A US peace envoy has brought a warning to the Taliban that any government that comes to power through force in Afghanistan won’t be recognised internationally.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy, travelled to Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, to tell the group there was no point in pursuing victory on the battlefield because a military takeover of Kabul would guarantee they will be global pariahs.
He hopes to persuade Taliban leaders to return to peace talks with the Afghan government as American and NATO forces finish their pullout from the country.
The insurgents have captured five provincial capitals in the country in less than a week.
They are now battling the western-backed government for control of several others, including Lashkar Gah in Helmand, and Kandahar and Farah in provinces of the same names.
After a 20-year western military mission and billions of dollars spent training and shoring up Afghan forces, many are at a loss to explain why the regular forces have collapsed, fleeing the battle sometimes by the hundreds.
The fighting has fallen largely to small groups of elite forces and the Afghan air force.
The success of the Taliban blitz has added urgency to the need to restart the long-stalled talks that could end the fighting and move Afghanistan toward an inclusive interim administration.
Mr Khalilzad plans to “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,” the State Department said.
Meanwhile, the Taliban military chief Mohammad Yaqoob, released an audio message to his fighters on Tuesday, ordering them not to harm Afghan forces and government officials in territories they conquer.
Mr Yaqoob told the insurgents to stay out of abandoned homes of government and security officials who have fled, leave marketplaces open and protect places of business, including banks.
There have been reports by civilians of heavy-handed treatment by the insurgents – schools being burned down and repressive restrictions on women.
There have also been reports of revenge killings in areas where the Taliban have gained control, and the insurgents have claimed responsibility for killing a comedian in southern Kandahar, assassinating the government’s media chief in Kabul and a bombing that targeted acting Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, killing eight and wounding more. The minister was not harmed in the attack.
The intensifying war has also increased the number of civilian casualties.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that its staff has treated more than 4000 Afghans this month in their 15 facilities across the country, including in Helmand and Kandahar, where Afghan and US airstrikes are trying to rein in the Taliban onslaught.
“We are seeing homes destroyed, medical staff and patients put at tremendous risk, and hospitals, electricity and water infrastructure damaged,” Eloi Fillion, ICRC’s head of delegation in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
“The use of explosive weaponry in cities is having an indiscriminate impact on the population,” Mr Fillion added.
“Many families have no option but to flee in search of a safer place. This must stop.”
The surge in Taliban attacks began in April, when the US and NATO announced they would end their military presence and bring the last of their troops home.
The final date of the withdrawal is August 31, but the US Central Command has said the pullout is already 95 per cent complete.
On Monday, the US emphasised that the Biden administration now sees the fight as one for Afghan political and military leaders to win or lose.
“When we look back, it’s going to come down to leadership and what leadership was demonstrated, or not” by Afghans, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a Pentagon news conference.
“It’s their country to defend now. It’s their struggle.”