Afghanistan ‘spinning out of control’ amid Taliban offensive: UN

‘This is the moment to avoid a prolonged civil war’, UN chief says in appeal to armed group sweeping through Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters are seen in a vehicle along the roadside in Herat, Afghanistan's third biggest city, after government forces pulled out the day before following weeks of being under siege [AFP]

The Taliban armed group has captured the provincial capitals, Qalat, Terenkot, Pul-e-Alam, Feruz Koh, Qal-e-Naw and Lashkar Gah, hours after capturing Herat and Kandahar cities.

It so far has control over 18 provincial capitals across Afghanistan.

In his first appeal to the group, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the Taliban to immediately halt its offensive and negotiate “in good faith” to avert a prolonged civil war.

“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 said at a press conference.

“Afghanistan is spinning out of control,” Guterres said. “Continued urban conflict will mean continued carnage – with civilians paying the highest price.”

Meanwhile the US and European countries are evacuating their embassy staff as the Taliban inches closer to the country’s capital, Kabul.

Here were the updates from Friday:

Canada to accept 20,000 vulnerable Afghans

Canada plans to resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters to protect them from Taliban reprisals, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has said.

The effort is in addition to an earlier initiative to welcome thousands of Afghans who worked for the Canadian government, such as interpreters, embassy workers and their families, he told a news conference.

Canada’s new plan would focus on those who are particularly vulnerable, including women leaders, human rights defenders, reporters, persecuted religious minorities and members of the gay and lesbian community, he said.

US says it hopes to see more resistance from Afghan forces

The US hopes to see more resistance from the Afghan military against the Taliban, the Pentagon says, stressing that government forces in Afghanistan have the upper hand on paper despite their recent losses.

Department of Defence spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Afghan forces have the tools to push against the ongoing fierce Taliban offensive.

“We want to see the will and the political leadership, the military leadership that’s required in the field. We still want to see that, and we hope to see that,” Kirby told reporters.

Read more here.

Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Farah, Afghanistan August 11, 2021 [File: Stringer/Reuters]

‘They sold us out’: Afghans in disbelief over Taliban gains

Residents in Herat and Kandahar say they cannot believe how quickly both cities fell after the Taliban’s weeks-long effort to take two of Afghanistan’s largest cities.

“They literally sold us out, there was no government resistance,” one female resident of Kandahar told Al Jazeera, fighting back tears late on Thursday evening.

“I never imagined that Kandahar would be taken so easily,” she said echoing a sentiment made by Afghans across the country.

Read Al Jazeera’s report from Kabul here.

Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle along the roadside in Kandahar, Afghanistan [AFP]

UK says military operation established to evacuate British nationals

The British government has said a military operation has been established to support the evacuation of British nationals from Afghanistan.

“Operation Pitting, the military support to the drawdown of British nationals and entitled personnel has commenced in Afghanistan. This may also include the use of RAF (Royal Air Force) aircraft if required”, the UK’s defence ministry said in a statement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to the use of military support for the next phase of drawing down British nationals from Afghanistan and Home Office officials will be travelling there to support the increase in processing.

UN chief calls for immediate halt to Taliban offensive

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the Taliban to immediately halt their offensive in Afghanistan.

“The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition. That can only lead to prolonged civil war or to the complete isolation of Afghanistan,” Guterres told reporters.

UN chief: ‘Afghanistan is spinning out of control’

At a press conference UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called on all parties to protect civilians, warning that attacks against civilians amount to war crimes.

“Afghanistan is spinning out of control,” Guterres said.

“Continued urban conflict will mean continued carnage – with civilians paying the highest price.”

Sweden to reduce embassy staff in Kabul

Sweden will reduce its embassy staff in Kabul, Swedish Foreign minister Ann Linde has said.

“The Foreign Ministry has decided to limit the staff at Sweden’s embassy in Kabul,” Linde said on Twitter.

“There are well worked out preparations for evacuation of the embassy’s staff, which could be relevant at short notice,” she said.

Kabul not facing ‘imminent threat’: Pentagon

Kabul does not appear to face an “imminent threat” despite the Taliban’s rapid gains, the US Defense Department has said.

“Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, while acknowledging that the Taliban is “trying to isolate Kabul”.

‘Urban warfare in Kabul would be catastrophic’: UN

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary general has expressed concern over the number of displaced people, many of whom are trying to make their way to the capital city of Kabul.

“Urban warfare in Kabul would be catastrophic. The mission has pointed out the horrendous impact on civilians of urban warfare in Kandahar, in Lashkar Gah, in all of these cities,” Dujarric said.

