US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to hold talks in Doha where he will "press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement," says State Department.
The US negotiator on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, "will press the Taliban to stop their military offensive" at talks in Doha this week, the State Department has said after the insurgents seized a series of provincial capitals.
"Ambassador Khalilzad will be in Doha to help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan," the department added in a statement late on Monday.
"In several planned rounds of meetings over three days, representatives from countries in the region and beyond as well as from multilateral organisations will press for a reduction of violence and ceasefire and a commitment not to recognise a government imposed by force," it said.
The Taliban have captured the key northern provincial capital of Kunduz, making it the fifth to fall under their control.— TRT World (@trtworld) August 9, 2021
Here's why Kunduz city is of strategic importance pic.twitter.com/i0qfjPoxPf
US says it's up to Afghans to defend country
Meanwhile, United States said it was up to Afghan security forces to defend the country after Taliban fighters captured a sixth provincial capital, along with border towns and trade routes.
President Joe Biden has said the US military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31, arguing that the Afghan people must decide their own future and that he would not consign another generation of Americans to the 20-year war.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States was deeply concerned about the fighting but that Afghan security forces had the capability to fight the insurgent group.
"These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend and it's really going to come down to the leadership that they're willing to exude here at this particular moment," Kirby said.
Asked what the US military can do if the Afghan security forces are not putting up a fight, Kirby said: "Not much."
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while the military had warned Biden earlier this year that provincial capitals would fall with a withdrawal of troops, they were still surprised at how quickly some of them were being taken by the Taliban.
The United States carried out less than a dozen strikes over the weekend as the Taliban overran the provincial capitals, in one instance simply destroying equipment.
One official said the Afghan forces did not ask for any support as Kunduz was being overtaken.
The Taliban escalates its offensive in Afghanistan after rejecting international calls for a ceasefire, capturing six provincial capitals since Friday pic.twitter.com/rsYuKTSBT2— TRT World (@trtworld) August 9, 2021
Multiple cities fall to Taliban
The Taliban, fighting after their 2001 ouster, have stepped up their campaign to defeat the government as foreign forces withdraw.
On Monday, they took Aybak, capital of the northern province of Samangan.
The insurgents took three provincial capitals over the weekend –– Zaranj in the southern province of Nimroz, Sar-i-Pul, in the northern province of the same name, and Taloqan, in northeastern Takhar province.
They had already taken the northern provincial capital of Kunduz and Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.
Beleaguered Afghan army
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, doubted that the United States had the means to turn the tide now that it is withdrawing.
"I fear that the Taliban is just so strong and the Afghan military is so beleaguered right now, it's going to be hard to find some type of momentum changer from the US," he said.
Aaron David Miller, a veteran US policymaker now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that air strikes cannot win the war.
"All they can do is maybe stop from outright losing one –– an unacceptable outcome that has basically been the story of US policy there for two decades," he wrote on Twitter.