Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed president used his first public appearance in days to say he’s turning to the international community for help against Taliban militants advancing across the country.
Ashraf Ghani made brief, nationally televised remarks on Saturday as Taliban fighters continue to make rapid territorial gains in the vacuum left by departing U.S. and NATO troops.
The president said he was in talks with world leaders as well as local political figures, but provided few details. He vowed not to abandon what he called the “achievements” of the past 20 years. Some expect Ghani, president since 2014, to resign before long.
In less than three weeks, Taliban fighters have captured key provincial capitals across northern, western and southern Afghanistan with dizzying speed. The onslaught continued on Saturday, both close to Kabul and in remote regions bordering Pakistan.
Ghani said he was trying to “stop the civil war imposed on Afghans and prevent more innocent deaths and the loss of 20 years of achievements” since U.S. troops overthrew the Taliban in 2001.
“The consultations are happening at great speed and the results will soon be shared with you dear countrymen,” he added.
It wasn’t immediately clear, though, what help the beleaguered Ghani, 72, expects from the West and his regional neighbors. While he promised to prevent more violence, he laid out no plans to achieve that.
Most foreign troops have already left and the remainder are set to exit by Aug. 31, as President Joe Biden follows through on former President Donald Trump’s promise to wind down America’s longest war.
The U.S., Canada, U.K. and other countries have been preparing to pull their diplomats out as the security situation worsens. U.S. embassy staff are busy destroying sensitive material.
Ghani expressed concern about the condition of the thousands of internal refugees who’ve fled to the safety of the national capital over the last few weeks.
The crisis threatens to spill outside the country’s borders and send waves of refugees as far afield as Europe. That has major powers including China and Russia -- which have both engaged the Taliban in talks and have argued for a “political solution” involving the group -- watching closely.
Half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals have been captured by the Taliban over the last week, including Kandahar and Herat, the country’s second and third-largest cities. More than half of the country’s rural hinterland is now under Taliban control.
The militants have Kabul in their sights, with the fighting having reached Maidan Shahr city, the capital of Maidan Wardak province, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the national capital.
The U.S. has reportedly been surprised and frustrated by the inability or in some cases unwillingness of the Afghan army -- which it’s trained and equipped -- to fight back.
Thousands of soldiers and some officials in western Herat gave up their weapons and surrendered recently, while the governor of Ghazni in the southeast handed over the city to the Taliban without resistance and set off for Kabul. He was detained on the way by police before reaching the capital.
© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.