Published: 10:16, August 14, 2021 | Updated: 18:20, August 14, 2021
Afghan president vows to prevent instability in country
By Reuters

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the extraordinary meeting of the Parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug 2, 2021. (RAHMAT GUL/AP)

KABUL/TALUQAN - Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani on Saturday vowed to prevent instability in his war-battered country amid the intensified fighting and Taliban's advance towards major cities.

"It is a matter of pride that the security and defense forces of Afghanistan have defended the country and ensuring harmony among the forces is my priority," Ghani said in his short televised address to the nation.

President Ghani said that he has initiated "consultations with the people of Afghanistan including political leaders and international friends" and the outcome will be announced soon

The president pledged that he would not allow further instability in his country. 

"The Afghans are suffering due to the imposed war and I assure you to prevent the further suffering of the people of Afghanistan and this is my historic responsibility."

President Ghani also said that he has initiated "consultations with the people of Afghanistan including political leaders and international friends" and the outcome will be announced soon.

The Taliban militants have reportedly seized 19 provincial capitals in the country's 34 provinces. 

They pushed closer to Kabul on Saturday, capturing a key city near Afghanistan's capital as American troops flew in to help evacuate embassy personnel and other civilians.

Continuing a rapid advance, the insurgents took Pul-e-Alam, around 70 km from Kabul and the capital of Logar province, a local provincial council member said.

The gain of the city, a key staging post for a potential assault on Kabul, comes a day after the insurgents took the country's second- and third-biggest cities.

Militants have also captured Warsaj district, the last bastion of the Afghan government in northern Takhar province.

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"Warsaj district collapsed to the Taliban fighters on Friday evening and the security forces based there retreated to Panjshir province," an elder of the district Hajji Abdul Malik told Xinhua on Saturday.

The Afghan government has yet to make comments.

Taliban militants, with capturing Warsaj district, have completed its grip on northern Takhar province.

Local officials said on Friday that Taliban insurgents have seized Afghanistan's second- and third-biggest cities, Kandahar and Herat.

Map of Afghanistan locating the cities that have fallen to the Taliban in the past week, as of Aug 13.

A US defense official said there was concern that the Taliban – ousted from power in 2001 after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States – could make a move on Kabul within days.

The United Nations has said it would not evacuate its personnel from Afghanistan but was relocating some to Kabul from other parts of the country

President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday announced plans to send 3,000 additional troops to help evacuate US embassy staff, and the Pentagon said most would be in Kabul by the end of the weekend. Britain also confirmed the start of a military operation to support the evacuation of its nationals.

"Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment, but clearly ... if you just look at what the Taliban has been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday.

The White House said Biden was receiving regular briefings from his national security team on efforts to remove US civilians.

The US embassy in the Afghan capital informed staff that burn bins and an incinerator were available to destroy material including papers and electronic devices to "reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property," according to an advisory seen by Reuters.

A State Department spokesperson said the embassy was following standard procedure to "minimize our footprint."

Plumes of smoke rise into the sky after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel in Kandahar, Afghanistan, southwest of Kabul, Aug 12, 2021. (SIDIQULLAH KHAN/AP)

The United Nations has said it would not evacuate its personnel from Afghanistan but was relocating some to Kabul from other parts of the country. Many other Western embassies and aid groups said they were bringing some staff home.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that "Afghanistan is spinning out of control" and urged all parties to do more to protect civilians

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that "Afghanistan is spinning out of control" and urged all parties to do more to protect civilians.

"This is the moment to halt the offensive. This is the moment to start serious negotiation. This is the moment to avoid a prolonged civil war, or the isolation of Afghanistan," Guterres told reporters in New York.

'Humanitarian catastrophe'

The explosion in fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights. Some 400,000 civilians have been forced from their homes since the start of the year, 250,000 of them since May, a UN official said.

Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, take refuge in a public park Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug 13, 2021. (RAHMAT GUL/AP)

Families were camping out in a Kabul park with little or no shelter, having escaped violence elsewhere in the country.

Of Afghanistan's major cities, the government still holds Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east, in addition to Kabul

"The situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe," the UN World Food Programme's Thomson Phiri told a briefing.

Under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their face and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes.

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Of Afghanistan's major cities, the government still holds Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east, in addition to Kabul.

The Taliban has taken the towns of Lashkar Gah in the south and Qala-e-Naw in the northwest, security officials said. Firuz Koh, capital of central Ghor province, was handed over without a fight.

Kandahar's loss is a heavy blow to the government. It is the heartland of the Taliban - ethnic Pashtun fighters who emerged in 1994 amid the chaos of civil war.

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The militants have taken control of 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals since Aug 6.

Kandahar's loss is a heavy blow to the government. It is the heartland of the Taliban - ethnic Pashtun fighters who emerged in 1994 amid the chaos of civil war. The militants have taken control of 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals since Aug 6

After seizing Herat, the insurgents detained veteran commander Ismail Khan, an official said. They had promised not to harm him and other captured officials.

A Taliban spokesman confirmed that Khan, who had been leading fighters against the insurgents, was in their custody. Al-Jazeera later reported Khan had boarded a plane to Kabul bearing a message from the Taliban. The report could not immediately be confirmed.

The speed of the Taliban's gains has led to recriminations over the US withdrawal, which was negotiated last year under the administration of Biden's Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

Biden said this week he did not regret his decision to follow through with the withdrawal. He noted Washington spent more than US$1 trillion and lost thousands of troops over 20 years of war, and called on Afghanistan's army and leaders to step up.

Opinion polls showed most Americans back Biden's decision. But Republicans criticized the Democratic president.

US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the situation in Afghanistan "a debacle" but said it was not too late to stop the Taliban overrunning the capital by providing air and other support for Afghan forces.