Afghanistan’s northern borderlands provide a worrying sign of things to come. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon ordered a mobilization of some 20,000 reserve troops to the border, while Reuters reported the country — the poorest in Central Asia — was considering preparing refugee camps in case of an influx of fleeing Afghan civilians. Tajik authorities have left open border crossings now held by the Taliban on the Afghanistan side, including the major bridge over the Pyanj River at Sher Khan Bandar, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2007. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Taliban is already collecting customs revenue at what is the main trade gateway between the two countries.
Since the United States and its NATO allies announced their military withdrawal from the country — a drawdown that may be concluded by late August — the fundamentalist militant group they ousted from Kabul and then continued to fight for 20 years has surged across Afghanistan, particularly through rural areas. The Taliban is believed to control roughly a third of the country’s 421 districts and district centers, and is battling for many more.
Ahmad Javed, a member of Badakhshan’s provincial council, told my colleagues that the “situation is unfortunately not good.” He said that all but one of Badakhshan’s 28 districts have fallen into Taliban control while Faizabad, the provincial capital, is surrounded by the insurgent group. Authorities in Kabul told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that government forces had been taken by surprise but would soon launch a counteroffensive.