US, UK accuse Taliban of ‘war crimes’ in south Afghan town

The countries say alleged atrocities must be investigated and Taliban fighters be held accountable.

Afghan security forces deployed and start operations against the Taliban around the Torkham border point between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, July 23, 2021 [File: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

The United States and the United Kingdom have accused the Taliban of “war crimes” in the southern town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province, alleging that dozens of civilians were “massacred”.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has presented a security plan to challenge the Taliban onslaught before the country’s parliament, but its details have not been made public.

The Afghan army has said three provinces in southern and western Afghanistan are facing “critical” security situations as fighting intensifies between the Taliban and Afghan forces.

Fighting in the war-torn South Asian country has escalated as US and NATO troops plan to complete their withdrawal by August 31 after 20 years of war.

The Taliban is trying to seize provincial capitals after already taking smaller administrative districts in recent months.

Here were the updates from Monday:

Situation now ‘worse’: MSF

International aid organisation Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) said fighting between Afghan government forces and the Taliban has intensified in urban areas with the situation now becoming “worse”.

“There has been relentless gunfire, air strikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,” Sarah Leahy, coordinator of the MSF Helmand project said in a statement by the group.

Leahy said her colleagues were now staying overnight at the hospitals due to safety reasons but also to keep treating patients. “The situation has been dire for months but now it is even worse.”

US to evacuate journalists, aid workers from Afghanistan

The US State Department said it is widening the scope of Afghans eligible for refugee status in the US to include current and former employees of the US-based news organisations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive US funding.

Current and former employees of the US government and the NATO military operation who do not meet the criteria for a dedicated programme for such workers are also covered.

However, the move comes with a caveat: applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process that may take 12-14 months in a third country, and the US does not intend to support their departures or stays there.

Taliban ‘unlikely’ to agree to ceasefire demands

As Taliban forces continue to claim new territories in many parts of the country, it was “unlikely that they would agree to a ceasefire”, Al Jazeera’s Rosalind Jordan reported from Washington, DC.

“Unless there is some sort of breakthrough in diplomatic talks under way in Doha, it’s unlikely that the Taliban is going to stop what it’s doing. There wasn’t even a ceasefire over the recent Eid-ul-Adha holiday,” she said, speaking from the US State Department.

For months, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban have been meeting intermittently in the Qatari capital, but have achieved little, if any, notable success.

Afghan security forces start operations against the Taliban around the Torkham border point between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Nangarhar province [Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

President Ghani ‘not talking about solutions’

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said while President Ashraf Ghani was addressing the security problems in the country, he was “not really talking about solutions”, causing concern among members of the international community.

“We have not heard a detailed plan … I’ve spoken to many members of the international community and diplomats here [Kabul], who are concerned. They believe the president really does need to set out a plan – not only a plan in order to execute it, to solve the military problems on the ground, but also because they say the Afghan people need to hear that he has a plan because morale is slumping,” Bays said.

He said there were many supporters of the president who perhaps felt the Taliban has the “upper hand and may be winning”.

US, UK accuse Taliban of ‘war crimes’

The United States and the United Kingdom accused the Taliban of atrocities that may amount to “war crimes” in the town of Spin Boldak, which the fighters captured last month along the border with Pakistan.

“The Taliban massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings. These murders could constitute war crimes,” the embassies of Washington and London said in separate tweets.

“The Taliban’s leadership must be held responsible for the crimes of their fighters. If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later.”

The diplomatic lashing comes after Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission said the fighters had indulged in revenge killings in Spin Boldak.

“After taking over Spin Boldak district, the Taliban chased and identified past and present government officials and killed these people who had no combat role in the conflict,” the group said, adding at least 40 people had been killed by the Taliban.

Russian and Uzbek militaries begin joint Afghan border drills

Troops from Russia and Uzbekistan began joint military drills on Monday near the Afghan border amid fears in both countries over a worsening security situation in Afghanistan that could spill over into Central Asia.

Russia said 1,500 Russian and Uzbek soldiers would take part in the five-day exercises that began at the Termez military site in Uzbekistan, the TASS news agency reported.

In a sign of how seriously Moscow is taking the potential threat from Afghanistan, it said it would send a much bigger military contingent to Tajikistan for separate trilateral exercises due to begin there later this week.

Those separate drills are due to take place from August 5 to 10, involving Russian, Uzbek and Tajik forces.

EU will not recognise Taliban if they gain power by force: Envoy

Thomas Nicholson, head of the European Union delegation to Afghanistan, was quoted by The Afghanistan Times as saying, “If Taliban rise to power militarily, the EU will not recognise them.”

He also said the bloc was trying to stay involved in the situation in the country as much as possible.

“We are clearly very concerned about the situation. We are trying to stay involved in Afghanistan as much as possible and will continue our development assistance. We will be involved politically, as well,” Nicholson said.

US to take in thousands of more Afghan refugees

The United States has said it will take in thousands of more Afghan refugees due to rising violence as the US ends its 20-year military involvement.

“In light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States,” the State Department said in a statement.

Seven Taliban killed in US air raid in Lashkar Gah: Ministry

The Afghan defence ministry reports that US air raids were conducted on Taliban targets in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

The ministry says seven Taliban fighters were killed in the attack.

It also said the government forces started clearance operations in the western city of Herat, pledging to keep fighting until the Taliban are fully removed from Afghanistan’s third-largest city.

Taliban carries out deadly attack in Nangarhar

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said the fighting was intensifying particularly in Lashkar Gah.

