Afghan Soldiers Retreat Into Iran as Taliban Take Control of Border Crossing

Afghan soldiers retreated into Iran on Thursday as the Taliban took control of a border crossing connecting the country with Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

The Taliban seized the Islam Qala crossing point, a major transportation route between Iran and Afghanistan, in Afghanistan's western Herat province, according to an Afghan official in the province who spoke with the AP on the condition of anonymity. Iranian media reported Afghan soldiers in the border area fled their posts into Iran for protection amid the Taliban's takeover.

The seizure of the Islam Qala crossing is the third border crossing the Taliban has overrun in the past week alongside crossings connecting Afghanistan with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. On Sunday, Afghan troops retreated into Tajikistan as the Taliban took control of the border area. The moves come as U.S. and NATO forces are pulling their troops out of Afghanistan.

The insurgent group also has taken control of about a third of the country's districts and district centers out of 421.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Afghan Forces Guard Against Taliban
Afghan soldiers retreated into Iran after the Taliban took control of a border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan. In this photo, Afghan militia forces stand guard at an outpost as they patrol against the Taliban fighters in the Tange Farkhar area of Taloqan in northern Takhar province on Tuesday. Naseer Sadeq/AFP via Getty Images

The seizure of border crossings is part of a Taliban surge.

The Taliban wins have caused some countries to close their consulates in the region, while Tajikistan has called up reservists to reinforce that country's southern border with Afghanistan.

The Islam Qala crossing is around 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the city of Herat, the provincial capital.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted to confirm the taking of Islam Qala and said that Taliban fighters entered the Islam Qala town itself, and were greeted warmly by the local residents. Mujahid also posted a video purporting to show Taliban riding on the back of trucks in Islam Qala and shooting off into the air in celebration as a crowd of men cheered on.

Afghanistan has seen a Taliban surge as the American and NATO pullout stepped up over the past few months. On Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command said 90 percent of the withdrawal of U.S. troops and equipment from Afghanistan is complete. The U.S. says the last troops will be gone by August.

On Sunday, the Taliban seized control of several districts from fleeing Afghan forces, several hundred of whom fled across the border into Tajikistan.

Since mid-April, when President Joe Biden announced the end to Afghanistan's "forever war," the Taliban have made strides throughout the country.

But their most significant gains have been in the north, a traditional stronghold of the U.S.-allied warlords who helped defeat the Taliban in 2001. In Badakhshan province, many districts fell without a fight. 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.

The Taliban victories are also putting pressure on provincial cities and taking away government control of key transportation routes.

Islam Qala made headlines in February, when a massive fire erupted following an explosion of a fuel tanker. At least 20 people were injured and hundreds of trucks lined up at the crossing carrying natural gas and fuel were engulfed in the blaze. It took firefighters from both countries three days to put out. There was no suggestion of Taliban involvement in the explosion.

 Islam Qala Border in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has seen a Taliban surge as the American and NATO pullout has stepped up over the past few months. In this Feb. 20, 2019 file photo, Afghans return to Afghanistan at the Islam Qala border with Iran, in the western Herat Province. Rahmat Gul/AP Photo