Afghan soldiers flee Taliban battle, try to cross into Turkmenistan

By – Associated Press – Sunday, March 17, 2019

KABUL, — Around 100 Afghan soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the , officials said Sunday, in the latest setback for the country’s battered security forces.

Mohammad Naser Nazari, a provincial council member in the western Badghis province, said the soldiers weren’t allowed to cross the border and their fate remains unknown. The 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 a number of soldiers tried to flee, without providing an exact figure.

Shahabi said more than 40 insurgents were killed in the fighting. 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 , with Afghan forces confined to the district headquarters.

The effectively control half the country and carry out daily attacks on Afghan security forces, causing staggering casualties. The attacks have continued even as the have been holding direct negotiations with the United States aimed at ending the 17-year war.

In a separate development on Sunday, an Islamic State affiliate claimed the killing of a local TV journalist in the eastern Khost province. The group did not say why it targeted Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a reporter with the local Zhman TV and radio, who was killed Friday when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. Another Afghan reporter was wounded in a targeted bombing last week in the southern Helmand province.

is among the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters. The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee reported 121 cases of violence against journalists and media workers in 2018, with 17 killed.

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