Taliban Offensives: ‘Abrupt’ US pullout to blame
President Ashraf Ghani yesterday blamed Afghanistan's fast-deteriorating security situation on a "sudden" decision by the United States to withdraw its troops, but said his government had a plan to bring conditions under control within six months.
Taliban insurgents have moved in on three provincial capitals in the last few days, amid rapid advances nationwide since Washington said it planned a complete withdrawal of troops by September.
"The current situation is due to a sudden decision on the withdrawal of the international troops," Ghani told the Afghan parliament in a speech.
"We have had an unexpected situation in the last three months."
However, the Afghan government had a security plan to bring the situation under control within six months, he added, and the United States supported the plan.
The Taliban would not move towards peace unless the worsening security situation was curbed, Ghani said.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress despite a few rounds, reports Reuters.
The two sides committed to speeding up the talks, however, at a recent meeting in Doha between a high-level Afghan political delegation and the Taliban.
Ghani said the militants had not severed ties with terrorist groups, and had stepped up attacks on women and civil society activists.
It was time the Taliban and the Afghan government accepted each other and moved towards a peaceful solution, he added.
Afghan forces battled yesterday to stop a first major city from falling to the Taliban following weekend offensives by the insurgents on urban centres in a sharp escalation.
Taliban fighters assaulted at least three provincial capitals overnight -- Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat -- after a weekend of heavy fighting that saw thousands of civilians flee the advancing militants.
Fighting raged in Helmand's provincial capital Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban launched coordinated attacks on the city centre and its prison -- just hours after the government announced the deployment of hundreds of commandos to the area, reports AFP.
Clashes have intensified since early May, with the insurgents capitalising on the final stages of the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces after almost 20 years.
In southern Afghanistan, fighting continued in Lashkar Gah overnight as Afghan forces beat back a fresh assault from the Taliban.
"Afghan forces on the ground and by air strikes repelled the attack," the military in Helmand said.
Resident Hawa Malalai warned of a growing crisis in the city: "There is fighting, power cuts, sick people in hospital, the telecommunication networks are down. There are no medicines and pharmacies are closed."
Medical charity Doctors Without Border said casualties were mounting in Lashkar Gah.
The United States and Britain said yesterday the Taliban may have committed "war crimes", accusing the insurgents of "massacring civilians" in the town of Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan.
"In Spin Boldak, Kandahar, the Taliban massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings. These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated and those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable," the embassies of Washington and London said in separate tweets.
Meanwhile, thousands more Afghans who may be targets of Taliban violence due to their US affiliations will have the opportunity to resettle as refugees in the United States under a new program announced by the State Department yesterday.
Reuters exclusively reported on plans to set up the "Priority Two" refugee program, covering Afghans who worked for US-funded projects and for US-based non-government bodies and media outlets, earlier yesterday.
"In light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States," the State Department said in the announcement.
"This designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk."
The program comes as fighting surges in Afghanistan ahead of the formal completion of the US troop withdrawal at the end of this month, with the Taliban pushing to capture key provincial capitals.