More than 1,000 Afghan soldiers have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan after clashing with Taliban militants, officials have said.
The troops retreated over the border to “save their own lives”, according to a statement by Tajikistan’s border guard.
Violence has risen in Afghanistan and the Taliban have been making significant gains, particularly in the north of the country, in recent weeks.
The surge coincides with the end of Nato’s 20-year military mission.
The vast majority of remaining foreign forces in Afghanistan have been withdrawn ahead of a September deadline. There are concerns that the Afghan military, who were supposed to take over security in the country, will collapse.
Under a deal with the Taliban, the US and its Nato allies agreed to withdraw all troops in return for a commitment by the militants not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.
But the Taliban did not agree to stop fighting Afghan forces, and now reportedly control about a third of the country.
The retreat is the third time Afghan soldiers have fled to Tajikistan over the past three days and the fifth case over the past fortnight. In total, nearly 1,600 soldiers have crossed the border.
The latest group of Afghan troops sought refuge early on Monday morning after fighting with militants during the night, Tajikistan’s National Security Committee said in a statement that was reported by the Tajik state-run news agency Khovar.
Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, which border Tajikistan, have seen a rapid Taliban advance, and the militants have now captured most of the territory. The group has also reportedly taken over at least one Afghan army checkpost on the border with Pakistan.
“The Taliban cut off all the roads and these people had nowhere to go but to cross the border,” one senior Afghan official told Reuters on Monday.
Zabihullah Atiq, a parliamentarian from Badakhshan, said the troops had used various routes to flee.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insists that the country’s security forces are fully capable of keeping insurgents at bay, but there have also been reports of more soldiers seeking refuge in Pakistan and Uzbekistan to escape the fighting.
Neighbouring countries, including those in central Asia, are bracing themselves for a potential influx of refugees if the fighting continues to intensify.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC the Taliban is not responsible for the recent increase in violence. He insisted that many districts had fallen to the Taliban through mediation after Afghan soldiers refused to fight.
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