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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

US envoy in Qatar presses Taliban to halt violent military offensive

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UNICEF says at least 27 children have been killed and 136 injured in three Afghan over the past three days alone.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is in Doha in efforts to “formulate a joint international response” to heightened escalations in the Asian country, Washington’s State Department announced on Monday.

Khalilzad is currently attending the latest round of “extended Troika” meetings in Qatar in efforts to push for the reduction of violence and a ceasefire.

“He will press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement, which is the only path to stability and development in Afghanistan,” read the statement by the State Department.

The statement added that the latest surge in the Taliban’s violent advances in the country, which have resulted in civilian casualties, “are of grave concern”.

“A negotiated peace is the only path to ending the war, and the United States will continue to work with all parties and with regional and international stakeholders to advance a consensus on a political settlement,” said the Washington office.

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Tuesday’s meeting in Qatar is attended by diplomats from the US, China, Pakistan, the UK, Uzbekistan, the UN and the EU.

The latest Troika meeting is the second to take place since April, which saw diplomats on the negotiating team release a 14-point joint statement on the ongoing Afghan peace process.

The Troika representatives also called on the Taliban to abide by its commitment to reduce violence, including “preventing terrorist groups and individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country”.

The meetings come as the insurgent group continues to capture Afghan provinces and border crossings in the country amid a withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Since last week, the Taliban captured Herat, Kandahar, Kunduz, Sar-e-Pol and Taloqan.

On Monday, the Taliban seized Aybak, capital of the northern province of Samangan, making it the sixth recent territory to fall to the insurgents.

“Right now the Taliban are fighting with Afghan forces to capture the police headquarters and compound of the provincial governor,” said Ziauddin Zia, a lawmaker in Aybak.

“Several parts of the capital have fallen to the Taliban.”

In a statement emailed to Reuters, UNICEF said at least 27 children have been killed and 136 injured in three Afghan provinces – Kandahar, Khost and Pakria – over the past three days alone.

“UNICEF is shocked by the rapid escalation of grave violations against children in Afghanistan,” said UNICEF country representative Hervé Ludovic De Lys.

“The atrocities grow higher by the day,” added the UNICEF official.

Commenting on the latest escalations in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US was deeply concerned regarding the rise in attacks in the country, saying that there is “not much”.

“These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend and it’s really going to come down to the leadership that they’re willing to exude here at this particular moment,” Kirby said.

Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, US officials said they were surprised about the Taliban’s pace in capturing provinces despite the military warning President Joe Biden earlier this year about the potential territorial gains by the group following the troop withdrawal.

Families in Afghanistan have been forced to flee their homes with the security situation in the country failing to improve. As of yet, there is no news about a ceasefire.

Since the beginning of the troop withdrawal in May, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] said there are at least 244,000 internally displaced people [IDPs] in Afghanistan—a 300% increase in comparison with the same period last year.

Earlier, the UN’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan [UNAMA] said up to 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in May and June alone, the highest number for those two months since it started recording data in the country in 2009.

The UNAMA also warned Afghanistan is expected to witness its highest number of recorded civilian casualties in a single year if there is no significant de-escalation in the country to end the ongoing violence.


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