Taliban Aiming to Take Afghanistan Areas After US Troops are Withdrawn, UN Envoy Says

The Taliban may be aiming to claim Afghanistan's provincial capitals once U.S. military forces are withdrawn, said Deborah Lyons, U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan. Lyons stated that learning of President Joe Biden's rapid plan to pull all troops by Sept. 11 this year caused "a seismic tremor through the Afghan political system and society at large."

When Biden announced the remaining troops' departure in April, he claimed that the U.S. had accomplished its goals of weakening Al-Qaida and fighting other terrorist threats. However, Lyons cited rising violence from the Taliban in the past year and recent escalating military activity from the group as cause for concern, the Associated Press reported.

"More than 50 of Afghanistan's 370 districts have fallen since the beginning of May," Lyons said. "Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn."

Biden plans to meet Friday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who leads Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, responsible for supervising the Taliban negotiation team.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

US Troops in Afghanistan
Afghan soldiers patrol outside their military base on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. By Sept. 11, 2021, at the latest, the remaining U.S.and allied NATO forces will leave Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement. Rahmat Gul/AP Photo

Lyons also pointed to a 29 percent increase in civilian casualties in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year, including a 37 percent rise in casualties among women and a 23 percent increase among children. She singled out the May 8 attack on girls leaving school in a majority-Hazara area of Kabul that killed nearly 100 young female students, and two attacks this month that killed 11 people clearing mines in Baghlan province and five people engaged in polio vaccinations in Nangarhar province.

Lyons said the military campaign runs country to a recent statement by the head of the Taliban Political Commission who said: "We are committed to forging ahead with the other sides in an atmosphere of mutual respect and reach an agreement."

The United Nations had hoped to accelerate stalled negotiations in Doha through a conference in Istanbul in April that would have been co-hosted by Turkey, Qatar and the U.N., but the Taliban never officially responded to the invitation, Lyons said, and "the drivers of conflict seem for now to overwhelm" hopes for negotiations.

Lyons urged the U.N. Security Council and regional countries to make every effort "to avoid the country going down the path of more bloodshed and suffering."

"There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan...away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table," she said. "The tragic history of conflict need not repeat itself—but left to its own and our inertia it just might."

Afghanistan's foreign minister accused the Taliban on Tuesday of carrying out its worst violence in the past two decades and urged the international community to try to persuade the Taliban to honor a February 2020 agreement with the United States to reduce violence and enter peace negotiations.

Mohammad Haneef Atmar told the U.N. Security Council that with the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops "to be completed in the coming weeks," the international community should also establish a "mechanism" to monitor implementation of the agreement reached in Qatar's capital Doha and the council resolution supporting it, "and to take appropriate measures to ensure compliance."

Under the deal, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops in exchange for a Taliban promise to denounce terrorist groups and keep Afghanistan from again being a staging arena for attacks on America, to reduce violence and work with the government on a permanent cease-fire, and enter negotiations with the government aimed at restoring peace to the war-battered country.

Atmar said in his virtual briefing to the council's ministerial meeting that the U.S. and regional partners have met almost all their obligations in the agreement, but "it's a sad reality that the Taliban has not honored any of its obligations," and has left the country and region "dangerously unstable."

He pointed to the Taliban's failure to cut ties with international terrorist groups, saying it is hosting "not only al-Qaida but also regional terrorist groups...in pursuit of their violence campaign against both Afghanistan and other countries."

He urged the Taliban to explain to the world community why they said they were fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan and are "killing their fellow Afghans, and especially civilians, where the foreign troops are leaving the country now."

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield reiterated the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan's safety and security and continuing support for its security forces and economic and humanitarian needs.

She also urged countries with influence to press for negotiations between the Taliban and the government to move forward toward a peace settlement "with the full participation of women."

"To the Taliban, we reiterate that the military path will not lead to legitimacy," Thomas-Greenfield said, noting that council members from Europe, Russia and China have also stressed that there is no military solution to the conflict.

"The world will not recognize the establishment in Afghanistan of any government-imposed by force, nor the restoration of the Islamic Emirate (under the Taliban)," Thomas-Greenfield warned. "There is only one way forward: a negotiated and inclusive political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process."

Afghan Man
Afghan men pray near the grave of their relatives killed in bombings near Syed Al-Shahada School last month at cemetery on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. After the collapse of the Taliban 20 years ago, Afghanistan's ethnic Hazaras began to flourish and soon advanced in various fields, including education and sports, and moved up the ladder of success. They now fear those gains will be lost to chaos and war after the final withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan this summer. Rahmat Gul/AP Photo