“One can only imagine with horror what it would look like in Kabul, a city with a population increasing on a regular basis because of the fighting going on outside of the city.”

Most US troops in Kabul by end of weekend: Pentagon

Most US troops being sent to Kabul to evacuate diplomats will arrive by Sunday, the Pentagon has said.

The first Marines have arrived and “I expect that by the end of the weekend the bulk of the 3,000 (troops) will be in place,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Correspondent: Ismail Khan about to leave Herat and head to Kabul

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays reporting from the UN headquarters in New York said that Ismail Khan, the prominent local commander who fought on behalf of the Afghan government in Herat and was captured by the Taliban, is “about to leave Herat on a plane and head to Kabul”.

The latest development is according to colleagues in Afghanistan and a reliable source in Herat.

“I am told he has a message from the Taliban that he is going to deliver in person in Kabul to senior figures in the administration in Kabul,” Bays said.

“The suggestion is that they want to avoid a battle in the capital city and the Taliban have some suggestions on how to avoid such a battle. They will be making representations to some senior figures on the government side to join with the Taliban, but I’m told that offer doesn’t extend to everyone and probably doesn’t extend to President Ghani himself.”

Spain working to resettle Afghan translators

Madrid is working to resettle in Spain local translators who helped Spanish forces in Afghanistan, government sources have said.

The Spanish government “is working on the possibility of bringing the translators and other people who worked with Spanish forces” in Afghanistan to Spain, a defence ministry source told AFP news agency without specifying a timeline.

The defence, interior and foreign ministries were analysing how many people could be brought from Afghanistan and in what way, the source added.

US scours for countries willing to house Afghan refugees

President Joe Biden’s administration has been holding secret talks with more countries than previously known in a desperate attempt to secure deals to temporarily house at-risk Afghans who worked for the US government, four US officials have told Reuters news agency.

The previously unreported discussions with such countries as Kosovo and Albania underscore the administration’s desire to protect US-affiliated Afghans from Taliban reprisals while safely completing the process of approving their US visas.

Pakistan to offer reporters in Afghanistan visas

Pakistan’s interior minister has announced on Twitter that all journalists and media staffers who are working for international outlets and other foreign media in Afghanistan and who want to leave through Pakistan can apply for Pakistani visas.

Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said his ministry will issue visas on a priority basis, without offering details. He said the decision was made by Pakistan’s government, primarily keeping in mind the safety of the journalists.

UK PM Johnson vows not to ‘turn our backs on Afghanistan’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised the UK’s full support for Afghanistan.

“What we must do now is not turn our backs on Afghanistan but continue, as a member of the (UN) Security Council, a country deeply involved in the strategic future of the area, to work with our partners, and make sure the government of Kabul does not allow that country, again, to be a breeding ground for terror,” he said.

UN evaluating security hourly, no staff evacuation

The United Nations is evaluating the security situation on “an hour-by-hour basis” and moving some staff to the capital Kabul, but is not evacuating anyone from the country, the UN spokesman has said.

The world body had “a very light footprint” in some areas taken by the Taliban, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. It has about 3,000 national staff and about 300 international on the ground in Afghanistan.

“The current situation is that we’re evaluating, literally on an hour-by-hour basis, the security situation both in Kabul and in other locations. There is no evacuation of UN staff going on,” Dujarric said.

Switzerland to withdraw staff from Kabul bureau

The Swiss government will withdraw the remaining staff from its cooperation bureau, it has said.

There were just three Swiss staff left there following earlier reductions. “They too will leave Kabul as soon as possible,” Deputy Foreign Minister Livia Leu told a news briefing in Bern.

Local staff who want to leave can apply for Swiss humanitarian visas, she added. The cooperation office supervises development and humanitarian aid programmes.

Kabul residents fearful of Taliban rule

Kabul residents are worried about potential Taliban rule, remembering 20 years ago when the group had control of the city and were ruling most of the country.

“The Taliban ruled here before and they didn’t rule in the peoples’ interest, people think that they will act the same,” Zamanuddin Khan told The Associated Press news agency.

Ahmad Sakhi said provinces are falling “day by day; the government should do something, the people are facing lots of problems”.

Germany stops development projects in areas seized by Taliban

The German Development Ministry is suspending all of its activities in areas of Afghanistan that have been captured by the Taliban.

“German development project funds will not be used in Taliban areas,” Development Minister Gerd Mueller said.

The projects have been temporarily stopped or are in the process of being suspended, he said.

NATO to support Afghan government ‘as much as possible’

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance would keep its civilian diplomatic presence in Afghanistan as it tries to support the Afghan government and security forces in the face of the Taliban’s offensive.

