Afghanistan becoming a failed state is ‘one of the scenarios that could occur’ unless government forces can resist the Taliban, the head of the UK’s armed forces said today.
General Sir Nick Carter said the Afghan forces had to reach a military stalemate with the Taliban, at which point peace talks could occur.
The Chief of the Defence Staff also warned the international community not to legitimise the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has recently held talks with senior figures in China.
In recent days there has been intense fighting for Lashkar Gah, the capital of blood-soaked Helmand province, as well as bombings targeting politicians in Kabul, in growing signs that the Taliban are intent on overthrowing the government.
In a bitter irony the jihadist commander leading the assault on Lashkar Gah, Mawlavi Talib, was released with 5,000 fighters in a deal with the United States last year.
Private militia loyal to Ismail Khan, the former Mujahideen commander patrols after security forces took back control of parts of Herat city following intense battle with Taliban militants, in Herat, Afghanistan, on Wednesday
Children displaced by fighting between the Afghan army and the Taliban await relief as they live in temporary shelters in Kandahar on Wednesday
General Sir Nick Carter (pictured speaking to Andrew Marr last month) said the Afghan forces had to reach a military stalemate with the Taliban, at which point peace talks could occur
Now the Afghan forces, backed by the US, have launched air strikes in a last ditch effort to hang onto the Helmand stronghold.
The fall of Lashkar Gah would be a major turning point in the offensive the Taliban have waged over the recent months as US and Nato forces complete their pullout from the war-torn country.
Helmand province was the location for some of the fiercest fighting involving British troops during the Afghanistan war, with Lashkar Gah the site of a major military base.
Asked whether Afghanistan could again become a failed state, Gen Carter said: ‘That is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they are trying to do.
‘And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognise that they can’t – in inverted commas – conquer Afghanistan.
‘There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.’
Gen Carter told BBC Radio 4’s Today there was a ‘real risk’ that ‘we’re giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement’.
‘There is a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly, and what he’s doing publicly in travelling around countries like Russia and China, and so on and so forth, and a disparity between what’s actually happening on the ground.
Afghan security officials stand guard outside the house of acting Defense minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi, after an overnight explosion and attack, in Kabul on Wednesday
Ismail Khan (C), the former Mujahideen commander talks with supporters as security forces and Khan’s loyal armed militia took back control of parts of Herat city following intense battle with Taliban militants, in Herat
In some places the fighting has been fierce, with Taliban fighters scoring major battlefield victories. In others, government forces have fled or surrendered
‘And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they are threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.’
He said there have been ‘grisly videos of war crimes’ and ‘we mustn’t let them get away with this – we’ve got to call them out’.
Gen Carter also acknowledged the UK had a ‘huge moral responsibility’ to the Afghans who helped British troops by acting as translators.
There was a ‘serious moral commitment that we have to those who’ve helped us’, he said, with no cap on the numbers who can come forward for help.
Four dead – including several attackers – and 20 hurt after gun and bomb assaults targeting defence minister in Afghan capital Kabul
By Chris Pleasance and Lauren Lewis
- A car bomb followed by several blasts and gunshots shook Kabul on Tuesday
- Officials say the residence of the acting defence minister came under attack
- Minister was not in guesthouse at the time and his family have been evacuated
- Came as Taliban attack regional capitals in Afghanistan after US forces withdrew
- Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand, has been hardest hit as parts of city centre fall
- General Sami Sadat, the commander in charge of city’s defence has urged civilians to evacuate ahead of an army offensive against the Taliban
- He also warned victory for the Islamists would inspire terror groups worldwide
- ‘This is a war between liberty and totalitarianism ,’ General Sami Sadat said
Four people have been killed and 20 wounded in a coordinated bomb and gun attack targeting the Afghan defence minister and several lawmakers.
The wave of blasts, which Washington said bore the ‘hallmarks’ of the Taliban, came on Tuesday near the heavily fortified Green Zone, as the Afghan army urged residents to evacuate a besieged southern city ahead of a planned offensive against the insurgents after three days of heavy fighting.
Violence has surged across the country since early May when the Taliban launched a nationwide offensive soon after the US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
Security officials told AFP news agency that four people were killed and 20 others wounded in Tuesday’s attack, with medical charity Emergency saying four bodies of people killed in the assault had been brought to its facility in Kabul.
The interior ministry said the attack had been successfully repelled and all the attackers had been killed by security forces.
‘A big number of people were rescued and the area is secured now,’ spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai told reporters.
The first bomb blew up in central Kabul late on Tuesday, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky, AFP correspondents reported.
