The Afghan government says it has repelled a Taliban attack on a strategic border point into Pakistan, rejecting claims by the militants that they had captured the crossing amid a string of territorial gains ahead of a deadline next month for the pullout of U.S. troops from the war-wracked country.
"The terrorist Taliban had some movements near the border area...The security forces have repelled the attack," Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said on July 14.
The statement came in response to a Taliban claim earlier in the day that said militants had captured the strategic border crossing of Spin Boldak in Kandahar Province.
"The mujahedin have captured an important border town called Wesh in Kandahar," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
"With this, the important road between Spin Boldak and Chaman and Kandahar customs have come under mujahedin control," Mujahid said, adding traders and residents had been assured that their "security is guaranteed."
The situation on the ground could not immediately be verified, but a Pakistan security source said the Taliban's flag was flying over the town and pictures posted on social media showed Taliban fighters in what appeared to be the frontier town.
Spin Boldak would be of great strategic value for the Taliban as it provides direct access to Pakistan's Balochistan Province -- where the militants' senior leadership is believed to be based -- along with easy access to an unknown number of reserve fighters who regularly cross into Afghanistan.
In recent weeks the Taliban has taken control of a string of border crossings into some of Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors, with the militants looking to choke off much-needed revenue from the government in Kabul while also filling their own coffers.
Taliban advances have raised concerns in Russia, which has mutual defense agreements with most of the Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on July 14 warned that any attempt by the Taliban to harm the security of Russia's allies in the region would lead to significant casualties.
The ministry also urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to start meaningful negotiations on forming a transitional coalition government before it is too late.
A Taliban delegation in Moscow last week sought to reassure Russia it would not allow the country to be used as a platform to attack others.
An Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity has said that a high-level Afghan government delegation, which will include the head of the country’s reconciliation council, is to meet the Taliban in Doha to jump-start a long-stalled peace process.
The Taliban was expected to bring its senior leaders to the table when the two sides meet, possibly on July 16, said the official.