“Our aim remains to support the Afghan government and security forces as much as possible. The security of our personnel is paramount. NATO will maintain our diplomatic presence in Kabul, and continue to adjust as necessary,” Stoltenberg said, in a statement following a meeting of NATO envoys.

Finland evacuates staff

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told a news conference that parliament ruled the country could “take in up to 130 Afghans who have worked in the service of Finland, the EU and NATO along with their families” because of “the quickly weakening security situation”.

France pledges ‘exceptional effort’ to host Afghan rights defenders

France has promised to make “an exceptional effort” to welcome Afghan rights defenders who may be threatened by the Taliban.

Paris is still granting visas from Kabul, one of only three European countries to continue doing so as the situation deteriorates, the presidential office told the AFP news agency.

“Given France’s constant support for the men and women of Afghanistan’s civil society – artists, journalists, rights defenders – whose lives are at risk because of their commitment to freedom of expression and opinion or to human rights, an exceptional effort is being made to facilitate their access to French territory,” it said in a statement.

France reiterates call for citizens to leave

France’s foreign ministry has reiterated a call for French citizens to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.

“In light of the deteriorating security situation, we again called on French citizens last week to leave the country as soon as possible,” it said in a statement in response to a written question about whether France planned to evacuate its embassy and its citizens from the country.

Norway to evacuate and close its embassy: Foreign minister

Norway will close its embassy in Kabul and evacuate its diplomats as well as its local employees and their families, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide has said.

NATO envoys meet in Brussels

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and 30 national ambassadors have been taking part in a meeting in Brussels, according to a NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations.

“Allies are constantly consulting on the situation in Afghanistan,” the official said, adding that Stoltenberg was “in regular contact with allies and the Afghan authorities”.

“NATO is monitoring the security situation very closely. We continue to coordinate with the Afghan authorities and the rest of the international community,” the official said.

Iran says Afghan soldiers enter southeastern Iran

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency claims that some Afghan military vehicles have crossed the border into Iran after being sieged by the Taliban.

Germany significantly reducing embassy staff

The German government will reduce the number of people working at the German embassy in Kabul to the “absolute minimum,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said.

“The government’s crisis coordination team also decided to bring forward charter flights that were originally planned for the end of August,” Maas told journalists in Denzlingen in southern Germany.

The minister said the aim was to fly out embassy staff as well as local Afghan helpers. Afghans without visas would get their documents in Germany to speed up the process.

Denmark to shut embassy, evacuate staff

Denmark is closing its embassy in Kabul for now because of the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, and evacuating its staff, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod has said.

“The government has decided to evacuate all employees of the embassy. At the same time, we have decided to temporarily close our embassy in Kabul,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a press release, calling on Danes in Afghanistan to leave immediately.

Conflict taking heaviest toll on displaced women, children: UNHCR

The Afghanistan conflict is taking the heaviest toll on displaced women and children, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said.

“We are particularly worried about the impact of the conflict on women and girls. Some 80 per cent of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said at a press briefing in Geneva.

Some 400,000 people have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the year, joining some other 2.9 million Afghans who remain internally displaced across the country, Mantoo said.

Prague says it will not suspend deportations to Afghanistan

The Czech Republic will continue with deportations of unsuccessful asylum seekers back to Afghanistan despite the deteriorating security situation, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek has been quoted as saying.

Some EU countries, including Denmark and Germany, have suspended deportations.

“The Czech Republic is treating each asylum application individually, it examines the reasons thoroughly to determine whether to grant [asylum] or not. We won’t make any blanket exceptions,” Hamacek told the news website

Czech officials have also been debating how to help Afghans who assisted Czech troops deployed with the NATO mission in Afghanistan, whose lives are now in danger from the advancing Taliban. Human rights organisations have urged the government to act fast.

British PM to convene emergency meeting

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold an emergency response meeting on Friday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, a spokesperson has said.

The spokesperson gave no other details but earlier, Johnson’s defence minister, Ben Wallace, said the UK could return to Afghanistan if the country started hosting al-Qaeda in a way that threatened the West.

“The Prime Minister is convening a COBR this afternoon to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Civil Contingencies Committee.

Afghanistan calls for UNSC meeting: Russia

The Russian foreign minister says the Afghan government has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council over the deteriorating situation in the country where the Taliban made significant military gains.

Speaking at a news conference in the Rostov Oblast region, Sergey Lavrov said such a meeting would be helpful if used to launch constructive talks between the Afghan sides.

