KABUL – A surge of Taliban wins in northern Afghanistan has caused some countries to close their consulates in the region, while across the border in Tajikistan, reservists are being called up to reinforce the southern border, according to officials and reports Tuesday.
Nearly 1,000 Afghan soldiers have fled the Taliban advances by crossing the border into Tajikistan, according to reports from Tajikistan.
The Taliban surge came as U.S. Central Command in a statement Tuesday said 90% of the withdrawal of U.S. troops and equipment is complete. The U.S. says the last troops will be gone by August.
Meanwhile, a statement from the Tajik government said President Emomali Rakhmon ordered the mobilization of 20,000 military reservists to strengthen its border with Afghanistan.
The Afghan military exodus comes as the Taliban have overrun most districts in northeastern Badakhshan province. Many fell without a fight but along the province's northern border with Tajikistan, hundreds of Afghan forces crossed over, seeking safety in Tajikistan.
The consulates of Turkey and Russia have reportedly closed in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, and Afghanistan's fourth-largest city. Iran said it has restricted activities at its consulate in the city. There has been fighting in Balkh province, but the provincial capital has been relatively peaceful.
The consulates of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India and Pakistan have reduced their services, Balkh provincial governor's spokesman Munir Farhad said Tuesday. He said Turkey and Russia had closed their consulates and their diplomats had left the city.
However, a Turkish official said the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif was open and was “carrying on accepting visa applications and other consular requests.” The official, who was not identified by name in line with briefing rules, said Ankara was monitoring the security situation and was taking “required measures” for the safety of Turkish missions and personnel.
He did not elaborate and the conflicting reports on the Turkish Consulate could not be immediately reconciled. The consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif could not be reached by phone.
The Tajik government said Afghan troops were being allowed to cross on humanitarian grounds but the border posts on the Tajik side were in control of Tajik forces and there was no fighting with Taliban from the Tajik side.
The Taliban march gains momentum only days after the United States vacated Bagram Airfield, just an hour's drive north of the capital, Kabul, — a sure sign that the majority of American troops have left Afghanistan.
The U.S. withdrew from what had been the epicenter of the U.S.-led coalition's nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan by s hutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night, without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, Afghan military officials said.
Tuesday's CENTCOM statement said the U.S. has handed over seven bases to Afghanistan's Defense Ministry.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was “heightened concern” over the fighting but that Russia has no plans to send troops to assist Tajikistan, once a part of the Soviet Union.
“We have repeatedly said many times that after the withdrawal of the Americans and their allies from Afghanistan, the development of the situation in this country is a matter of our heightened concern," Peskov said. "We’re monitoring it very closely and are noting that destabilization (of the situation) is taking place, unfortunately.”
Meanwhile, Tajikistan’s state news agency Khovar said 1,037 Afghan military personnel had entered Tajikistan while fleeing for their lives. The report said Monday they used seven of the crossings along the two countries' shared 910-kilometer (565-mile) border.
The Taliban have made relentless territorial wins since mid-April, when President Joe Biden announced the last 2,500-3,500 U.S. soldiers and 7,000 allied NATO soldiers would leave Afghanistan.
Most have left quietly already, well before the announced deadline in September. The full withdrawal is not expected to be completed until the end of August — and not before an agreement on how to protect Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport is reached.
Months-old peace talks being held in Qatar between Taliban and a fractious Afghan government have all but stopped, even as both sides say they want a negotiated end to the decades-long conflict.
With their victories in northern and southern Afghanistan, the Taliban are putting pressure on provincial cities and gaining control of key transportation routes.
The Afghan government has resurrected militias mostly loyal to Kabul-allied warlords but with a history of brutal violence that has raised the specter of civil war, similar to the fighting that devastated Kabul in the early 1990s.
Taliban wins in northern Afghanistan are particularly significant because that part of the country is the traditional stronghold of U.S.-allied warlords and the scene of the Taliban's initial widespread losses in 2001 when the U.S.-led coalition launched its battle to unseat the religious movement.
Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova and Jim Heintz in Moscow, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; Jon Gambrell in United Arab Emirates and Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.