A Taliban offensive in northern Afghanistan gained momentum over the weekend, sending hundreds of Afghan government troops fleeing into Tajikistan as the insurgency captured more districts and surrounded a provincial capital.
Tajik border guards reported on July 5 that 1,037 Afghan troops had fled across its border overnight and another 94 on July 4.
Much of the recently captured territory is in Badakhshan, where 16 of the northeastern province's 27 districts have fallen to the Taliban in three days, Afghan officials said on July 4.
Most of the districts appear to have been abandoned by security forces without resistance, as troops suffer from low morale and are often outnumbered and without supplies.
"Unfortunately, the majority of the districts were left to Taliban without any fight," said Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial council member.
An adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on July 5 that the government forces were planning a counteroffensive in the northern provinces to retake territory from the militants.
National-security adviser Hamdullah Mohib, who was in Moscow for talks with Russian officials, said government forces had not expected the Taliban offensive but would "absolutely, definitely" counterattack.
Taliban fighters are now at the gates of Badakhshan's capital, Faizabad, having surrounded the city and put the airport under threat.
Local officials said the Taliban will not enter the city. The Interior Ministry in Kabul tried on July 3 to reassure the country that the battlefield setbacks were temporary, although it was not clear how the government intends to regain control.
Since President Joe Biden announced in April that U.S. troops would withdraw, the Taliban has unleashed a quick offensive and now controls about one-third of the country's 421 districts and district centers.
With Washington aiming to exit the country in the coming weeks, there are increasing concerns that the Western-backed government in Kabul may collapse.
On July 2, all international troops left Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
Some of the most significant Taliban gains have been in the militant group's sweep across northern Afghanistan, where it has captured multiple districts along the border with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Tajik border guards reported that nearly 1,600 Afghan soldiers had sought refuge in Tajikistan since June 22.
The Afghan soldiers were allowed to enter Tajikistan based on "humanism and good neighborliness," Tajikistan's State Committee for National Security said on July 4.
"Taking into account the difficult situation on the specified section of the state border, there is a likelihood of the continuation of the next crossing of the military personnel of the government forces of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into the territory of Tajikistan," the State Committee for National Security said.
Meanwhile, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon spoke with his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, about the "alarming" situation along the border, according to Tajik state media.
The Taliban's inroads in the north are significant because it's a gateway to Central Asia and the group failed to take control of the area during their 1990s rule, when it was a stronghold of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance that helped topple the Islamist group in 2001.
According to a recent analysis by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul think tank, the Taliban strategy in the north "looks like a preemptive strike to prevent a northern opposition from organizing."