International community calls for 'urgent end' to Taliban offensive
More than a dozen diplomatic missions in Afghanistan on Monday called for "an urgent end" to the Taliban's ruthless military offensive, saying it was at odds with claims they want a negotiated settlement to end the conflict.
The statement -- signed by the US, EU, and over a dozen other missions in Kabul -- follows another round of inconclusive talks in Qatar over the weekend between the Afghan government and the Taliban that many hoped would kickstart the ailing peace process.
"It has resulted in loss of innocent Afghan lives, including through continued targeted killings, displacement of the civilian population, looting and burning of buildings, destruction of vital infrastructure, and damage to communication networks."
For months, the two sides have been meeting on and off in the Qatari capital, but have achieved little, if any, notable success -- with the discussions appearing to have lost momentum as the militants made enormous battlefield gains.
A joint statement released late Sunday said little more than they had agreed on the need to reach a "just solution", and to meet again "next week".
"We also agreed that there should be no pause in the negotiations," Abdullah Abdullah, who oversees the Afghan government's delegation, told AFP.
He noted, however, that neither side was currently pursuing a joint ceasefire during the talks, despite urgent calls from Afghan civil society and the international community to end the surge in fighting.
During the summit in Doha, the Taliban's supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada released his own statement saying he "strenuously favours" a political settlement -- even as the hardline Islamist movement continues its sweeping offensive across the nation.
Despite coming days ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday, the statement notably made no mention of a formal call for a ceasefire.
Over the years, the Taliban have announced a series of short truces during Islamic holidays, initially spurring hopes for a larger reduction of violence.
However, the group has been criticised for using the temporary ceasefires to resupply and reinforce their fighters, allowing them to launch devastating onslaughts on Afghanistan's security forces once the truce expires.
With foreign forces in the last stages of a withdrawal due to be complete by the end of August, the Taliban have cut a huge swath across Afghanistan, capturing hundreds of districts, seizing key border crossings and encircling provincial capitals.