Pentagon Says Taliban’s Advancement In Afghanistan ‘Concerning’

Kabul: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Friday described the Taliban’s “concerning” advancement in Afghanistan as the US military pulls troops out of the country after 20 years. Government officials on Friday dismissed the Taliban’s claim that it had taken control of 85% of territory in Afghanistan, saying it was part of a propaganda campaign, according to Reuters.

“What we have seen is a deteriorating security situation on the ground, the Taliban continues to take district centers,” Kirby said in a Friday morning interview with CNN. “We are seeing them continue to advance on district centers around the country, and it is concerning.” The US Central Command (CENTCOM) estimates that it has completed more than 90% of the withdrawal process, the command said in a July 6 update.

Kirby could not “validate” the Taliban’s claims regarding the amount of territory it has taken control of in his interview but noted that “claiming territory or claiming ground doesn’t mean you can sustain that or keep it over time.” The Pentagon told Fox News it had nothing further to add and pointed to Kirby’s comments made during a Thursday press briefing. “We are mindful of the security situation, we are mindful of the Taliban’s advances, and that’s why it’s so important to continue to press for a negotiated political settlement to this war,” he said during the briefing, adding later that Afghanistan’s future should be determined by Afghans.

Kirby echoed that sentiment in his televised interview, saying Afghan forces must “show the capacity and the capability that we know that they have.” “They are brave. They are fighters. They have taken a lot of casualties over the last year. And we know that they’re willing to defend their country. And we’re going to help them do that. But really, it’s their job to do that now,” he said.

In fact, Iran said its border with war-torn Afghanistan was “secure” on Friday, after the Taliban said it had seized a key crossing between the two countries. “The borders of the Islamic republic are peaceful and secure, thanks to our diligent border guards, and there is no insecurity at our country’s frontier with Afghanistan,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

A Taliban spokesman had said on Friday that the insurgents had captured the main border post with Iran and were in control of 85 percent of Afghanistan, following an escalation in fighting as US troops withdraw from the war-torn nation. The Islam Qala post “is now under our full control and we will try to put it back in operation today”, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP. Islam Qala is a major transit route through which Kabul conducts most of its official trade with Iran.

Tariq Arian, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s interior ministry, told AFP in Kabul that government forces were seeking to retake Islam Qala. Arian did not refer to the Taliban claim they had captured Islam Qala. But he said that due to “confrontations… inside Afghan territory, a number of Afghan [customs] employees have entered Iran”. The frontier between Iran and Afghanistan is about 900 kilometres (550 miles) long, and Islam Qala is one of three crossings between the two countries.

Iran hosts several million Afghan refugees and migrant workers and is deeply concerned about the intensifying turmoil in its neighboring country. On Wednesday, the Taliban and Afghan government held talks in Tehran, with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urging the two sides to “make difficult decisions for the future of their country”.

This comes even as Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Hanif Atmar has sought Pakistan’s help to end the raging conflict in Afghanistan, saying that he hoped Islamabad would persuade the Taliban to return to talks again. In an interview with Pakistan’s Geo News, Atmar said Kabul had great expectations from Pakistan. “We are hopeful Pakistan will help Afghanistan disrupt the Taliban’s supply and brutal campaign,” said the Afghan minister.

In response to a question about whether the Afghan government thinks the US betrayed it, Atmar said that Washington signed an agreement with the Taliban with honest intentions. “The Taliban did not fulfil their part of the deal and deceived the whole world,” he said. “The Taliban are making a huge mistake. All of us have extended a hand of friendship towards them,” he added.

Atmar said the Afghan government was telling the Taliban to honor the Doha peace deal, adding that Kabul had fulfilled its obligations of the deal when it came to the prisoners exchange and ensuring foreign troops leave the country. He said the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaeda have banded forces with other terrorist elements and are fighting alongside the Taliban against the government of Afghanistan. “We are monitoring links between the TTP, Taliban and al-Qaeda on a daily basis,” said Atmar. “These ties certainly exist.”

