan in Chaman and no Afghan [government] forces are there at the Afghan border side,” local administration official Arif Kakar told Al Jazeera.
Kakar confirmed that Pakistan was not currently allowing any goods or people to cross the border at Chaman-Spin Boldak, which is one of the two main border crossings between the South Asian countries.
A video shot by a local witness and seen by Al Jazeera showed the Afghan government flag on the Spin Boldak side of the crossing had been replaced by the white flag of the Taliban.
The taking of Spin Boldak would be the latest in a string of border crossings and dry ports seized by the Taliban in recent weeks, with the group looking to choke off much-needed revenue from the government in Kabul while also filling their own coffers.
Earlier, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani expressed hope that the security situation in his country would improve. The Taliban have also talked of plans to limit fighting to the areas outside Afghan cities.
Ghani, blamed the Taliban militant group for the ongoing “bloodshed and destruction” in Afghanistan, and vowed not to “surrender” to their demands.
The Afghan president, who was visiting Balkh Province on Tuesday to inspect the security situation of the northern areas amid reports of heavy clashes between government troops and the militant forces, insisted that soon “the Taliban’s backbone will be broken.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan also warned the Taliban that any attempt to undermine security in the region would lead to grave consequences for the Afghan militant group.
Zamir Kabulov told Russia’s Sputnik on Wednesday that Moscow was “closely monitoring the situation” as the Taliban overran areas in Afghanistan, bordering five countries — Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China, and Pakistan.
“But, when the Taliban see that any attempt to undermine the security of our allies in Central Asia will be fraught with great losses for them, they will start behaving,” Kabulov said.
The militant group has claimed to have seized control of 85 percent of Afghan territory over the past weeks.
Since the U.S. started the formal withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in May, the militants have intensified attacks across the country. That has prompted Russia to criticize the United States and its NATO allies for having failed to stabilize the security situation in Afghanistan after two decades of war and occupation.