The Taliban is executing Afghan government troops who surrender, the US has claimed, in just the latest warning of atrocities being perpetrated by jihadist fighters in areas they have seized.
‘We’re hearing additional reports of Taliban executions of surrendering Afghan troops,’ the US embassy in Kabul tweeted on Thursday. ‘Deeply disturbing & could constitute war crimes.’
It was not immediately clear where the new reports had come from. Video taken in Faryab province last month did appear to show Taliban fighters massacring 22 Afghan commandos after they had surrendered, including the son of a well-known general.
Hundreds of government troops have surrendered to the Taliban since fighting escalated in May with the withdrawal of US troops – some without firing a shot, others after being cut off and surrounded with little or no chance of reinforcement or resupply from the government in Kabul.
The Taliban has now seized around two third of the country from the government in a little over three months, with ten cities falling to the jihadists in the last week alone – while several others are on the verge of being captured.
In an attempt to stop the bloodletting, Afghan diplomats in Qatar said they had approached the Taliban with a deal today that would see the group included in a national unity government in return for halting the fighting.
But such talks have been stalled for years over ‘unreasonable Taliban demands to turn the country into an Islamic emirate – and there is little reason to believe they will have softened that stance after their battlefield triumphs.
The Taliban has taken the city of Ghanzi, just 80 miles south of the capital Kabul, meaning Islamist fighters now control the main highways leading both north and south out of the city
Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand, appears on the verge of falling to the Islamists after a huge IED explosion destroyed part of the police headquarters on Wednesday and allowed fighters to capture it
Earlier today, it was announced the jihadists had tken the city of Ghazni, located just 80 miles from Kabul and along the main highway to the south. The Taliban already controls the main highway going north, and is tightening the noose on what could soon become Ghani’s last stronghold.
The Taliban is now thought to control two thirds of the country, with the government in retreat in almost every region except Kabul – one of the only cities not yet under direct attack.
Capturing Ghazni also cuts a supply route from the capital to the besieged cities of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, and Khandahar – both of which appear on the verge of falling into Taliban hands.
The jihadists said Lashkar Gah was briefly captured on Wednesday, but later revised to say that fighting is still ongoing and the city is not fully under their control.
A huge IED exploded near the main police headquarters yesterday, sending a plume of smoke into the sky and partially destroying the outer walls – allowing Taliban fighters to stream inside.
Multiple police officers were killed, the jihadists said, but some government troops managed to escape the slaughter and made it to the governor’s office, where they have resumed their fight.
Nasima Niazi, a lawmaker from Helmand, said she believed the Taliban attack killed and wounded security force members, but she had no casualty breakdown.
Another suicide car bombing targeted the provincial prison, but the government still held it, she said.
In Kandahar, the Taliban claimed to have captured the city’s prison on Wednesday, freeing ‘hundreds’ of inmates which including some of its own fighters, who have now rejoined the ranks as reinforcements.
The loss of the jail is an ominous sign for government forces defending the city, which has been besieged for weeks by an assault that shows no sign of letting up.
Afghan security forces and the government have not responded to repeated requests for comment over the days of fighting.
However, President Ashraf Ghani is trying to rally a counteroffensive relying on his country’s special forces, the militias of warlords and American airpower ahead of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal at the end of the month.
He was in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in the country’s traditionally anti-Taliban northern strongholds, on Wednesday in an attempt to rally his men as jihadists approached its outskirts with a major offensive expected soon.
Fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians who have fled their homes, with thousands of those heading for the safety of government-held Kabul (pictured)
A woman carries her child through a refugee camp in the Afghan capital of Kabul where thousands are now living after being displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country
Children forced to flee their homes due to fighting in Afghanistan drink tea as they sit in a refugee camp in Kabul
Young boys rest in a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, after fleeing fighting elsewhere in the country
Makeshift camps are springing up around Kabul to house thousands of refugees who have fled their homes due to fighting
Families rest in a camp in Kabul after they fled their homes due to fear of the Taliban and sought shelter in government areas
While Kabul itself has not been directly threatened in the advance, the stunning speed of the offensive raises questions of how long the Afghan government can maintain control of the slivers of the country it has left.
The government may eventually be forced to pull back to defend the capital and just a few other cities as thousands displaced by the fighting fled to Kabul and now live in open fields and parks.
With the Afghan air power limited and in disarray, the U.S. Air Force is believed to be carrying out some series of strikes to support Afghan forces.
Aviation tracking data suggested U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers, F-15 fighter jets, drones and other aircraft were involved in the fighting overnight across the country, according to Australia-based security firm The Cavell Group.
It’s unclear what casualties the U.S. bombing campaign has caused. The U.S. Air Force’s Central Command, based in Qatar, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The success of the Taliban offensive also calls into question whether they would ever rejoin long-stalled peace talks in Qatar aimed at moving Afghanistan toward an inclusive interim administration as the West hoped.
Instead, the Taliban appears to aim to seize power by force – or the country could splinter into factional fighting like it did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
In Doha, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met with diplomats from China, Pakistan and Russia in an effort to as a group warn the Taliban they could again be considered international pariahs if they continue their offensive, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Khalizad also plans to meet with Afghan government and Taliban officials as the fighting goes on without a sign of it abating.
The multiple battle fronts have stretched the government’s special operations forces – while regular troops have often fled the battlefield – and the violence has pushed thousands of civilians to seek safety in the capital.
The latest U.S. military intelligence assessment is that Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a couple of months.
A family including women and children rest at a makeshift camp in the Afghan capital of Kabul after fleeing fighting
An internally displaced Afghan family, who fled from Takhar province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sits inside their temporary tent at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul
Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, walk past their temporary tents at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul
A woman carries her children through a camp for refugees in the Afghan capital of Kabul