The Taliban claimed Friday that they now control 85% of Afghanistan's territory amid a surge in wins on the ground and as American troops complete their pullout. The announcement came at a press conference at the end of a visit by a senior Taliban delegation to Moscow this week—a trip meant to offer assurances that the insurgents' quick gains in Afghanistan do not threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia. The claim, which is impossible to verify, was considerably higher than previous Taliban statements that more than a third of the country's 421 districts and district centers were in their control. There was no immediate response from the government in Kabul on the latest claim, the AP reports. Earlier this week, Taliban advances forced hundreds of Afghan soldiers to flee across the border into Tajikistan, which hosts a Russian military base.
Tajikistan in turn called up 20,000 military reservists to strengthen its southern border with Afghanistan. Russian officials have expressed concern that the Taliban surge could destabilize the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations north of Afghanistan. Since mid-April, when President Biden announced the end to Afghanistan's "forever war," the Taliban have made strides throughout the country. They recently have swept through dozens of districts, taking control, often without a fight. Over the past week, they seized border crossings with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and on Thursday, with Iran. However, at the Moscow presser, the Taliban promised not to attack provincial capitals or seize them by force, and expressed hopes for a "political resolution" with Kabul. (Biden strongly defended the US exit strategy on Thursday.)