March 17, 2019 / 11:06 AM / 8 months ago

Taliban captures 50 border police as fighting intensifies in western Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - At least 50 members of the Afghan security forces have surrendered to the Taliban in a fight for control of Afghanistan’s western province of Badghis, local officials said.

Some 100 Afghan personnel who are part of the interior ministry’s border police attempted to flee their posts into neighbouring Turkmenistan on Saturday, but they were prevented from entering that country, Badghis provincial council chairman Abdul Aziz Bik said on Sunday.

About 50 Afghan border police surrendered, while the remaining 50 continued fighting in the district of Bala Murghab, he said. Bala Murghab is the province’s most populous district.

“These soldiers have been fighting against the Taliban for years and if they give up, they will be killed by Taliban,” Bik said.

The district was at risk of falling to the Taliban unless Afghan forces receive air and ground reinforcements, Badghis provincial council member Abdullah Afzali said on Saturday.

Provincial councils are elected bodies that sometimes have closer connections to local residents than government officials have.

The Taliban said 90 border police had surrendered to the militant group. It posted photos on Twitter of a line-up of dozens of men who the Taliban said were captured border police, and it added that it had killed many others.

It was not clear how many Afghan and Taliban forces have been killed or wounded in the battle for the district.

Jamshid Shahabi, a spokesman for Badghis’ governor, said the Taliban had inflated its estimate of captured forces.

Fighting in the Bala Murghab district has intensified in recent months. The Taliban killed 20 Afghan soldiers and captured 20 less than a week ago.

The Taliban controls or contests nearly half of Afghanistan, the most since U.S.-led forces ousted it from power in 2001, according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The militant group conducts frequent attacks on Afghan security posts.

Afghanistan’s annual increase in violence typically happens in spring. Taliban and U.S. officials finished the latest round of peace talks on Tuesday, with both sides citing progress.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s ministry of defence could not be reached.

The Taliban, ousted in 2001, say they are fighting to expel foreign troops, topple the Western-backed Afghan government and restore its version of Islamic law.

Some 17,000 foreign troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.

Reporting by Storay Karimi in Herat; additional reporting by Orooj Hakimi in Kabul; writing by Rod Nickel in Kabul; Editing by Toby Chopra

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