This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Tajikistan will reinforce its border with an additional 20,000 troops in response to a Taliban offensive capturing large swaths of territory in northern Afghanistan as U.S. troops exit the country.
Underscoring the rapid collapse of Afghan security forces, more than 1,000 Afghan troops fled into Tajikistan overnight, Tajik border guards said on July 5.
Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled swift Taliban advances in the north, but the latest retreats were the largest yet confirmed.
Tajik authorities say that two-thirds of the 1,357-kilometer-long border with Afghanistan is under Taliban control and they are preparing for an influx of refugees to enter the country. They are already providing the Afghan soldiers with food and shelter.
Following a top security meeting on July 5, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon ordered 20,000 reserve officers to the Afghan border.
He also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterparts from fellow Central Asian states Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan about the situation in Afghanistan.
On July 4, Rahmon spoke with his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, about the “alarming” situation along the border, according to Tajik state media.
According to a Kremlin statement, Putin confirmed that Moscow was ready to “provide Tajikistan with the necessary support,” both on a bilateral basis and through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance that includes Tajikistan. Russia has a military base in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic.
Much of the recently captured territory by the Taliban is in Badakhshan, where only two of 28 districts in the northeastern province remain under government control, local sources told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters are now at the gates of Badakhshan’s capital, Faizabad, having surrounded the city and put the airport under threat.
An adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on July 5 that government forces were planning a counteroffensive in the north to retake ground from the militants.
National-security adviser Hamdullah Mohib, who was in Moscow for talks with Russian officials, said government forces had not expected the Taliban offensive but would “absolutely, definitely” counterattack.
Most of the districts appear to have been abandoned by security forces without resistance, as troops suffer from low morale and are often outnumbered and without supplies.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the districts were left to the Taliban without any fight,” said Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial council member.
The head of the Afghan Border Troops’ communications unit in Khokhan, Mohammad Zahir Safarali, who fled Afghanistan for Tajikistan on July 5, told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service how the Taliban took control.
“Local militias and villagers armed by the Afghan government joined the Taliban when they arrived, and we had no other choice but to flee,” he said.
“Remaining there would be suicide for us,” said another Afghan soldier, Mohammad Vali, who accompanied 134 Afghan troops into Tajikistan.
Since U.S. President Joe Biden in April announced U.S. troop would withdraw, the Taliban has unleashed a quick offensive and now controls about one-third of the country’s 421 districts and district centers.
With Washington aiming to exit the country in the coming weeks, there are increasing concerns that the Western-backed government in Kabul may collapse.
On July 2, all international troops left Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
Some of the most significant Taliban gains have been in the militants’ sweep across northern Afghanistan, which borders Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
The Taliban’s inroads in the north are significant because it’s a gateway to Central Asia and the group failed to take control of the area during their 1990s rule, when it was a stronghold of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance that helped topple the Islamist group in 2001.
According to a recent analysis by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul think tank, the Taliban strategy in the north “looks like a preemptive strike to prevent a northern opposition from organizing.”