October 18. 2021. 5:05

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UN Afghanistan envoy warns of Taliban offensive

Afghan military personnel walk near the airport during fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in 2015. File Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images


Taliban insurgents have captured more than 50 of 370 districts in Afghanistan since May, the UN special envoy said on Tuesday, warning that increased conflict posed a risk of insecurity to many other countries.

Deborah Lyons told the UN Security Council that the announcement earlier this year that foreign troops would withdraw sent a “seismic tremor” through Afghanistan.

“Those 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suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” Ms Lyons said.

After 20 years, the United States has started to withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and aims to be completely out of the country by September 11th. About 7,000 non-US personnel from mainly NATO countries – along with Australia, New Zealand and Georgia – are also planning to leave by that date.

“All of the major trends – politics, security, the peace process, the economy, the humanitarian emergency, and of course Covid – all of these trends are negative or stagnate,” Ms Lyons told the 15-member Security Council. “The possible slide toward dire scenarios is undeniable.”

US-backed Afghan forces toppled the radical Islamist Taliban from power in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11th, 2001, attacks on the United States.

US president Joe Biden will meet at the White House with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday amid the surge in fighting.

‘Not negotiable’

US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the decision to withdraw US troops was not taken lightly.

“We will use our full diplomatic, economic and assistance toolkit to support the peaceful, stable future the Afghan people want and deserve and will continue to support the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in securing their country,” she told the Security Council.

Talks in Qatar between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives on a political settlement have stalled. Ms Lyons urged the Security Council, with the support of regional countries, to push the parties back to the negotiating table.

Afghan foreign minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said Ghani had proposed “in good faith” a peace plan for a ceasefire, power sharing and early elections.

“For almost 10 months now we have had no serious engagement from the Taliban for serious peace negotiation and no response to our proposed peace plan and absolutely no counter proposals,” he told the UN Security Council.

Before being ousted in 2001, the Taliban imposed a harsh version of Islamic rule that included barring girls from school and women from working outside their homes and prohibiting them from being in public without a male relative.

“Preserving the rights of women remains a paramount concern and must not be used as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table,” Ms Lyons said. “Men’s rights are not negotiable. Women’s rights are not negotiable. Human rights are not negotiable.” – Reuters