A government forces flee from Taliban offensive across the border Tajikistan strengthens border security

Tajikistan’s President Rahmon on Monday (July 5) ordered the mobilization of 20,000 reservists to strengthen the defense of the border with Afghanistan, Reuters reported from Dushanbe. This comes after more than a thousand members of Afghan security forces fled across the border into Tajikistan amid an offensive by Taliban militants.

Sunday’s border crossing underscores the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Foreign troops are now close to completing their withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war and as peace talks stall.

Tajikistan’s President Rahmon made a series of international phone calls to discuss the situation with allies in the region, including with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has a strong force deployed in Tajikistan.

A Kremlin statement said Putin assured Rahmon that Moscow would support the maintenance of stability in the former Soviet republic’s border region with Afghanistan, both directly and through regional security groups, if necessary.

Russia has its largest offshore military base in the impoverished Central Asian republic, with tanks, helicopters and ground-attack aircraft deployed.

Government sources told Reuters earlier on Monday that Tajikistan was exploring setting up camps for a possible influx of Afghan refugees.

Hundreds of members of Afghan security forces fled in haste after the Taliban launched a swift offensive in northern Afghanistan. Sunday’s flight was the largest yet identified. Two days ago, the U.S. officially withdrew from Bagram Airfield, its main base in Afghanistan, as part of a plan to get all foreign troops out of the country by Sept. 11.

The Taliban seized six key districts in the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan, which borders Tajikistan and China, after 1,037 Afghan troops escaped across the border line with Tajikistan’s permission, the Tajikistan Border Service said.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ghani spoke with Rahmon by phone to discuss the developments.

“Of particular concern is the escalation of the situation in the northern part of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan,” said a statement issued by the Tajik president’s office.

The statement also said Rahmon expressed concern over the “forcible crossing” of the border by members of the Afghan security forces.

The president’s office said Rahmon also spoke by phone with leaders of Central Asia’s immediate neighbors, including Uzbek President Mirziyoyev and Kazakh President Tokaev, and held a meeting of the security council.

“There’s nowhere to go”

An Afghan official confirmed that hundreds of people had fled across the border into Tajikistan, but the exact number was not known.

“The Taliban have cut off all roads and these people have nowhere to go but across the border,” he told Reuters.

The Taliban have halted attacks on Western forces, but continue to target Afghan government and security facilities and are rapidly gaining ground across the country.

Peace talks between the two sides remain inconclusive.

Zabihullah Atik, a lawmaker from Badakhshan province, told Reuters that the Taliban had captured 26 of the province’s 28 districts, three of which government forces had ceded to the insurgents without a fight.

He said members of Afghan security forces used different escape routes, but dozens were captured by the Taliban in Ishkashim district, where Tajik border guards blocked all border crossings.

Tajik officials said they allowed 152 people to enter from Ishkashim, but did not comment on whether anyone was ever denied entry.

Afghan National Security Adviser Mohib was in Moscow Monday for security talks. He said government forces did not anticipate the Taliban offensive, but will launch a counter-offensive.

TASS reported that Moscow said the Russian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif was suspended because of security concerns.