Kabul: Government officials said that on Wednesday, suspected Taliban militants fired a rocket at a hospital in Afghanistan, causing a fire, causing widespread damage and destroying the COVID-19 vaccine, although there were no reports of casualties.
In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban occupied the town of Shir Khan Bandar, a dry port on the border with Tajikistan, and dispatched customs staff and members of the security forces to flee to the border security zone.
Fighting between government forces and insurgents has surged in recent weeks, and as the last U.S.-led international forces prepare to leave after two decades of fighting, militants have gained more control of the territory.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility for the attack on the Kunar Provincial Hospital in the east. A provincial health director said that the attack resulted in the loss of key supplies.
“Different types of vaccine, including doses meant to fight polio and COVID-19 were destroyed in the fire,” said Kunar health official Aziz Safai.
As of Wednesday, Afghanistan has reported 4,366 deaths from COVID-19 infection and 107,957 cases.
Many health officials said that the actual number of coronavirus infections may be much higher, but due to few tests, many cases have not been detected.
As insecurity has intensified, the virus has been spreading, especially since the US began the final phase of its withdrawal on May 1 and the Taliban intensified its attacks on government forces.
The Tajik Border Force said in a statement late Tuesday that it had allowed 134 Afghan soldiers to retreat to Tajikistan from Shir Khan Bandar, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the city of Kunduz.
Afghan officials said that after the Afghan authorities surrendered to the advancing insurgents, the Taliban seized ammunition and armored vehicles in the town.
The loss of this trading town will be a blow to the US-backed government, as it is working to prevent the Taliban from progressing in different parts of the country.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Taliban stated that border trade ports under the control of their fighters will continue to operate.
“All commercial import and export will function as normal and administrative work of traders will continue uninterrupted,” the militant group also invited Afghan security forces and those working for the democratically elected government to “embrace the open arms of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban rule).”
“We shall welcome and honor them, and send them to their homes and families with complete assurance. The group also instructed its fighters to ensure the security of public spaces, business and civilian residence are not harmed in the ongoing clashes.