Reports that the Taliban have captured the Zebak district Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, under 40 kilometers from the Tajik town of Ishkashim, is eliciting no evident alarm in Dushanbe.
By some accounts, government troops have been forced to retreat back to the Afghan town of Ishkashim, which lies just across the Panj River from its Tajik namesake. Recent Taliban conquests have also taken other Badakhshani districts Yamgan and Warduj.
Residents in the Tajik Ishkashim have told EurasiaNet.org that sound of combat can even be heard from their town.
The head of the Ishkashim district, Zikruhudo Samadov, told EurasiaNet.org that he is receiving daily updates about events in neighboring Afghanistan.
“Today we received a report about how fresh Afghan troops have been dispatched to Zebak to try and win back the territory. Fresh troops have also been dispatched to our border and so it is under control. We have no reports of incursions into our territory,” Samadov said.
Samadov said that a regional medical clinic in the Tajik Ishkashim is currently treating five Afghan officers wounded in combat in Zebak. The clinic is expecting to receive another 10 soldiers in need of treatment, he said.
Afghan troops are conveyed to Tajikistan for hospitalization in such instances under the terms of an intergovernmental agreement signed in 2012.
The word coming from Afghanistan is that the loss of Zebak may have been down to a simple shortfall in armaments. RFE/RL has cited one wounded soldier in Ishkhashim as saying that he was involved in a battle that raged for four hours.
“For three hours, we had no ammunition, and we got no backup. The enemy came to our outpost and captured the territory. Most [of our men] were killed. I was luckier. First they sent me to Ishkashim in Afghanistan, and then on to Tajikistan,” the soldier said.
The fall of the Zebak district might be expected some level anxiety since it is roughly equidistant from Tajikistan and Pakistan. That said, although the Taliban is creeping ever closer to Tajikistan, there is likely no immediate cause for alarm, since the group has displayed little interest in crossing over Afghanistan’s northern borders.
Late last month, the Taliban circulated a statement declaring the start of a spring offensive they have dubbed Operation Mansouri, in tribute to the late Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, a Taliban leader killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province last May. The Taliban have said they intend in large part to aim their attacks at “occupation” forces in a bid to force them out of Afghanistan.
They have also said that they aim to establish “mechanisms for social justice and development.”