Uzbekistan said Sunday that 84 Afghan soldiers crossed its border fleeing the Taliban as the militant group seized Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city in its blistering takeover of the country.
Tashkent said it had offered humanitarian assistance to the soldiers.
The Central Asian country said border troops had arrested the “violators of the state border” and that authorities held “talks with the Afghan side” about their return to Afghanistan in a foreign ministry statement.
Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the ministry’s spokesman Yusup Kabulzhanov as confirming that the negotiations over the refugees’ return were being held with both Afghanistan’s official government and the Taliban.
Uzbekistan provided the detained Afghan soldiers with food, temporary accommodation and medical treatment, the Uzbek foreign ministry said in its statement.
It also noted “an accumulation of military personnel of the Afghan government forces” on the Afghan side of the bridge at the Termez-Hairatan border crossing.
“Measures are being taken to provide humanitarian assistance to these persons,” the statement said without offering details.
The Taliban on Saturday seized the northern stronghold Mazar-i-Sharif, which is a short drive from Uzbekistan and an important hub for trade with the Central Asian nation.
Warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor, who had led a militia resistance in the city to support government forces, had fled to Uzbekistan, an aide to Noor said.
Noor later tweeted that they had been betrayed by the military and were in a “safe place”, adding: “I have a lot of untold stories that I will share in due course.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had visited Mazar-i-Sharif just three days earlier.
With the group’s claim to capture Jalalabad confirmed by residents early on Sunday, Kabul is now the only major city under Afghan government control and is effectively surrounded by the Taliban.
Afghan forces have retreated over the country’s borders with Central Asian states Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on several occasions since the Taliban began a sweeping advance amid the pullout of US forces in May.