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MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- At least 100 Afghan soldiers abandoned their posts and fled imminent capture by the Taliban by crossing the country's border into neighboring Turkmenistan, only to face immediate expulsion, Afghan officials said Saturday.

It was the latest in a series of insurgent attacks in the hotly contested Bala Murghab district in Badghis province, where members of an entire Afghan army company were killed or captured Monday. By Saturday, the district's defenders said it had mostly fallen into Taliban control.

Afghan officials gave varying accounts of what happened Saturday, with some saying the soldiers would be returned to safety by Turkmenistan, and others saying they had been forced back by the Turkmenistan army into a no man's land, a 500-yard-wide strip between border fences. And some said the soldiers had been forced back into Taliban hands by day's end.

Saleh Mohammad Mubarez, commander of the Afghan local police in the district, said 140 soldiers from the Afghan Border Police, a military unit, had fled toward Turkmenistan after two days of Taliban attacks on bases in the Morichaq area.

"The situation is very bad: The district is on the verge of collapse," Mubarez said. "The reinforcements have not been enough. The air force must help and launch airstrikes."

Qais Mangal, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, confirmed that the soldiers had fled toward Turkmenistan but insisted that they were "within Afghanistan." Jamshid Shahabi, a spokesman for the Badghis provincial governor, said the soldiers had fled as part of a previously arranged security plan.

Others described a more dire situation. Habibullah, an army officer on the battlefield who like many Afghans uses one name, said that after heavy pressure on two bases, 20 soldiers had surrendered to the Taliban and more than 100 fled to the Turkmenistan border. "We lost contact with them," he said.

Farid Akhezi, a member of the Badghis provincial council, said 12 Afghan border posts had been abandoned, with 50 soldiers surrendering to the Taliban and 100 others fleeing into Turkmenistan. He said that country's army forced them back, so they surrendered to the insurgents late Saturday.

Most of the soldiers were said by local officials to be members of the Afghan Border Police, which is part of the Afghan military. Mangal, however, said they were local militiamen, not soldiers.

The Taliban wiped out an entire Afghan army company in the same district Monday, killing 16 soldiers and taking 40 as prisoners. Over the course of the week, 36 Afghan security force members were confirmed killed in Taliban assaults in Badghis province.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, claimed that the insurgents have now captured the Morichaq area. "More than 30 soldiers surrendered to the Taliban," Ahmadi said. "The remaining soldiers tried to cross the border, but Turkmenistan's border forces did not allow them."

A Section on 03/17/2019

Print Headline: Afghan troops leave posts, flee for border

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