The Taliban has captured yet another key district in the northern Afghan province of Takhar amid increased violence and stalled peace talks between the militants and the Western-backed government in Kabul that have cast uncertainty over the future of the country once U.S.-led international forces leave by September.
Three local council members said the anti-government fighters forced defenders of the strategically important district of Ishkimish to flee as their ammunition ran out and air support did not materialize after intense fighting the previous night.
Ishkimish is seen as a crucial hub that offers access to four more districts that might now come under renewed threat from Taliban gunmen.
Multiple districts across Afghanistan have fallen to the Taliban since the beginning of the official withdrawal of the United States and other NATO troops on May 1.
Afghan officials have said the Taliban had taken control of at least three other districts — in Uruzgan and Badghis provinces — since June 6.
Meanwhile, police in Laghman Province said on June 11 that they killed a senior Taliban commander, Badruddin, in fighting overnight there.
With violence raging, many U.S. lawmakers and current and former officials fear the departure of foreign forces could lead to all-out civil war in Afghanistan and return the Taliban to power.
Amid the stalled talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership, the militants have rejected Turkey’s proposal to guard and run Kabul’s airport after U.S.-led NATO forces depart.
A Taliban spokesman said on June 10 that Turkey should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan together with all other international forces.
“Turkey was part of NATO forces in the past 20 years, so as such, they should withdraw from Afghanistan on the basis of the Agreement we signed with U.S. on 29th February 2020,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman in Doha, told Reuters.
The militants’ refusal raises serious questions for the international forces and humanitarian organizations with missions in Kabul about how to securely evacuate their personnel should fighting threaten the capital.
Under the February 2020 deal secured with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump, all U.S. forces were to be out of Afghanistan by May 1.
But U.S. President Joe Biden said in April that the pullout would be completed by the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States that prompted the U.S.-led invasion and ouster of the Taliban government that sheltered the group.
Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters this week that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was about half-completed and “continuing very smoothly.”
The U.S. military is removing 2,500 troops, 16,000 civilian contractors, and hundreds of tons of equipment in the withdrawal.
Turkey still has more than 500 soldiers in Afghanistan training security forces.
The State Department and the Turkish Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.