Kabul: The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said it is working to forge an international consensus behind the need for an Afghanistan peace accord even as it acknowledged that “all indications” point to the Taliban seeking a “battlefield victory.”
The comments made came as envoys from the United States, China, Russia and other countries met in Doha with Taliban and Afghan government negotiators in a bid to break a deadlock in peace talks. The Islamist insurgents pressed offensives across Afghanistan that have overrun at least eight provincial capitals, and a U.S. defense official, citing U.S. intelligence, told Reuters the Taliban could isolate Kabul in 30 days and possibly take it in 90 days.
But Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby Wednesday said the fall of Kabul was not a foregone conclusion. “We’re focused on the security situation that we face now, which again, we’ve acknowledged is deteriorating…I’m not going to speak about planning contingencies, or potential outcomes. And the other thing I’d say is that no potential outcome has to be inevitable, including the fall of Kabul, which everybody seems to be reporting about. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
U.S. officials said the Taliban are violating “the letter and the spirit” of the February 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal for a withdrawal of all American troops from America’s longest war. The United States has not fulfilled some of the commitments it made in the deal, including withdrawing all of its forces from Afghanistan by May 1. The last are due to depart by August 31.
Raking up criticism, a former US ambassador Ryan Crocker said that the Biden administration is abandoning Afghanistan’s government in its hour of need and all but giving the country to Taliban fighters through its decision to withdraw troops. “This is a handover to the Taliban,” Ryan Crocker, who served as ambassador to Afghanistan during the Obama administration, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. The Afghan government, he said, now perceives “rightly that we have hung them out to dry. We did a deal with their enemy.”
“It is ironic that as we approach the 20th anniversary of those attacks we are handing the country over to those who sheltered the al-Qaeda planners who put the whole thing together for 9/11,” Crocker said. “We are watching history repeat in a very bad way.”
The speed of the Taliban’s march has surprised even senior U.S. officials, who had anticipated a takeover, if it happened, could take at least six months. In a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. is “closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country, but no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable.” She said the Taliban has to “make an assessment of what they want their role to be in the international community.”
Even former UK ministers have said that US President Joe Biden was wrong to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Johnny Mercer – who served as a commando in Afghanistan before entering politics – told the BBC “pulling the rug like this is appalling”. Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the defence committee, said it was not too late for the UK to remain in Afghanistan. But the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said this was not a viable option without US support.
“As the Defense Secretary has said, without the US as a framework nation, it was necessary for the UK and NATO to transition to a new phase in their support for the Afghan people.” an MoD spokesman said. Mercer, a former defence minister, told the BBC: “Biden has been wrong on almost every major US foreign policy and security issue over the last 40 years; he opposed Obama’s surge and oversaw a terrible drawdown in Iraq. He is wrong on this too.
“Of course Afghans have to fight for their country, but maturing an Afghan Army capable of doing so was always going to require an ongoing level of fighting support. Pulling the rug like this is appalling, and we will be feeling the consequences here in the UK for years to come.”
Tobias Ellwood told the BBC: “When NATO committed such a formidable military alliance to enter Afghanistan, the objective was to restore peace and establish the democratic building blocks in a volatile country beset by poverty, war and extremism. Our hasty withdrawal is an abandonment of that original objective and now once again Afghanistan teeters on the brink of civil war.”
Meanwhile, in a statement Ambassador Isaczai at the Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on Humanitarian Action, said that Afghans are currently facing a vicious onslaught by the Taliban and their affiliated foreign terrorist groups which has resulted in a devastating humanitarian situation.
“Taliban’s relentless increase in violence through their military offensive on major cities supported by transnational terrorist and criminal networks is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis currently facing more than 18 million Afghans. Moreover, UNAMA has indicated that the Taliban has taken the decision to further aggravate the humanitarian situation by targeting large urban areas and seek to benefit from the resulting carnage. The Taliban is using humanitarian suffering as a deliberate weapon of war in violation of International Humanitarian Law to levels that may constitute war crimes,” said Isaczai.
Isaczai added that according to a recent analysis, the Taliban’s destruction of public and private infrastructure has deprived over 13 million people of public services and amounted to more than 500 million dollars of damage. Additionally, the Taliban and their terrorist affiliates are hampering the activities of our humanitarian partners to assist the most vulnerable and are directly targeting and killing humanitarian workers.
“The Government of Afghanistan is steadfast in our response to these atrocities and continues to call on the Taliban to adhere to a ceasefire and engage in meaningful negotiations. Our security forces are fighting to protect civilians and limit the humanitarian impacts of the Taliban’s offensive. It is, therefore, high time for the Council to act,” Isaczai said.
Isaczai reiterated the call on the Security Council to use all available tools including relevant Security Council Resolutions to monitor, investigate and block all sources of financing activities of the Taliban and other terrorist groups affiliated with them. “We further request the Council to discharge its responsibilities under the UN charter and take all the necessary measures to stop the Taliban’s large-scale attacks on big cities and population centers, which will have disastrous humanitarian consequences, including massive displacement,” Isaczai said.
Also, OCHA reported that so far this year, nearly 390,000 people have been newly displaced by conflict across Afghanistan, with a huge spike since May. In the last week, inter-agency teams have identified tens of thousands of people who have fled conflict in different parts of the country and are in urgent need of assistance. Many people are arriving in Kabul and other large cities, seeking safety from the conflict and other threat.
As per OCHA, between 1 July and 5 August 2021, the humanitarian community verified more than 5,800 internally displaced persons who had arrived in Kabul. “Ten teams were deployed today to assess the situation for people staying outside in parks and open spaces. They identified an additional 4,522 displaced persons in need of shelter, food, sanitation and drinking water. A temporary health clinic and mobile health teams are providing health services to these people,” it said.