ISLAMABAD: Dozens of soldiers from Afghanistan, fleeing after their border post was overrun by the Taliban, slipped across the border into Pakistan to seek refuge, the Inter-Services Public Relations said Monday.
The statement said a total of 46 members of the Afghanistan forces, including five officers, crossed the border late Sunday near the border town of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The statement said that a local Afghan National Army commander opposite Arandu town of Chitral had requested help for the soldiers as “they were unable to hold their military posts” along the border “due to [the] evolving security situation in Afghanistan.”
The “soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the ISPR said, adding that it had informed Kabul of the development.
The media wing of the military said the soldiers and officers would be returned to Kabul in a “dignified manner after due process”.
There was no immediate response from Kabul and no information about the fighting on the Afghanistan side of the border.
Mentioning a similar incident, the statement said 35 Afghan soldiers who had asked for refuge on July 1 had also been “given safe passage into Pakistan and handed over to Afghan govt authorities after due procedure”.
The Taliban have swiftly captured territory in recent weeks in Afghanistan and seized strategic border crossings with several neighbouring countries. They are also threatening a number of provincial capitals — advances that come as the last US and NATO soldiers complete their final withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The insurgents are said to now control about half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centres. The rapid fall of districts and the seemingly disheartened response by Afghan government forces have prompted US-allied warlords to resurrect militias with a violent history.
Hundreds of Afghan army soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border towns.
For many Afghans weary of more than four decades of wars and conflict, fears are rising of another brutal civil war as American and NATO troops leave the country.
The Afghanistan government and Taliban negotiators have met in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in recent weeks, although diplomats say there have been few signs of substantive progress since peace talks began in September.
Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, Afghan and US officials have said.
Relations between the Ashraf Ghani regime in Afghanistan and Pakistan — long fraught with suspicion and deep mistrust — deteriorated further when the Taliban overran the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak earlier this month.
Taliban fighters at the time were seen receiving medical treatment in a hospital in the town of Chaman, across the border from Spin Boldak.
Frustrated with its ability to put an end to Taliban advances, Kabul accused Islamabad of providing sanctuary to the fighter group as Afghan forces battle to retake Spin Boldak. The US last week carried out airstrikes in support of Afghan troops in the southern city of Kandahar, about 100 kilometres west of Spin Boldak.
Also this month, Kabul recalled its ambassador and other diplomats from Islamabad. Pakistan still hosts about 2 million Afghanistan nationals as refugees from decades of war in their homeland.
The Taliban surge gained speed after President Joe Biden announced in mid-April that the last American and NATO troops would soon leave Afghanistan. The 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and 7,000 NATO allies have mostly left the country at this point, with the few remaining soldiers to be gone by August 31.
Pakistan has dismissed allegations of aiding the Taliban and points out that it succeeded in pressuring the insurgents into peace talks last year.
With additional input from AP, Reuters