A powerful car bomb followed by several blasts and gunfire rocked the Afghan capital on Tuesday. Pictured: A plume of smoke rises over Kabul after the car bomb exploded
The wave of blasts hit not far from the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission, and came as the Afghan army urged residents to evacuate a besieged southern city ahead of a planned offensive against Taliban insurgents after three days of heavy fighting
Less than two hours after the car bomb detonated, another loud blast followed by smaller explosions and rapid gunfire again shook Kabul, in what appeared to be the same area of the city
Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said it was a suicide car bomb attack targeting his house.
‘Unfortunately some of my guards are wounded,’ he added in a video message.
Less than two hours after the car bomb detonated, another loud blast followed by smaller explosions and rapid gunfire again shook Kabul, also near the high-security Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission.
A security source said several attackers had stormed a lawmaker’s house after setting off the car bomb and were also shooting at the residence of the defence minister from there.
‘Several lawmakers were meeting at the house of this MP to make a plan to counter the Taliban offensive in the north,’ the source told AFP.
No group has yet claimed the attack, but Washington has pointed the finger at the Taliban.
‘We’re not in a position to attribute it officially just yet but of course it does bear all the hallmarks of the spate of Taliban attacks that we have seen in recent weeks,’ State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
‘We unequivocally condemn the bombing, and we continue to stand by our [Afghan] partners.’
Security officials told AFP news agency that four people were killed and 20 others wounded in Tuesday’s attack, with medical charity Emergency saying four bodies of people killed in the assault had been brought to its facility in Kabul
Acting Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi appeared to have been targeted in an attack but was taken to safety. All roads leading to the minister’s house and guesthouse were closed, he said
The Islamic Sate group has claimed some recent attacks in Kabul but most have gone unclaimed, with the government blaming the Taliban and the Taliban blaming the government.
Hundreds of residents in the area were moved to safety, said Ferdaws Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief. He said earlier that security personnel were searching house to house should more attackers be hiding in the area.
Even as the blasts and gunfire rocked the city, crowds of people marched down Kabul’s streets and took to rooftops chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘Death to the Taliban’ in support of Afghan forces battling the insurgents in three regional capitals.
‘We are in support of Afghan forces and all those who are against the Taliban and fighting on the frontlines,’ said Karim, a resident of Kabul who gave only one name.
The insurgents’ assaults on the cities of Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat since last week have come after they seized control of much of rural Afghanistan, and foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal from the country in May.
The explosions in Kabul came as the general charged with defending one of Afghanistan‘s major cities against the Taliban urged civilians to evacuate the besieged provincial capital ahead of a major army offensive.
General Sami Sadat, whose troops are manning barricades in the city of Lashkar Gah, said civilians should ‘leave as soon as possible so that we can start our operation’.
‘I know it is very difficult for you to leave your houses – it is hard for us too – but if you are displaced for a few days please forgive us,’ he added.
‘We are fighting the Taliban wherever they are. We will fight them and… we will not leave a single Taliban alive.’
It came hours after Sadat warned of ‘devastating’ consequences if the Islamists claim victory.
Afghan police are searching door to door for attackers following the series of explosions in Kabul
The explosions in Kabul came as the general charged with defending one of Afghanistan ‘s major cities against the Taliban urged civilians to evacuate the besieged provincial capital ahead of a major army offensive
He spoke out amid five days of continual fighting that has seen Taliban fighters seize districts in the city centre, raising fears it could be the first provincial capital to fall.
Sadat had warned a win for the Taliban will inspire terror groups across the globe and could spark a renewed wave of attacks in Europe and America.
‘This is not a war of Afghanistan, this is a war between liberty and totalitarianism,’ the commander warned.
Officials said insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah, leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.
Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in the city said fighting was ‘intense’ on Tuesday morning with US and Afghan air force plans pounding Taliban positions.
He added fighting was ongoing near the city’s prison and a building housing the headquarters of police and intelligence agencies.
At least 40 civilians have been killed and more than 100 wounded in the last 24 hours of fighting in the southern city, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The general charged with defending Lashkar Gah against a Taliban assault (pictured) has warned of devastating consequences for global security if the Islamists claim victory
Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, has been under attack for five days with Taliban fighters capturing parts of the city centre (pictured)
The commander in charge of Lashkar Gah’s defences has urged civilians to evacuate ahead of an army offensive against the Taliban
In a tweet, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan expressed ‘deepening concern’ at the plight of civilians in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, urging an ‘immediate end to fighting in urban areas’.
The Taliban have been on the march in Afghanistan for months, capturing swathes of countryside from government forces as the US and NATO withdrew.
In some places the fighting has been fierce, with Taliban fighters scoring major battlefield victories. In others, government forces have fled or surrendered.
