White House tries to slow Taliban takeover by ‘strongly urging’ insurgents to focus on peace talks 


The White House on Friday urged the Taliban to focus on peace talks hours after insurgents murdered the head of the Afghan government’s media center and captured their first provincial capital.

The Islamist forces have made rapid gains across the country ever since President Biden announced he was bringing U.S. troops home.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki condemned the killing of Dawa Khan Menapal, director of the Government Media and Information Centre, and other attacks on officials.

‘Our view is that if the Taliban claim to want international legitimacy these actions are not going to get them the legitimacy they seek,’ she said during the regular daily briefing.

‘They do not have to stay on this trajectory. They can choose to devote the same energy to the peace process as they are to their military campaign.

‘We strongly urge them to do so. This is what the Afghan people so urgently need, deserve after decades of war.’

White House Press Secretary urged the Taliban to ‘strongly consider’ putting more energy into stalled peace talks – even as they continue their march across the country and U.S. forces complete their withdrawal. On Friday the Taliban captured their first provincial capital

Dawa Khan Menapal, director of Afghanistan's government media center, was ambushed and killed on Friday in the latest killing of an official just days after an assassination attempt on the country's acting defense minister

Dawa Khan Menapal, director of Afghanistan’s government media center, was ambushed and killed on Friday in the latest killing of an official just days after an assassination attempt on the country’s acting defense minister

Afghan security officials patrol Herat after they recaptured parts of city after an intense battle with Taliban fighters this week. Heavy fighting continues around a string of key cities

Afghan security officials patrol Herat after they recaptured parts of city after an intense battle with Taliban fighters this week. Heavy fighting continues around a string of key cities

Smoke rises from the city of Lashkar Gah after airstrikes against Taliban in Helmand province southern of Kabul, as U.S. warplanes fly in support of Afghan government forces

Smoke rises from the city of Lashkar Gah after airstrikes against Taliban in Helmand province southern of Kabul, as U.S. warplanes fly in support of Afghan government forces

U.S. troops are scheduled to complete their withdrawal by August 31, leaving Afghan government forces to battle insurgents emboldened by what they see as victory.

Leading experts on the country said the Taliban had no interest in talks.

‘These vacuous sentiments indicate that the White House is completely out of touch with what is happening in Afghanistan,’ said Toby Harnden, whose book First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11, is published next month.

‘The US withdrawal, announced without consulting our Afghan allies and without first securing a deal with the Taliban, makes the appeal to a “peace process” ridiculous. 

‘Why would the Taliban want to reach a peace settlement when the US has already accepted defeat and the White House has shown that it will stick to its timetable for withdrawal no matter how desperate the situation on the ground gets?’

On Friday, officials in southern Nimroz province said the capital Zaranj had been taken by the Taliban – marking their first capture of a provincial capital.

They now control more than half of the country’s 421 districts. 

But Psaki defended the withdrawal. She said Biden had made clear that the status quo was ‘not an option,’ and that after 20 years it was time for U.S. troops to come home.

‘He also feels and has stated that the Afghan government and the Afghan National Defense Forces have the training, equipment and numbers to prevail,’ she said.

Meanwhile talks in Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled.  

In recent days, U.S. warplanes have taken to the skies to help push back jihadists from other strategic cities, including Lashkar Gah in Helmand and Kandahar, but the Pentagon has yet to say whether it will keep flying air support missions after Aug. 31. 

Heavy fighting in Herat displaced hundreds of families as people left their houses to seek refuge in central parts of the city, mostly settling with relatives

Heavy fighting in Herat displaced hundreds of families as people left their houses to seek refuge in central parts of the city, mostly settling with relatives

Lisa Curtis, former National Security Council director for South and Central Asia, and now director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said Washington should be pushing for sanctions at the United Nations or stepping up the airstrikes further.

‘We need concrete actions not just words that clearly show that the U.S. and the international community in general will not stand by as the Taliban commits these atrocities and that we will judge the Taliban based on their actions,’ she said.

‘Clearly this shows that the Taliban are not interested in a peace process so we should not allow this illusion to continue.’

The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as foreign forces pull out. 

In a sign of the deteriorating security situation, the British government advised all nationals to leave the country on Friday.

‘All British nationals in Afghanistan are advised to leave now by commercial means,’ said a message on the The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s website.

‘If you are still in Afghanistan, you are advised to leave now by commercial means because of the worsening security situation.’



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