Taliban take border crossing with Pakistan

·2-min read

Taliban fighters say they have taken control of one of Afghanistan's main border crossings with Pakistan, perhaps the most strategic objective they have captured so far in a rapid advance across the country as US forces pull out.

A Pakistani official said fighters had taken down the Afghan government flag from atop the Friendship Gate at the border crossing between the Pakistani town of Chaman and the Afghan town of Wesh.

The crossing, south of Afghanistan's main southern city Kandahar, is the landlocked country's second-busiest entry point and the main link between its vast southwest and Pakistani ports.

The takeover forced Pakistan to seal parts of its border with Afghanistan after heavy fighting between Taliban and Afghan forces around Wesh.

Afghan officials said government forces had pushed back the Taliban fighters and were in control of the Spin Boldak border district in Kandahar province. But civilians and Pakistani officials said the Taliban controlled the Wesh border posts.

"Wesh, which has great importance in Afghan trade with Pakistan and other countries, has been captured by the Taliban," said a Pakistani security official deployed at the border area.

Officials in Chaman said the Taliban had suspended all travel through the gate.

"The mujahideen have captured an important border town called Wesh," Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban, fighting to expel foreign forces and defeat the US-backed government in Kabul since they were ousted in 2001, have in recent days seized other major border crossings, in Herat, Farah and Kunduz provinces in the north and west.

On a visit to the northern province of Balkh on Tuesday, President Ashraf Ghani met civilians and assured them "the Taliban's backbone will be broken" and government forces would soon retake all the areas lost to the militants.

Educated Afghans - especially women and girls who were barred from school and most work under the Taliban - have expressed alarm at their rapid advance, as have members of ethnic and sectarian minorities persecuted under their severe interpretation of Sunni Islam.

The Taliban rejects accusations it abuses rights, and says it will not mistreat women if it returns to power.

The Taliban made a commitment to negotiate with its Afghan rivals as part of an agreement under which the United States offered to withdraw its forces. But little progress has been made towards during talks in Qatar.

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