In recent days, the US military has intensified air strikes across the country in a bid to stem Taliban advances.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
President Ashraf Ghani and his allies have attempted to portray the retreat as tactical – saying the government is massing forces in cities which are easier to defend and vital for overall control of the country.
But that is now being put to the test, with a major Taliban assault on those regional capitals which had long been expected beginning at the weekend.
Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province which is the Taliban’s historic stronghold, has been the hardest-hit – with fighting there now in its fifth day.
Explosions were seen near police headquarters, the provincial governor’s compound and the city’s main prison on Monday, according to TOLO News.
Despite major gains by the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, General Sadat told the BBC that he is confident the Islamists will not take the city, believing they cannot sustain the ferocity of their current attack.
But he was sufficiently worried to issue a warning to world leaders about what could happen, if the city falls into their hands.
‘This will increase the hope for small extremist groups to mobilise in the cities of Europe and America, and will have a devastating effect on global security,’ he said.
Also hit were the cities of Kandahar – also in Helmand – and Herat, in the north west.
In Herat hundreds of residents chanted ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is greatest) from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault.
Afghan officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several areas of that city – including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.
Another official said US warplanes had carried out air strikes, but that could not be confirmed.
Addressing parliament in Kabul on Monday, President Ghani blamed a hasty retreat by American and NATO forces while peace talks were still underway between his government and the Taliban for destabilizing the country.
He then urged ministers to back to a ‘national mobilisation’ drive to bolster the armed forces and drive the Taliban back, predicting a ‘sea change’ in the conflict in the next six months, though did not elaborate further.
Afghan security personnel patrol the deserted streets of Lashkar Gah, a city under siege by the Taliban, on Tuesday
The streets of Lashkar Gah were deserted on Tuesday as the Taliban continued their advance towards the provincial capital
Ghani has been forced to turn to regional warlords for support in the fighting, which analysts have warned could drag the country back into a civil war of the kind seen in the 1990s – from which the Taliban first emerged.
He also insisted that his Afghan forces are up to the task and have the ‘capacity’ to defeat the insurgents.
But in past weeks, the army has struggled against the Taliban onslaught and have often been left without reinforcements and resupplies.
Hours after the president’s remarks, Taliban fighters seized control of Helmand province’s government radio and TV building in Lashkar Gah.
Resident Haji Sadullah said they broadcast religious songs and invited people to follow their path for close to an hour on both AM and FM frequencies,
The building is located 400 yards to the north of the provincial governor’s office.
‘Taliban were announcing that Radio Sharia started broadcasting after almost 20 years,’ Sadullah said.
On Sunday, the Afghan armed forces spokesman, Gen. Ajmal Omar Shinwari, told reporters that three provinces in southern and western Afghanistan face critical security situations.
Southern Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taliban – as well as Helmand and Herat provinces have witnessed several attacks.
Helmand provincial council chief Attaullah Afghan said the Taliban now have control of Lashkar Gah’s seventh district.
On Monday, elite Afghan commando units were dispatched to help defend the city.
‘There has been relentless gunfire, air strikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,’ said Sarah Leahy, Helmand coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.
The group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, said in a statement Monday that life in Lashkar Gah was at a standstill as residents hunker down inside their homes, afraid to venture out.
‘Some of our colleagues are staying overnight in the hospital as it’s safer, but also so they can keep on treating patients,’ the organization said. ‘The situation has been dire for months but now it is even worse.’
Faizullah, who like many other Afghans goes by one name, told The Associated Press over the phone that he fled Lashkar Gah with his family and was now following the Helmand River to safety.
Clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces have intensified, he said, and ‘Afghan security forces are out of supplies and food in the city.’
Taliban fighters have also attacked Herat (pictured), in the north west of the country, and Kandahar in the south
Back in Kabul, Ghani claimed his government has the financial and political support of the United States and the international community to turn the tide even as he urged the insurgents to rejoin peace talks.
‘We either sit knee to knee at the real negotiating table or break their (Taliban) knees on the battleground’ Ghani said.
Washington and London have lashed out at the Taliban, accusing them of committing atrocities that may amount to ‘war crimes’ in the town of Spin Boldak, which the insurgents captured last month along the border with Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission earlier said the insurgents had indulged in revenge killings there, leaving at least 40 people dead.
‘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.
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken also slammed the militant leaders.
An Afghanistan without a democratic, inclusive government would be a ‘pariah state,’ he said, adding that the international recognition the group wants will not be possible if it ‘seeks to take the country by force and commits the kind of atrocities that have been reported.’
Fighting across the country, meanwhile, has displaced around 80,000 children from the start of June, humanitarian organisation Save the Children said on Tuesday, adding that many schools and health facilities had also been damaged.