THE Taliban today claimed to have control of 85 per cent of Afghanistan after seizing a key checkpoint on the border with Iran.

Fighters tore down the Afghan government flag at Islam Qala hours after Joe Biden's speech defending his decision to pull out all US troops.

Taliban militants have waged a major offensive in recent weeks, seizing swathes of territory, forcing thousands of soldiers to flee or surrender and capturing an arsenal of US heavy weapons.

They have been allowed to run rampant as the US, the UK and other nations withdraw the last remaining troops after almost 20 years of war.

Today video footage shared online showed two masked men on the roof of the customs checkpoint at Islam Qala.

Chants of Allahu Akbar can be heard as they tear the national flag from its pole.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the strategic border town was "under our full control".

The Afghan government immediately vowed to retake Islam Qala, the main crossing point for traded goods worth millions of dollars a month.

"All Afghan security forces including the border units are present in the area, and efforts are under way to recapture the site," interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said.

Seizing the town completed a huge arc of territory from the Iranian border in the west to the Chinese frontier in the east.

Today a Taliban delegation in Moscow claimed the group now has control of 250 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts – which the Kabul government disputes.

Hours earlier, Joe Biden admitted it was “highly unlikely” the Kabul government would be able to control the entire country.

But he insisted he was right to end all US operations in August 31. Almost all western troops have already left, including Britain's.

The 20-year war in Afghanistan has cost the US nearly $1trillion since the 2001 invasion to drive out the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

But Mr Biden claimed the mission was a success as the country has not been used to launch any attacks on the West since 9/11.

The president said of pressure to continue the deployment: "The status quo is not an option.

“I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan.”

Earlier this week US forces quietly left Bagram air base, once the centre of operations with 10,000 personnel stationed there.

They did not tell Afghan comrades they were going and set the lights on a timer to switch off 20 minutes after the last plane took off, the BBC reported.

That came after the Taliban seized hundreds of armoured trucks and artillery units left behind by American forces.

Some US intelligence analysts fear the Taliban could seize control of the country within six months, according to an assessment distributed to officials in June.

20 years in Afghanistan – what happened?

US forces have begun a full withdrawal from Afghanistan under the orders of US President Joe Biden after spending 20 years fighting to stablise the war-torn nation.

Some 456 British soldiers and 2,420 Americans – along with hundreds of other coalition troops – died during the war which was sparked by the September 11 attacks.

And the civilian casualties are estimated to have been almost 50,000.

Codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom, the US led an invasion off Afghanistan to oust the Taliban after al-Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Centre and other US buildings in 2001.

The mission was to oust the Taliban, who were said to be harbouring terrorists and providing them a safe haven – including Osama bin Laden.

What followed was nearly 20 years of grinding conflict as the US, its allies, and the Afghan security forces staged a grinding campaign to attempt to rebuild the country and beat back the Taliban.

The Taliban had ruled most of Afghanistan following the Afghan Civil War in the 90s – sparked by the withdrawal of the Soviet Union.

Western nations had actually supported the Taliban in the 80s as the ran an insurgency against the Soviet backed regime of Mohammad Najibullah.

However, after seizing power in 1996 – the Taliban brutally ruled Afghanistan and offered a safe haven to terrorist killers like Osama.

As the US war rolled on into the 2010s, Bin Laden was killed in May, 2011, in a US special forces raid in Abbotabad, Pakistan.

And since then there has been a slow withdrawal, with British troops officially ending combat operations in October 2014.

February 2020 saw a peace deal signed between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which agreed to a withdrawal – whoever the Afghan government criticised it as being done behind "closed doors".

Taliban forces have since continued their operations and have been gaining ground – and the US continues to pull back its troops.

The war is seen as defeating the Taliban and improving the lives of the Afghan people who were once living under strict Islamic law and who now have free elections.

However, for some it is unfinished job which was mishandled – and that may 20 years on simply see a return to the dominance of the Taliban as they did pre-9/11.

The Kabul government is now desperately trying to defend a string of provincial capitals, which have to be supplied by air after militants seized surrounding countryside.

On Friday Russia said the Taliban now had control of two-thirds of the border with Tajikistan.

Five districts in Herat fell without a fight, and more than 1,000 Afghan troops fled into Tajikistan to escape a Taliban onslaught.

Moscow fears the turmoil could allow Islamist terrorists to penetrate into the former Soviet states of central Asia, which it considers its back yard.

But the Taliban insisted they did not pose a threat to the wider region and they would "take all measures" to stop ISIS operating in Afghanistan.

President Ashraf Ghani has insisted Afghan security forces can keep the Taliban at bay without help from Nato.

On Wednesday his officials claimed troops had recaptured government buildings in the western city of Qala-e-Naw – the first major provincial capital entered by the Taliban in their summer offensive.

Millions of Afghans fear fresh bloodshed or brutal oppression if the mullahs are allowed to take charge again.

Earlier this week women took to the streets with rifles and rocket launchers telling the Taliban they were "ready for a fight".

And it is feared the nation could become a new haven for terrorist forces wanting to strike out against the West, with The Sun Online revealing concerns new training camps could be operational by September.

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