Government officials dismissed the assertion by a Taliban delegation visiting Moscow as part of a propaganda campaign launched as foreign forces, including the United States, withdraw after almost 20 years of fighting.
Local Afghan officials said Taliban fighters, emboldened by the withdrawal, had captured an important district in Herat province, home to tens of thousands of minority Shi’ite Hazaras.
Torghundi, a northern town on the border with Turkmenistan, had also been captured by the Taliban overnight, Afghan and Taliban officials said. Taliban insurgents were now in complete control of the police headquarters, intelligence services, customs operations and the municipal center, they said.
Hundreds of Afghan security personnel and refugees continued to flee across the border into neighboring Iran and Tajikistan, causing concern in Moscow and other foreign capitals that radical Islamists could infiltrate Central Asia.
Three visiting Taliban officials sought to address those concerns during their visit to Moscow.
“We will take all measures so that Islamic State will not operate on Afghan territory… and our territory will never be used against our neighbors,” one of the Taliban officials, Shahabuddin Delawar, told a news conference.
He said “you and the entire world community have probably recently learned that 85% of the territory of Afghanistan has come under the control” of the Taliban.
The same delegation said a day earlier that the group would not attack the Tajik-Afghan border, the fate of which is in focus in Russia and Central Asia.
A prominent anti-Taliban commander of a private militia rejected the assurances made in Moscow, and said he would support efforts by Afghan forces to claw back control of parts of western Afghanistan, including a border crossing with Iran.
Mohammad Ismail Khan, a former minister and a survivor of a Taliban attack in 2009, was a leading member of the Northern Alliance whose militia helped U.S. forces topple the Taliban in 2001.