Taliban militants have conducted multiple of offensives in Afghanistan's north in recent days, overrunning dozens of districts since May 1, when U.S. and NATO troops began their final withdrawal from the war-wracked country and reportedly capturing the main border crossing with Tajikistan.
The UN special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, said on June 22 that the Taliban has taken more than 50 of the country’s 370 districts since May, warning that increased conflict "means increased insecurity for many other countries, near and far."
"Those districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn," Lyons told the UN Security Council.
The United States called for an end to violence in Afghanistan, blaming Taliban militants for much of the bloodshed, three days ahead of a visit by President Ashraf Ghani to the White House.
"We urge the sides to engage in serious negotiations that determine a political road map for Afghanistan's future," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on June 22.
"We continue to call for an end to the ongoing violence that has been driven largely by the Taliban," Price said.
Reports from northern Afghanistan said the Taliban seized the main border crossing with Tajikistan -- the border town of Shir Khan Bandar, about 50 kilometers north of Kunduz city, the capital of Kunduz Province.
The militants "captured Shir Khan dry port and the town and all the border check posts" on June 22, Kunduz provincial council member Khaliddin Hakmi said, according to AFP.
The border crossing fell after Taliban fighters on June 21 overran the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz, which borders Tajikistan on a key supply route from Central Asia.
Tajikistan's Border Troops Press Center said that 134 Afghan servicemen crossed into Tajikistan under attack from the Taliban. They were allowed entry by the Tajik authorities, the Press Center said, adding that five of the Afghan soldiers were wounded and one of them subsequently died.
The crossing is a dry port capable of handling up to 1,000 vehicles crossing the Pyanj River a day. It is dominated by a 700-meter bridge that opened in 2007 with the aim of boosting trade between the central Asian neighbors.
International forces are in the process of leaving the war-torn country by September 11, a deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden to end the 20-year-old conflict.
Afghan security forces continue to resist the Taliban push, with the Afghan Defense Ministry and military saying on June 22 that two districts in Balkh and Baghlan provinces have been recaptured from the insurgents.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militant group was "in full control of Shir Khan Bandar and all the border crossings with Tajikistan in Kunduz."
Ghulam Rabbani, a provincial council member, said fighting was also ongoing outside Kunduz and people were fleeing the city. The Defense Ministry said Afghan government forces had recaptured key districts from the Taliban in Kunduz and operations were ongoing.
Local officials and Taliban members also said the Taliban had reached the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the northern province of Balkh, late on June 21 before retreating.
Mujahid said fighters were told to return after reaching the entrance of Mazar-i-Sharif as the militants' top leadership did not want to seize provinces until all U.S. forces had left.
On June 21, the U.S. military said it could slow down its withdrawal in light of recent battlefield victories by the Taliban, but insisted that the deadline for a full pullout was still in place.
"If there needs to be changes made to the pace, or to the scope and scale of the retrograde, on any given day or in any given week, we want to maintain the flexibility to do that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
"Two things are constant and won't change," he added.
"One, we will complete the withdrawal of all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan with the exception of those that will be left to protect the diplomatic presence. And, two, that it will be done before early September as per the commander in chief's orders."
Speaking to the Security Council during a virtual briefing on June 22, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar accused the Taliban of carrying out its worst violence in the past two decades and urged the international community to try to persuade the militants to honor the February 2020 agreement with the United States to reduce violence and enter peace negotiations.