War in Afghanistan enters ‘deadlier’ phase, UN envoy warns

Deborah Lyons pleads with the United Nations Security Council to prevent Afghanistan from descending into a ‘catastrophe’.

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces has raged since May, when United States and other foreign forces began the first stage of a troop withdrawal due to be completed later this month [File: Sajjad Hussain/AFP]

The United Nations’ special envoy for Afghanistan questioned the Taliban’s commitment to a political settlement, telling the UN Security Council the war has entered a “deadlier and more destructive phase” with more than 1,000 civilians killed in the past month during an offensive by the armed group.

“A party that was genuinely committed to a negotiated settlement would not risk so many civilian casualties, because it would understand that the process of reconciliation will be more challenging, the more blood is shed,” Deborah Lyons told the 15-member council via video-link from Kabul on Friday.

The Taliban control large swathes of the countryside and are now challenging Afghan government forces in several large cities, including Herat, near the western border with Iran, as well as Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.

The Taliban on Friday captured their first provincial capital since launching an offensive to coincide with the departure of foreign troops.

“Zaranj, provincial capital of Nimroz, has fallen to the Taliban,” Roh Gul Khairzad, the deputy governor of Nimroz, told AFP news agency.

She said the city – in southwest Afghanistan near the Iranian border – had been taken “without a fight”.

The war has increasingly spilled into the capital Kabul too, with the Taliban shooting dead the head of the Afghan government’s media information on Friday.

The Taliban have taken advantage of the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of United States forces. Fighting has raged since May, when US and other foreign forces began the first stage of a troop withdrawal due to be completed later this month.

“This is now a different kind of war, reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past,” Lyons said.

“To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties. Nonetheless, the threatening of large urban areas appears to be a strategic decision by the Taliban, who have accepted the likely carnage that will ensue,” she said.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress.

‘We have an opportunity’

“Today we have an opportunity,” Lyons pleaded with the council. “An opportunity to demonstrate the commitment of the UN Security Council, and the regional and international community that you represent to prevent Afghanistan from descending into a situation of catastrophe, so serious that it would have few, if any parallels in this century.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan was of increasing concern and “with the withdrawal of foreign forces, the outlook looks grim”.

“It is clear that there is no military solution to the Afghan situation, but in the current situation – given the absence of progress on the negotiation track – the prospects of Afghanistan slipping into full scale and protracted civil war, unfortunately, is a stark reality,” he said.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward said the council “should leave the Taliban in no doubt that there will be consequences for them if they continue to pursue this military offensive” and pledged that Britain would not recognise a Taliban government that comes to power by force.

The UN Security Council has the ability to impose targeted sanctions on Taliban individuals or entities who constitute a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan.

Senior US diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis urged the Taliban to halt their offensive, pursue a political settlement and protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and people.

“The Taliban must hear from the international community that we will not accept a military takeover of Afghanistan or a return of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate,” he said.

Deputy Chinese UN Ambassador Dai Bing said foreign forces withdrawing from Afghanistan should be “more transparent with regional countries and avoid leaving behind all the problems and wash their hands of them.”

“The US recently expressed its intention to assist Afghanistan in maintaining stability. We hope that the US can earnestly fulfill its commitment and step up efforts,” Dai told the council.

Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai urged the Security Council to act to “prevent a catastrophic situation”.

“We’re alarmed by reports and incidents of gross human rights violation by the Taliban and their foreign terrorist associates in almost half of our country and we are extremely concerned about the safety and security of people in cities under Taliban attacks,” he said.

Source: News Agencies