UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ urban warfare on Kabul’s streets

World body is not evacuating staff from Afghanistan but has scaled back to a ‘light footprint' where Taliban make gains

This picture taken on October 8, 2017 shows Afghan school girls looking on as they receive pens and bags from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) at a school in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province. / AFP PHOTO / NOOR MOHAMMAD

The UN on Friday warned of the “catastrophic” prospect of pitched battles on the streets of Kabul as Taliban fighters pushed towards the capital city after making lightning gains across Afghanistan.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric described the “horrendous prospect” of fighting in and around the government-held Afghan capital, where some 120,000 civilians had fled so far this year as the Taliban made gains elsewhere in rural areas and provincial capitals.

The hard-line Islamist group has in recent days seized Afghanistan’s second- and third-largest cities, Kandahar and Herat, as government forces melted away, stoking fears that an assault on Kabul could be days away.

“Urban warfare in Kabul will be catastrophic,” Mr Dujarric told reporters.

“The mission has already pointed out the horrendous impact on civilians of urban warfare in Kandahar, in Lashkar Gah. One can only imagine with horror what it would look like in Kabul, a city whose population is increasing on a regular basis because of the fighting going on outside.”

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres meanwhile said fighting in Afghanistan was “spinning out of control”, and warned that attacks on civilians, which have claimed some 1,000 lives this past month, may amount to war crimes.

He criticised “indiscriminate” strikes on civilians during recent Taliban offensives in Helmand, Kandahar and Herat provinces, warning the hardliners that military conquest would earn the group a global pariah status.

“The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition,” Mr Guterres told reporters.

The UN is evaluating the security situation in Afghanistan on “an hour-by-hour basis” but has not yet begun removing any staff from the country, said Mr Dujarric. The UN has had a “light footprint” in Taliban-held areas and is relocating some staff to Kabul from elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said fighting in Afghanistan was “spinning out of control”, and warned that attacks on civilians, which have claimed some 1,000 lives this past month, may amount to war crimes.

He criticised “indiscriminate” strikes on civilians during recent Taliban offensives in Helmand, Kandahar and Herat provinces, warning the hardliners that military conquest would earn the group a global pariah status.

“The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition,” Mr Guterres told reporters.

“That can only lead to prolonged civil war or to the complete isolation of Afghanistan.”

The head of the UN’s political unit, Rosemary DiCarlo, said on social media that civilians were “bearing the brunt of the violence” and urged central government and Taliban negotiators to work harder on a peace deal.

“One thing is clear from the country’s recent history: durable peace and development will not be achieved militarily,” Ms DiCarlo posted on Twitter.

“We're ready to contribute to a negotiated settlement.”

UN agencies on Friday warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan as Taliban advances continued to drive tens of thousands of people from their homes, driving up the possibility of widespread hunger.

“We fear the worst is yet to come and the larger tide of hunger is fast approaching … The situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe,” the World Food Programme's Tomson Phiri told a UN briefing.

At least 18 million Afghans are facing hunger because of the recent wave of violence, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said on Wednesday at an event hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank.

“We expect more from our regional and international partners,” he said.

Department of State spokesman Ned Price told MSNBC that the US is prepared to help Afghanistan's most vulnerable who are reportedly being targeted by the Taliban.

As the hardliners close in on Kabul, Mr Price said the Taliban has “no intention of targeting diplomatic facilities,” responding to reports the US is asking the Taliban to spare the embassy.

Updated: August 13th 2021, 11:56 PM
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