U.S., allies scramble to save citizens amid Taliban “advance”

August 13, 2021 - 18:27

The situation in Afghanistan is reported to be a very fluid one; on one hand a six-month ceasefire between the government and the Taliban is said to be “95% agreed”.

On the other hand, the Taliban claims to have captured Kandahar, which is Afghanistan's second-largest city as the group pushes ahead with its operations nationwide. If confirmed, it would leave just the capital and some pockets of other territory in the hands of the government. 

In a statement on an officially recognized social media account, a Taliban spokesman said "Kandahar is completely conquered. The [ground] reached Martyrs' Square in the city". At the same time, the group has reportedly taken control of the southwestern city of Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern Helmand Province.

Some Afghan officials said Kandahar fell on Thursday night and that government officials and their entourage relocated to an airport. The Taliban claim has also been backed by residents, who told media outlets that government forces appear to have withdrawn to a military facility outside the city.

The alleged seizure of Kandahar would mark the biggest prize yet for the Taliban, which has now taken at least a dozen of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals. The earlier reported seizure of Herat would also mark one of the biggest prizes for the Taliban. The group has reportedly rushed past the Great Mosque in the historic city and seized government buildings.

The United Nations says it is particularly concerned about a shift in fighting in Afghanistan to urban areas, warning that if a Taliban offensive reaches the capital Kabul it would have a "catastrophic impact on civilians."

Speaking to reporters, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric says "It is clear that urban fighting in the city of the size of Kabul would have catastrophic impact on civilians and we very much hope that this does not happen" 

He added, "We are continuing to believe that there is a political solution that can be had. This doesn't mean that we are also blind to what is going on in the on the ground". 
Last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators kicked off in the Qatari capital of Doha, but so far no substantive progress has been made. 

Dujarric also says any investigation into civilian deaths, which are reported to be around 1,000 in the recent violence, would have to be impartial and independent from the any party. In the first six months of 2021, the United Nations said 5,183 civilians had been killed or injured. Earlier, the United Nations said the Taliban had denied killing any civilians. 

The Taliban has proposed that an UN-led team conduct an inquiry in any civilian deaths. The proposal by group would be a team made up of the United Nations, the Red Cross and other international aid groups whom would accompany Taliban representatives "to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the latest events."

David Miliband, the President of the International Rescue Committee, has denounced the West for leaving Afghanistan in a bad shape amid increased violence. He says "We can turn this around. We need to. Investing in ourselves, our allies and partners has never been easier or more important. This is a choice. So far we're choosing to lose" 

Analysts say the Afghan government is revising plans with the goal of pushing back the Taliban advance. The government has also offered a power-sharing deal with the group in return for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, the United States and the United Kingdom are scrambling troops to evacuate their citizens from the country.

The Pentagon announced it would send three battalions, about 3,000 soldiers, to Kabul’s international airport within 24 to 48 hours. The defense department spokesman, John Kirby, said the reinforcements would help the “safe and orderly reduction” of American nationals and Afghans who had worked with the U.S. military occupation and were consequently granted special immigrant visas.

Kirby added, “We have been watching very closely with concern the security situation on the ground – and far better to be prudent about it and be responsible and watching the trends to make the best decisions you can for safety and security of our people than to wait until it’s too late”. 

The UK is sending hundreds of military personnel to help evacuate Britons as the security situation in the country rapidly worsens. The move has been authorized by the Defense Secretary. Ben Wallace says 600 troops will be sent to Kabul on a "short-term basis" in response to increasing violence. The British soldiers are expected to arrive in the coming days. 

Wallace also says Britain is relocating its embassy from the outskirts of the heavily fortified Green Zone to a potentially safer location closer to the centre of the capital. London has described the move as part of the ongoing withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces.

However, observers say in reality it is an unplanned emergency response to the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Canadian Special Forces are also being deployed to Afghanistan where the embassy’s staff in Kabul will be evacuated before the troops shut down the diplomatic site altogether. This is while the German embassy in Kabul put out a statement urging all its citizens to leave the country as fast as possible on commercial flights.

The United States led the invasion of Afghanistan back in 2001, with the aim of toppling the ruling Taliban group. At the time, Washington waged under the pretext of fighting terrorism. 

20 years later, the United States is leading the withdrawal from the country with the Taliban asserting more power amid a rise in terrorist groups that had no presence before the invasion and subsequent occupation. 

Just like with other countries that America has invaded and withdrew from; local civilians bear the brunt of the devastation and instability Washington leaves behind.

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