NATO meets over Western embassy staff reduction

NATO ambassadors are meeting to discuss the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and to coordinate national measures to reduce embassy staff in Kabul, a security source has told Reuters news agency.

The Western alliance has ended military operations in Afghanistan after almost 20 years and withdrawn most troops from the country but still serves as a forum to coordinate national measures there.

Afghan commander Ismail Khan captured in Herat

Taliban fighters have captured Ismail Khan, the veteran local commander leading militia resistance in Herat, local officials say.

“The Taliban agreed that they will not pose any threat or harm to the government officials who surrendered,” says provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimi.

Khan, the most prominent militia commander and believed to be in his 70s, together with the provincial governor and security officials, were handed over to the Taliban under an agreement, Hashimi told Reuters news agency.

Khan’s capture, confirmed by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, provides one of the most potent symbols of the crumbling of resistance in the city.

Photos and videos showing the eminent commander apparently in the hands of the fighters were widely shared on social media although they could not immediately be verified.

Taliban captures capital of Zabul province

Qalat, the capital of Zabul province in Afghanistan’s south, becomes the 18th city taken over by the Taliban, says Atta Jan Haqbayan, the provincial council chief in Zabul province.

He also says officials are in a nearby army camp preparing to leave.

Netherlands may have to close Kabul embassy

The Dutch government says it may have to close its embassy in Kabul and is working quickly to bring back some of its local Afghan staff.

Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag told reporters in The Hague that the Netherlands intends to keep its embassy open as long as possible, but this could prove untenable if Kabul came under Taliban siege or was captured.

A spokeswoman for the Dutch foreign ministry confirms a drawdown of embassy employees is under way but would not say how many Dutch staff remained, citing security concerns.

“We are evaluating all options,” said Tessa van Staden.

Dutch broadcaster NOS cites Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld as saying that the number of Afghan translators and local staff to be evacuated amounted to “a few dozen”.

Timeline: Afghan provincial capitals captured by Taliban

Here are the provincial capitals that have fallen to or are being attacked by the armed group, which is fighting to reimpose its rule after its government was toppled in 2001.

Taliban takes over Uruzgan’s capital of Terenkot

Bismillah Jan Mohammad and Qudratullah Rahimi, two lawmakers from Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan province, say local officials have surrendered Terenkot, the provincial capital, to the Taliban.

Mohammad says the governor is en route to the airport to depart for Kabul.

UN urges Afghanistan’s neighbours to keep borders open

The United Nations refugee agency calls on Afghanistan’s neighbours to keep borders open as Taliban advances heightened the country’s crisis.

“An inability to seek safety may risk innumerable civilian lives. UNHCR stands ready to help national authorities scale up humanitarian responses as needed,” a spokesperson for the agency says at a briefing in Geneva.

The World Food Programme sees food shortages in Afghanistan as “quite dire” and worsening, a spokesperson adds, saying the situation had all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Afghan security personnel stand guard along the roadside in Herat [AFP]

Taliban seizes Pul-e-Alam, takes two officials captive

The Taliban has overrun the city of Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Afghanistan’s central province of Logar, about 80km (50 miles) from the national capital Kabul, officials have said.

The armed group took the governor and the head of the city’s spy agency captive, after securing government buildings, according to local councillor Hasibullah Stanakzai and a member of Afghan parliament representing the province, Huma Ahmadi.

The governor was warned to turn himself over or the entire compound would come under attack. He surrendered.

Taliban fighters are pictured in a vehicle of the Afghan National Directorate of Security on a street in Kandahar [AFP]

Germany must admit Afghan staff quickly: Minister

Germany must forego bureaucracy to enable local staff who worked for its military in Afghanistan to leave the country quickly, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer says.

“The situation in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly threatening,” he said in a statement.

“Whether charter flights or issuing visas after arrival in Germany, I support all measures that enable our local support staff and their families to leave the country quickly.”

“There is no time for bureaucracy, we must act,” he said.

Pakistani forces clash with Afghan protesters at border crossing

Pakistani forces have clashed with hundreds of Afghans stranded on Pakistan’s side of a commercially vital border crossing with Afghanistan after its closure by the Taliban, Pakistani security officials said.

The disturbances broke out on Thursday after a 56-year-old Afghan traveller died of a heart attack as he waited in the heat to enter Afghanistan via the Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, Arif Kakar, a Pakistani official on the scene, told Reuters.

Read more here.

Pakistan’s paramilitary personnel stand guard in front of people who wait to cross at the Friendship Gate crossing point in the border town of Chaman [Abdul Khaliq Achakzai/Reuters]

US remains invested in Afghan security: Blinken tells Ghani

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speak with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani “to stress that the United States remains invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan in the face of violence by the Taliban”, the US State Department said in a statement.

“Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin informed President Ghani that the United States is reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation and will accelerate the tempo of Special Immigration Visa (SIV) flights,” the statement said.

“The Secretaries both emphasised that the United States remains committed to maintaining a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the Government of Afghanistan.”

Kabul evacuations: Echoes of US exit from Vietnam’s Saigon?

Thousands of US soldiers being sent to Afghanistan to evacuate embassy staff from Kabul as the Taliban pushes towards the city has revived memories of the fall of Saigon.

A photo that immortalised the US’s defeat in Vietnam, showing evacuees boarding a helicopter on the roof of a building, spread fast on social networks after the US announced the emergency deployment on Thursday.

Read more here.

‘We could be back’ in Afghanistan if al-Qaeda returns: UK

Britain could return to Afghanistan if the country starts hosting al-Qaeda in a way that threatens the West, said Ben Wallace, the British defence minister.

Asked if the UK would ever send troops back to Afghanistan again, Wallace told LBC Radio: “I’m going to leave every option open. If the Taliban have a message from last time, you start hosting al-Qaeda, you start attacking the West, or countries like that, we could be back.”

Intense fighting in Pul-e-Alam, Logar province

A source speaking to Al Jazeera from Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province, says intense fighting continues in Logar.

The area around the provincial governor’s compound is seeing intense action, and the capital is being described as “under siege”.

Logar borders Kabul, less than 50km (31 miles) from the city of Kabul.

Herat mostly in control of Taliban: Provincial official

Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, has mostly been taken over by Taliban fighters, a provincial official told Reuters.

The official, Ghulam Habib Hashimo, said government forces are only in control of the airport and an army camp in the city of about 600,000 people, which is close to the border with Iran.

“Families have either left or are hiding in their houses,” he said.

The Taliban fighters standing on a military vehicle in the streets of Herat [Screenshot/AFPTV]

Taliban seizes Feruz Koh, Qal-e-Naw

Taliban fighters took control of Feruz Koh city in Afghanistan’s western province of Ghor without any fighting, officials say.

The city centre has been abandoned by local officials and security forces and the Taliban fighters are controlling all the government buildings in the city, according to local councillor Fazel-ul Haq Ehsan and a member of parliament representing the province, Fatima Kohistani.

A civil society activist in the city has confirmed to Al Jazeera the province of Ghor has fallen to the Taliban.

“There are armed men everywhere,” he says.

An armed member of the Taliban on the back of a motorbike in the streets of Herat [Screenshot/AFPTV]

The Taliban also captured Qal-e-Naw, capital of the western Badghis province, Al Jazeera’s Ali M Latifi reports.

“Earlier in the summer, the group briefly took control of the capital before the government recaptured it within a matter of hours,” he says.

“Last month, there were reports of an indefinite ceasefire orchestrated between the Taliban and local elders. However, in the last 24 hours, the fighting has picked up again and the Taliban have now taken the capital city.”

Kandahar residents confirm Taliban takeover

Residents in the city of Kandahar have confirmed to Al Jazeera that Afghanistan’s second-largest city has fallen to the Taliban: the 12th provincial capital the armed group has overrun in a week.

Early on Friday morning, residents said the armed group’s black-on-white flag was hanging by the provincial governor’s compound.

Taliban captures city of Lashkar Gah: Official

The Taliban has captured the key southern city of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Afghanistan’s Helmand, the largest province in the country by area, two officials have confirmed.

Military and government officials had evacuated the city after striking a deal with the group, the security source said.

US, UK to launch evacuation flights

The United States and the United Kingdom have ordered the deployment of thousands of troops to Afghanistan to evacuate their nationals.

The Pentagon said it would send about 3,000 additional soldiers within 48 hours to help evacuate the embassy staff. The State Department said it would also increase the tempo of Special Immigration Visa flights for Afghans who helped the US effort in the country.

The UK said it would deploy approximately 600 personnel to help its nationals and local translators get out.

UNSC discusses condemnation of Taliban

The UN Security Council is discussing a draft statement that would condemn Taliban attacks on cities and towns causing high civilian casualties and threaten sanctions for abuses and acts that risk Afghanistan’s peace and stability, diplomats said.

The formal statement, drafted by Estonia and Norway and seen by Reuters, has to be agreed by consensus by the 15-member body.

The text also “strongly affirms that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is not recognised at the UN and declares that it does not and will not support the establishment of any government in Afghanistan imposed through military force or restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies