The Taliban condemned the United States on Wednesday for what they described as “plain interference” in Afghanistan by offering to resettle Afghan civilians with affiliations to international forces who could be targeted by the insurgent group.
Washington on Monday announced the program that offers thousands of Afghan interpreters and translators, along with their families, a chance to relocate as refugees in America.
U.S. and NATO allies are just weeks away from winding down their military missions in the war-torn South Asian nation after 20 years. The troop withdrawal, however, has led to a record escalation in insurgent violence as the Taliban have overrun dozens of government-held districts.
“The offer of visas and encouragement to leave their home country by the U.S. government to Afghans who worked with the American occupation as interpreters and in other sectors is plain interference in our country which the Islamic Emirate [Taliban] condemns,” said a statement Wednesday.
The insurgent group renewed its pledge not to harm the Afghans in question following the end of “the American occupation” of the country.
“They may live comfortably in their homeland without any fear of threats. We urge the United States along with other countries to desist from such interventionist policies,” said the insurgent statement.
Washington, however, is not convinced and has increasingly denounced reports the Taliban are allegedly committing war crimes in their recent territorial advances.
“If the Taliban want their promises of safety to be taken seriously, then they cannot allow those they claim to protect to come to harm in this way,” the U.S. Embassy in Kabul tweeted Wednesday.
The statement came in response to reports that the insurgents entice Afghan security forces to surrender with assurances for their safety, and that those soldiers then disappear and their widows are forced to marry Taliban fighters.
“If true, these could constitute war crimes,” the embassy said.
The Taliban have already dismissed the allegations as baseless and part of the Afghan intelligence agency’s propaganda against the Islamist group.
Meanwhile, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb-and-gun raid late Tuesday on a guesthouse housing the acting Afghan defense minister.
Afghan officials said the militant raid in Kabul killed at least eight people, mostly civilians, and wounded 20 others, but noted that Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was not at the guesthouse at the time.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement Wednesday that a group of insurgent suicide bombers targeted a meeting of senior defense ministry officials for ordering government airstrikes against civilians in insurgent-held areas.
Fighting has intensified across Afghanistan in recent days as government forces attempt to contain insurgent advances and keep them from major cities.
Embattled Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, has been the scene of deadly clashes between the warring Afghans.
Recent clashes have enabled the insurgents to capture most of the city, except government administrative buildings and the airport.
The Taliban assaulted the provincial police headquarters in Lashkar Gah on Wednesday and clashes were ongoing throughout the day.
Provincial health officials and charities running private clinics urged residents of the city to stay inside their homes to avoid being caught in the crossfire. They also reported receiving scores of casualties, including some in critical condition, but would not say whether they were combatants or Afghan civilians.
The Taliban have extended control to roughly half of Afghanistan’s districts since the U.S.-led foreign troops officially began withdrawing from the country in early May.
The violence is expected to increase in coming days. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday that his government had started implementing a new plan to improve the security situation over the next six months.
US envoy denounces violence
Both sides have ignored domestic and international calls to resume U.S.-brokered peace negotiations toward a deal that would end the country’s long conflict.
“It’s heartbreaking given the level of violence and the suffering, the pictures one sees coming out of places like Lashkar Gah,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for the country, told VOA on Monday.
“There has got to be a political formula. The [Afghan] government cannot get rid of the Taliban, it’s our assessment, and the Taliban cannot conquer Afghanistan,” Khalilzad said.
“And the wise thing is for both sides to engage seriously and quickly, urgently, to respond to the wishes of the people of Afghanistan for a political agreement,” he added.
The U.S. envoy negotiated and signed a landmark deal with the Taliban that paved the way for the American military withdrawal and opened peace talks between the Afghan parties to the conflict. The dialogue has failed to produce any significant outcome or reduce the Afghan violence.
The United Nations says Afghan civilian deaths and injuries went up by 47 percent in the first six months of 2021 compared with the same period last year.
Most casualties have occurred since early May. The global body warned last week that Afghanistan was on course to witness its highest-ever number of civilian casualties in a single year.