“We are only getting occasional communications from the brave journalists on the ground who are supplying us with information in Lashkar Gah. But the latest information is that the Taliban, who we knew were in the heart of the city, are right now in the streets around the governor’s compound and the police chief’s base,” he said.

“In the east of the country, the Nangarhar province has also seen recent clashes, but there are different claims about the casualties. The Taliban said they carried out an attack and killed 10 soldiers and police. The government says, no – 14 Taliban were killed and only two of their security forces died in that attack.”

Ghani blames ‘abrupt’ US exit for worsening security

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has blamed the country’s deteriorating security on the United States deciding “abruptly” to withdraw its troops.

Presenting his security plan before the parliament, Ghani said the situation in the war-torn nation will be “under control within six months”, adding that the US has pledged its full support.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said Ghani “simply talked about a six-month security plan, saying that things will get better but there are no details to go with that”.

“I have spoken to the members of the international community, diplomats, who say he needs to announce a detailed security plan right now,” he said.

“They say it is important for the security forces so they have a plan, clearly to change things on the battlefield, but in some ways, it is more important for the morale of the Afghan people because they are fearful of more violence in the country.”

Read more here.

Taliban killing of Afghan pilots ‘worrisome’: US watchdog

Taliban assassinations of Afghan pilots this month mark another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting, a US government watchdog said in a report.

At least seven Afghan pilots have been assassinated off base in recent months, two senior Afghan government officials told the Reuters news agency, part of what the Taliban says is a campaign to see US-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated”.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in its quarterly report to Congress covering the three-month period through June, broadly portrayed an Afghan Air Force under growing strain from battling the Taliban amid the US withdrawal – and becoming less ready to fight.

Afghan security officials arrive in Herat as part of reinforcements to fight against the Taliban as they push to gain access to the city [Jalil Rezayee/EPA]

Taliban dismisses Ghani’s ‘all nonsense’ security plan

The Taliban has released a statement in response to President Ashraf Ghani’s address to the legislature, saying his “statements were all nonsense”.

“He was trying to control his own bad [mental] state and mistakes,” it said.

“The nation has decided to prosecute the national traitors and bring them to justice. Declarations of war, making accusations and providing false information cannot prolong Ghani’s life. His time is over, God willing.”

Afghan parliament backs Ghani’s security plan

The upper and lower houses of the Afghan parliament have released a joint statement after President Ashraf Ghani’s address, expressing their full support for his security plan.

They also declared their “firm” support to the republic, human rights, women’s rights and the freedom of speech.

The lawmakers also said they stand with the Afghan National Security Forces, “who sacrifice their lives for the nation”.

Armed Afghan security officials stand guard at a checkpoint in Pul-e Malan area of Guzara district in Herat [Jalil Rezayee/EPA]

Afghan president presents security plan to parliament

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has presented his security plan to the country’s parliament in Kabul, saying the situation in the nation will be under control within “six months”.

He also said that Washington has pledged their full support that plan, adding that the current situation in the country is the result of the “sudden” decision of international troops to withdraw from the country, but that “the protection of the people” is a duty he will carry on.

Ghani also called on both houses of parliament to support his security plan and to encourage the people of Afghanistan to do so.

At least three civilians killed in Kandahar

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said the fighting has continued overnight in Kandahar and there were fresh clashes in Spin Boldak, at the border with Pakistan.

“The most worrying for the Afghan government is that the fighting continues within the city walls of Kandahar. We understand that there have been air strikes there by the Afghan Air Force. The Afghan military are saying that at least 35 Taliban fighters were killed overnight. We don’t have a response from the Taliban,” he said.

“The other very worrying figure we have which comes from doctors at Mirwais hospital is that 18 people were injured and three were killed overnight, including women and children. So, the civilian casualties continue to mount.”

An armed supporter of former mujahideen commander Ismail Khan stands guard at a checkpoint in the Pul-e Malan area of Guzara district in Herat [Jalil Rezayee/EPA]

Russia to scale up military drills near Afghan border

Russia will send an additional contingent of 800 troops to take part in military exercises at the Afghan border and use two times more hardware there than originally planned, the Interfax news agency has reported, citing the defence ministry.

The drills, which are set to take place on August 5-10 and involve Uzbek and Tajik forces, come as the security situation rapidly deteriorates in Afghanistan amid a US troop withdrawal.

Russia said that 1,800 of its soldiers would take part in the drills, instead of 1,000 as initially planned. More than 2,500 troops would be involved in total, it said. Moscow will also use 420 units of military hardware for the drills, two times more than originally planned, it said.

Afghan president to address parliament

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani is expected to address the parliament shortly as fighting rages on across the country against Taliban forces.

Situation ‘critical’ in Helmand province: Afghan army

General Ajmal Omar Shinwari, spokesman for the Afghan army, on Sunday said the situation was particularly serious in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, where the army was planning to intercept Taliban movements and subsequently launch an offensive.

Provincial authorities in Helmand said the Taliban had increased its forces in Lashkar Gah on Sunday, confirming that the rebels now have control of the city’s seventh district.

The birthplace of the Taliban in southern Kandahar – as well as Helmand and Herat provinces – has been at the centre of some of the fighting.

US to begin new Afghan refugee programme: Reuters

The US Department of State is expected to announce a new programme to resettle certain Afghans as refugees in the US, an administration official and two knowledgeable sources say.

US President Joe Biden’s administration will launch the so-called “Priority Two” refugee programme on Monday, the three sources told the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies