Geneva: The United Nations has warned of a "catastrophic" impact and urged Afghanistan's warring sides to better protect civilians caught up in the intensifying conflict, the focus of which has shifted in recent weeks from mostly rural areas to major battles for control of three large cities.
The plea follows increasingly dire accusations of abuses against noncombatants by Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan and fresh condemnation of an attack last week against a UN compound in the western city of Herat.
Much of the worst fighting in populated areas has taken place as the Taliban continues offensives targeting the cities of Herat, Lashkar Gah, and Kandahar.
Thousands of Afghans have been displaced as families flee in fear for their lives, caught up in the cross fire of a two-decade war.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on August 3 expressed "deepening concern" and said at least 40 civilians had been killed in the past 24 hours in violence in Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern Helmand Province.
"UN urges immediate end to fighting in urban areas," it added.
It blamed a Taliban "ground assault & Afghan Army attempts to repel" the militants.
Hours earlier, UNAMA said, "Civilians are bearing the brunt as fighting enters Afghanistan’s cities."
Officials said gunmen had seized local radio and television stations in Lashkar Gah, leaving a single, pro-Taliban channel actively broadcasting there.
The United States and United Kingdom on August 2 suggested the Taliban may have committed “war crimes” and accused that group of “massacring” civilians when it captured the southern border town of Spin Boldak, in Kandahar Province, in July.
U.S.-led international combat troops are on an accelerated timeline to complete their withdrawal by the end of this month despite a stalemate in intra-Afghan peace talks and the Taliban's capture of dozens of districts since May 1.
The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told Radio Azadi in an exclusive interview that all parties to the fighting should prioritize national interests and return to peace talks to avoid plunging the country more deeply into war.
"The peace talks that began after the [so-called Qatar agreement in February 2020] have not progressed much and the two sides are focusing more on a military solution," Khalilzad said. "It's time for the leaders to take the talks more seriously instead of thinking they can resolve the issue through war...and to prioritize more quickly reaching an agreement."
In the western city of Herat, a hospital source was quoted as saying it had received 24 dead and nearly 200 wounded in the past six days.
The United States and EU states on August 3 condemned what it called a "deplorable attack on the United Nations Compound in Herat that resulted in a tragic death as well as the subsequent violent incidents involving the UN compound on [July 31]."
It blamed Taliban militants and said the violence contravened peace talks in Doha, where Afghan government and Taliban representatives have been stalemated for months.
"The Taliban must stop denying their involvement in human rights violations and follow the rule of law to investigate and prosecute those responsible in their ranks," the EU/U.S. statement said.
A source in Kandahar's health department said 28 deaths and nearly 200 people injured by the fighting had been registered in the past 10 days.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the current situation on what he said was an "abrupt" U.S. decision to withdraw its forces, a move that followed a pledge in a U.S.-Taliban agreement last year.
But Ghani said his government had a plan to bring conditions under control within six months and that the United States supported the scheme.
An Afghan former translator for the U.S. military was reportedly assassinated in front of his home in the eastern city of Jalalabad on August 2, another apparent revenge killing against those who assisted the U.S.-led presence in Afghanistan.
The United States on August 2 announced an expansion of its ability to evacuate and resettle at-risk Afghans in the final weeks before the completion of its withdrawal.
Based on reporting by dpa, AFP