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Moscow, Taliban Cite Militant Gains In Afghanistan Amid International Concerns

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Taliban representatives Abdul Latif Mansoor (left to right), Shahabuddin Delawar, and Suhail Shaheen hold a news conference in Moscow on July 9.

Russian and Taliban representatives have asserted that the fundamentalist group's fighters control a growing amount of territory in Afghanistan, including large stretches of the border, while insisting that Taliban gains don't threaten international security.

The seemingly coordinated statements during a Taliban delegation visit to Moscow were a fresh signal of Russia's interest in involving itself more deeply in regional security issues related to Afghanistan.

They come with U.S.-led international forces withdrawing from a two-decade war there.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Taliban said on July 9 the group controlled two-thirds of the Afghan-Tajik border, a figure that was difficult to corroborate.

The ministry added that Moscow and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance will "act decisively to prevent aggression and provocations" there.

The ministry urged all sides in the ongoing fighting to "show restraint."

Dozens of Afghan districts have reportedly fallen into Taliban control since U.S.-led international forces officially began their withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1, leaving forces loyal to Kabul's fragile government vulnerable to attack.

Afghan security officials have vowed that their troops are mounting counterattacks, and President Joe Biden has assured President Ashraf Ghani's administration that U.S. forces will stand by Kabul despite the exit of combat forces.

Biden on July 8 said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31, adding that "speed is safety."

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for international pressure to force a deal between the Kabul government and the Taliban to end the conflict.

"The security situation in Afghanistan only argues more for international pressure to have a negotiated political settlement to end this conflict, and give the Afghan people (the) government they want and they deserve," Austin said on Twitter. "The entire world can help by continuing this push."

The Russian Foreign Ministry on July 9 quoted the Taliban as saying the hard-line Islamist group was not seeking to wield complete power in Afghanistan.

But that could be a challenging argument to make as the group continues its recent offensive and imposes its strict form of control over war-weary Afghans in areas already controlled by militants or with memories of brutal Taliban control in the 1990s.

A Taliban representative, Shahabuddin Delawar, was quoted as claiming on July 9 that the group now controlled two-thirds of Afghan territory.

Delawar also reportedly claimed borders under Taliban control were operating as usual and he urged international humanitarian organizations to keep up their efforts in Afghanistan.

Afghan districts along the border with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have also fallen to the militants, raising concerns in Moscow about instability in a region it considers its backyard.

The visiting Taliban representatives were quoted as saying that recent gains across Afghanistan pose no threat to Russia or Central Asian states.

Iran on July 9 also disputed a claim by the Taliban that the insurgents had captured the Islam Qala post on the Afghanistan-Iran border.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Iran's border with Afghanistan was "peaceful and secure, thanks to our diligent border guards, and there is no insecurity at our country's frontier with Afghanistan." But Khatibzadeh did not refer directly to the Taliban claim that the extremist group had captured Islam Qala.

Arian told AFP that government forces were seeking to retake Islam Qala.

This story involves reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld to protect their safety.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and TASS
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