Afghan forces retake southern border crossing, says senior official, but Taliban dismisses the claim, saying it still holds the town.
The Afghan security forces have retaken control of a crucial southern border crossing with Pakistan that the Taliban briefly captured, a senior Afghan government official has said, but the Taliban dismisses the claim, saying it still holds the town.
Taliban fighters captured the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing on Wednesday, the second most important crossing on the border with Pakistan and an important source of revenue for the Western-backed government in Kabul.
But Afghan forces retook the area’s main market, the customs department and other government installations in the border town a few hours later on Wednesday, a senior government official in the southern province of Kandahar, where the crossing is located, told Reuters news agency on Thursday.
Government forces, who had initially fallen back to minimise civilian and security personnel losses, were conducting clearing operations, the official said.
He warned that the threat remained high as Taliban fighters outnumbered Afghan security forces in the area.
But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said his forces still held the border post.
“It is merely propaganda and a baseless claim by the Kabul administration,” he told Reuters.
Pakistan, worried about a spillover of fighting, had shut its side of the border at the second busiest border crossing on the main commercial artery between the second Afghan city of Kandahar and Pakistani ports.
Clashes between the Taliban and government forces have intensified as the United States-led international forces have been withdrawing and the Taliban has captured several districts and other border crossings in the north and the west.
With security deteriorating sharply, diplomatic efforts have focussed on pushing the rival Afghan sides to make progress towards a ceasefire at talks that they have been holding intermittently in Qatar.
President Ashraf Ghani was due to meet regional leaders in Uzbekistan on Thursday as the deteriorating security raises fears of a new Afghan refugee crisis and Pakistan said it would host a conference of senior Afghan leaders in a bid to find solutions.
Pakistan was for years accused of backing the Taliban with the aim of blocking the influence of its old rival India in Afghanistan. Pakistan denied that.
“Important Afghan leaders, including Hamid Karzai, have been invited,” Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Twitter, referring to the former Afghan president who remains an influential figure in Kabul.
Chaudhry said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to Karzai late on Wednesday. He did not elaborate but told Reuters that Taliban leaders would not be attending as Pakistan was holding separate talks with them.
Karzai and some top Afghan political leaders are expected to fly to Qatar this weekend for talks with members of the Taliban who have an office in the capital, Doha.
The armed group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their removal in 2001, weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
They have since been fighting to expel foreign forces and topple the Western-backed government in Kabul.