Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry has rejected a Taliban claim that the insurgents control 90 percent of the country’s borders, calling the assertion an "absolute lie.”
"It is baseless propaganda," ministry spokesman Fawad Aman told AFP on July 23, a day after a spokesman for the militant group made the claim.
In recent weeks the Taliban has brought large swathes of Afghanistan under its control, including key border crossings, as U.S.-led international forces withdraw, raising increasing concerns that the Afghan government may collapse.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made the claim in comments to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on July 22. The statement could not be independently verified.
In an earlier tweet, Aman called the claim "fake news."
On July 21, U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Taliban was in control of almost half of the country's roughly 400 districts.
Taliban fighters appear to have the "strategic momentum" in their sweeping offensive but the victory is far from assured, Milley said.
Local officials in Herat Province said on July 23 that Afghan forces had liberated the Karukh district in the northwest of the country near the area where Iran, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan meet.
The Herat Military Council said that according to preliminary reports, 15 Taliban fighters were killed and 20 wounded in the operation. There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.
In the face of the rapid withdrawal of foreign forces and the Taliban's battlefield successes, Tajikistan said on July 22 it had put its entire armed forces on high alert for a combat-readiness check and relocated thousands of troops to the border with Afghanistan.
Russia, which maintains bases in Central Asia, said it would stage military drills with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan near the border with Afghanistan next month.
This story includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.