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Over 1,000 Afghan soldiers flee to Tajikistan after clashes with Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan: More than 1,000 Afghan soldiers have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan after clashing with the Taliban.

The troops retreated over the border to “save their own lives”, according to a statement by Tajikistan’s border guard.

Violence has risen in Afghanistan and the Taliban have been making significant gains, particularly in the north of the country, in recent weeks. The surge comes as the US, UK and allies withdraw after 20 years.

The vast majority of remaining foreign forces in Afghanistan have left ahead of a September deadline. There are concerns that the Afghan military, which was supposed to take over security in the country, will collapse.

Under a deal with the Taliban, the US and its NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops in return for a commitment by the militants not to allow any extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

But the Taliban did not agree to stop fighting Afghan forces, and now reportedly control about a third of the country.

The retreat is the third time Afghan soldiers have fled to Tajikistan over the past three days and the fifth case over the past fortnight. In total, nearly 1,600 soldiers have crossed the border.

The latest group of Afghan troops sought refuge early on Monday morning after fighting with militants during the night, Tajikistan’s National Security Committee said

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to his Tajik counterpart, President Emomali Rakhmon, over the phone to discuss the developments. “Special attention was paid to the escalation of the situation in Afghanistan’s northern areas adjacent to Tajikistan,” a statement from the Tajik president’s office said.

It added that Rakhmon expressed concern about the “forced crossings” by the Afghan security force members.

A senior Afghan official confirmed there had been hundreds of crossings into Tajikistan but did not know the exact number.

“The Taliban cut off all the roads and these people had nowhere to go but to cross the border,” he said on Monday.

Last week, the United States vacated Bagram Airbase — bringing an effective end to the longest war in its history — as part of an understanding with the Taliban, against whom it has fought for two decades.

The Taliban has ceased attacks on Western forces but continues to target Afghan government and security installations as it makes rapid territorial advances across the country.