The Afghan foreign minister said these ‘elements’ were fighting against the “government and people of Afghanistan” alongside the Taliban, adding that these elements were fighting the Afghanistan government in Badakhshan, Kunduz, Faryab and other provinces of the war-torn country.

Speaking about the militants, Atmar said the Afghan government has divided these groups of foreign fighters into three categories. “The first among them are the [militant groups] that are fighting for a global agenda, such as al-Qaeda and Daesh,” he said. “Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants have been present in the region where Pakistan and Afghanistan are situated,” he added. Atmar said his government was aware of the locations in Pakistan and Afghanistan where al-Qaeda members were killed and arrested.

“Then, we have regional players,” the Afghan minister said. “[These include] the TTP, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, ITIM, the Ansarullah and Jundullah are also fighting with them [Taliban],” he added. “The entire region, not Afghanistan alone, is at threat from these groups,” he stressed. “Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, India, Russia and the Middle East are in danger from these groups,” he said.

Atmar said the government of Afghanistan spoke about regional cooperation as “there are no good or bad terrorists and they all are the same”. “Peace between Afghanistan and the Taliban will ensure these elements do not find a safe haven in Afghanistan,” he added.

Also, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Haneef Atmar spoke with his German counterpart Heiko Maas on Saturday to discuss the security situation, continuation of international assistance, and the prospect of peace in Afghanistan. Atmar commended Germany’s assistance and sacrifices in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and called continuation of partners’ support vital to preserving the state and the achievements of the last 20 years.

The two foreign ministers spoke in detail about the unprecedented increase in violence, reinforcing the Afghan Air Force, role of the regional countries particularly Pakistan in the success of the peace process, and containing the spread of terrorism threat. The two sides agreed to collaborate with Afghanistan‘s other international partners to expand and strengthen regional consensus for peace as well as enhance the capacity of the Afghan Air Force.

The German Foreign Minister said that Afghanistan was of great importance to the German government and parliament. He stated that Afghanistan was not alone in the current difficult times and that Germany would stand by the government and people of Afghanistan. Mr. Maas reaffirmed that they would do their utmost to help preserve all the hard-won gains of the last 20 years in coordination with the European Union and other global partners.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on said the strengthening of the ranks of the banned TTP was not in the interest of Pakistan, and it would not favor any sort of Talibanization. “The comeback of TTP is not in Pakistan’s interest. We do not want Talibanization of our country,” the minister said in his remarks at the meeting of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs here at the Parliament House.

The Pakistan Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate held its meeting on Friday with its Chairperson Senator Sherry Rehman in the chair. The committee was given a detailed briefing by Shah Mahmood Qureshi who said Pakistan wants peace and stability in the region. Pakistan National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf attended the meeting as a special invitee, and briefed the committee on the options and security prospects Pakistan faces. Moeed Yousaf said the situation in Afghanistan is not good and that Pakistan does not have control over things happening there.

Also, Shah Mahmood Qureshi received a telephone call from US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken, wherein the two sides stressed the need for continuing close coordination and cooperation to ensure meaningful progress in the Afghan peace process. Both the sides discussed bilateral relations and important developments in the region, according to Pakistan Foreign Office. US State Department Spokesman Ned Price, in a statement in Washington, said the two leaders “underscored the shared desire for a stable and sustainable bilateral relationship. “The Secretary and the Pakistan Foreign Minister discussed the importance of continued US-Pakistan cooperation on the Afghanistan peace process following the visit to the US by Afghan President (Ashraf) Ghani and Chairman (Abdullah) Abdullah.”

At the same time, Russian and Uzbek Foreign Ministers, Sergey Lavrov and Abdulaziz Kamilov, discussed the situation in Afghanistan and expressed concern over its degradation, the Russian foreign ministry said on Friday after their telephone conversation. “The sides exchanged views on the current regional and international topics. They expressed concern over the degradation of the situation in Afghanistan. The ministers also discussed additional measures to enhance stability and security in Central Asia,” it said.

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