The Taliban does not want to engage in fighting inside Afghanistan’s cities, a senior leader of the group has said, as thousands of families flee their homes, fearful of living under their rule.
“Now that the fighting from mountains and deserts has reached the doors of the cities, Mujahiddin don’t want fighting inside the city,” Amir Khan Muttaqi said in a message tweeted by a Taliban spokesman on Tuesday.
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“It is better … to use any possible channel to get in touch with our invitation and guidance commission, reach a logical agreement to prevent their cities from getting damaged,” said Muttaqi, head of a commission that oversees people surrendering to the group.
In a separate statement, the armed group said Turkey’s decision to provide security to Kabul airport when the United States-led forces leave the country was “reprehensible”.
“The decision … is ill-advised, a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity and against our national interests,” the group said, days after Turkey agreed with Washington to provide security to protect the airport.
Meanwhile, Taliban advances in the last 15 days have driven more than 5,600 families from their homes, most of them in the northern areas of the country, according to the government’s refugees and repatriations ministry.
The region is a traditional stronghold of US-allied warlords and dominated by ethnic minorities.
A February 2020 agreement the Taliban signed with the US reportedly prevents the fighters from capturing provincial capitals, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
Yet two – Kandahar in the south and Badghis in the north – are under siege.
In the capital, Kabul, where many fear an eventual Taliban assault, a rocket defence system has been installed, the Afghan interior ministry said over the weekend.
The statement offered no detail about its origin or cost.
The US, Russia, China and even Afghanistan’s neighbour Pakistan have all warned the Taliban against trying for a military victory, warning they will be international pariahs.
Taliban leaders have said they are not doing so, even as they boast of their gains in recent meetings in Iran and in Russia.
The Taliban blames the Afghan government for foiling efforts to jumpstart stalled talks that would elevate discussions to include leaders on both sides of the conflict.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman and a member of its negotiation team, told the AP that on three different occasions, his side waited for a high-level delegation from Kabul to come to Doha for talks. They never came, he said.
The Kabul delegation was to include former President Hamid Karzai, as well as Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the National Reconciliation Council, and senior warlords like Ata Mohammad Noor, one of the most powerful northern commanders.
Afghan officials familiar with the planned meetings confirmed their intention to travel to Doha and participate, but said President Ashraf Ghani has been reluctant, often obstructing efforts. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations with reporters.
Last week, President Joe Biden urged Afghanistan’s leaders to find unity and said it was up to Afghans to bring an end to decades of war.
With 90 percent of the final US and NATO withdrawal completed and its top commander General Scott Miller having relinquished his command, Washington is nearing the end of its “forever war”.