Seeking an end to the Taliban’s attacks on Afghan provincial capitals, the UN envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, on Friday said the UN Security Council should issue a statement against such an attempt by the group as the human toll of this strategy is extremely distressing and the political message is even more deeply disturbing.
Addressing the UN Security Council’s special meeting on Afghanistan’s situation, the UN envoy said Afghanistan is now at a dangerous turning point, adding that ahead lies either a genuine peace negotiation or a tragically intertwined set of crises: an increasingly brutal conflict combined with an acute humanitarian situation and multiplying human rights abuses.
In the past weeks, the war in Afghanistan has entered a new, deadlier, and more destructive phase. The Taliban campaign during June and July to capture rural areas has achieved significant territorial gains. From this strengthened position they have begun to attack the larger cities.
"This is now a different kind of war, reminiscent of Syria recently or Sarajevo in the not-so-distant past. To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties," she said.
Lyons said that today she focused on the war against cities because 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.
“It would also recognize that they cannot risk the destruction of infrastructure that would be badly needed to rebuild the country once an agreement is reached. It should be made clear to the Taliban political commission that the exemptions to the travel ban and the high protocol with which they have been received by many of the countries were, in fact, predicated on a commitment and progress in the peace process,” she said.
According to her, 40 civilians were killed in Spin Boldak district in Kandahar after it was captured by the Taliban.
In Lashkargah city, the capital of Helmand province, she said that “at least 104 civilians were killed and 403 wounded since July 28."
“In Kandahar, since the start of the offensive there, on 9 July, a month ago, more than 460 civilian casualties have been registered. Further to the west, in and around Herat, UNAMA has credible reports of over 135 civilian casualties from the onset of the Taliban offensive,” she said.
She said that there have been over 1,000 casualties last month.
Lyons said that despite expectations that the withdrawal of foreign forces would lead to a reduction in violence, but the level of civilian casualties has increased by 50 percent.
“There is a striking contrast between the activity on the battlefield and the quiet stalemate at the negotiation table in Doha—where we should be seeing the opposite: quiet on the battlefield and engagement around the negotiating table,” she said.
The appeal from the UN envoy comes at a time that the Taliban has significantly increased their attacks on Afghan provincial capitals.