Around 100 Afghan soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighbouring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, officials said Sunday. Mohammad Naser Nazari, a provincial council member in the western Badghis province, said the soldiers were not allowed to cross the border and their fate remains unknown.
The Taliban have posted pictures of captured soldiers on social media. Jamshid Shahabi, the provincial governor's spokesman, said 16 soldiers have been killed and 20 wounded during the ongoing battle in the Bala Murghab district, in which the military carried out airstrikes and dispatched reinforcements.
He said the provincial police chief and army commander are in the district and instructing the forces to root out insurgents and rescue soldiers. Officials said the fighting had largely subsided by Sunday, with sporadic clashes breaking out in remote areas. Nazari provided a higher toll, saying 50 soldiers were killed and around 100 others were missing.
He said hundreds of local residents have gathered in front of the governor's office to express their concerns about security in the province. He said Bala Murghab is almost completely controlled by the Taliban, with Afghan forces confined to the district headquarters.
The Taliban have been carrying out near-daily attacks across Afghanistan, mainly targeting the government and Afghan security forces and causing staggering casualties. The attacks have continued despite stepped-up US efforts to negotiate an end to the 17-year war, America's longest.
(With inputs from agencies.)