On Friday, a Taliban delegation in Moscow said that the group now controls over 85 percent of Afghanistan and assured Russia that groups like ISIS would not be able to use the country as a platform to launch attacks.
“We will take all measures so that Islamic State will not operate on Afghan territory … and our territory will never be used against our neighbors,” Taliban official Shahabuddin Delawar said at a press conference, according to Reuters.
Russia has been voicing concern over the idea that ISIS could gain a foothold in Afghanistan after US and NATO troops leave. Russia is also concerned with the possibility of violence spilling into Tajikistan, a security treaty ally of Moscow.
Tajikistan, Russia, and four other former Soviet states are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). After over 1,000 Afghan troops fled from fighting with the Taliban into Tajikistan, Tajik officials requested assistance from its CSTO allies. Russia responded and said it is ready to activate a base near Tajikistan’s southern border.
The Taliban delegation in Moscow wanted to ease Russia’s fears that the conflict in Afghanistan will spill into neighboring countries. “We will not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against Russia, the neighboring countries and other countries,” Taliban representative Mohammad Sohail Shaheen told the Russian news agency Tass.
It’s tough to know if the Taliban claims that it controls 85 percent of Afghanistan is accurate, but the group has been making significant gains since the US and NATO started pulling troops out in May. In February, an Afghan news agency conducted a survey that found the Taliban controlled 52 percent of physical territory in Afghanistan, while 59 percent of Afghanistan’s population lived in government-controlled areas. With these statistics in mind and the success the Taliban is having on the battlefield, it’s possible the group controls as much territory as they claim.