UN Envoy Warns of a ‘Deadlier Phase’ as Taliban Make Major Advances

On Friday, August 6th, the United Nations’ special envoy for Afghanistan has made clear to the UN Security Council that the war in Afghanistan has entered a more destructive phase. Violence continues to engulf Afghanistan as the Taliban make further advances in the wake of foreign withdrawal. Late last week, it was announced that the Taliban captured two provincial capitals – Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province, fell to the Taliban on August 6th, and Sheberghan, the capital of Jawzjan province, fell on August 7th. Three more capitals were seized on Sunday the 8th.

Deborah Lyons, the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, told the United Nations Security Council that the conflict has entered a “deadlier and more destructive” phase, with more than 1,000 civilians killed in the past month. “To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties,” Lyons told the Security Council on Friday. “Nonetheless, the threatening of large urban areas appears to be a strategic decision by the Taliban, who have accepted the likely carnage that will ensue.” The Taliban’s decision to continue with these attacks threatened the peace process, with Lyons noting, “A party that was genuinely committed to a negotiated settlement would not risk so many civilian casualties, because it would understand that the process of reconciliation will be more challenging, the more blood is shed.”

Representatives of the nations on the Security Council made clear their disdain for the conflict, but as of writing have not offered any further support to the Afghan government. British diplomats pledged that the nation would not recognize a Taliban government that came to power by force, while senior US diplomats said they “would not accept a military takeover of Afghanistan or a return of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate.” However, the actions that these nations would take to prevent such an event are unclear. It is unlikely that Britain or the United States would be willing to recommit their forces to Afghanistan so soon after withdrawing. Instead, the imposition of sanctions on the Taliban would be the likely outcome.

Fighting in Afghanistan has been escalating for months. Since May of this year, when American and other foreign forces commenced their withdrawal from the nation, the Taliban has grown increasingly bold. Over the previous weekend, the group has managed to seize 5 provincial capitals and has also claimed credit for an attack in Kabul that killed the government’s top media and information officer. Crucially, the recent violence has been waged in major urban centers, giving the Taliban nominal control over vast swathes of the country. However, the seizure of these cities does not necessarily mean the Taliban has the upper hand in the war.

Ahmad Shuja Jamal, head of international affairs at Afghanistan’s National Security Council, told Al Jazeera that the Taliban lacks the capacity to hold the provincial capitals it captured. However, the group’s asymmetrical warfare involving mines and street-by-street combat was time-consuming to combat. “The sad reality of this ground-changing hands, and the push for the Taliban to enter these areas that have been peaceful till this moment, is that civilians are really bearing the brunt of all of this,” Jamal said. He further stated that “Approximately two-thirds of the casualties have been women and children and that speaks to the Taliban’s modus operandi which is that they’re using civilian homes to hide but also launching attacks and that is creating a terrible toll for civilians.”

Indeed, this is the crucial issue at hand – while the world looks on, Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence. Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador has urged the Security Council to act, citing reports of human rights violations by the Taliban. Such violations are only likely to continue. While there is perhaps some truth to the notion, oft-cited by foreign leaders and policymakers, that only Afghanistan can resolve its conflict, this does not mean the members of the Security Council can sit idly by. As Afghan families continue to flee the violence, and a refugee crisis grows, condemnation of the Taliban and refusal to recognize their rule fails to appropriately meet the demands of this international crisis.