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UN warns of urban catastrophe as Taliban threaten big cities of Herat and Kandahar

As Taliban threaten to take big cities like Herat and Kandahar and make advances towards Kabul, United Nations is worried of urban catastrophe. Taliban have already taken control of 12 provinces.

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The United Nations said on Thursday it is particularly concerned about a shift in fighting in Afghanistan to urban areas, warning that if a Taliban offensive reaches the capital Kabul it would have a “catastrophic impact on civilians.”

The Taliban claimed control over the third largest city, Herat, on Thursday and appeared close to capturing Kandahar, the second largest city and the spiritual home of the Taliban, which now control about two-thirds of Afghanistan.

“It is clear that urban fighting in the city of the size of Kabul would have catastrophic impact on civilians and we very much hope that this does not happen,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

How big are Kabul and Kandahar? 

Kandahar is Afghanistan’s second largest city after Kabul with a population of around 700,000. It is located in the south not far from Iran’s border. In medieval era and before the rise of Durranis from Kabul, Kandahar has been either part of Persian empire or has been with Mughals. Humayun after Persian support against Suris handed it to Iran in end  16th century.

Kabul is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan, located in the eastern section of the country. According to estimates in 2021, the population of Kabul is 4.6 million which includes all the major ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s only city with a population of over 1 million, Kabul serves as its political, cultural and economic centre. Rapid urbanization, after the US occupation, has made Kabul the world’s 75th largest city. Kandahar in south is second only to Kabul.

In the early 19th century, the British occupied Kabul, but after establishing foreign relations, they were compelled to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan. The city was occupied by the Soviets in 1979 but they too abandoned it after the 1988 Geneva Accords were signed. A civil war in the 1990s between various rebel groups destroyed much of the city, resulting in many casualties. Most destruction is attributed to the rocket attacks by forces of Gulbadin Hikmatyar. From late 2001, after the US occupation, the city has been continuously rebuilt and has been restored to its past glory and position it enjoyed till the overthrow of King Zahir Shah in 1975.

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UN fears on Urban catastrophe in Afghanistan

Dujarric, UN Spokesman, also said any investigation into civilian deaths would have to be impartial and independent from the warring parties. The United Nations said more than 1,000 civilians had been killed in the past month. In a statement on Wednesday the Taliban denied killing civilians and suggested a U.N. team, accompanied by them, conduct an inquiry.

The Islamist militants proposed that a team made up of the United Nations, Red Cross and other international aid groups accompany Taliban representatives “to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the latest events.”

The Taliban has stepped up its campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government since April as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years.

In the first six months of 2021, the Afghan, blaming the Taliban for 39% – 699 deaths and 1,345 wounded – and Afghan government forces for 23% – 378 deaths and 828 wounded.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress.

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“We are continuing to believe that there is a political solution that can be had. This doesn’t mean that we are also blind to what is going on in the on the ground,” Dujarric said.

Reuters with additional input by GVS News Desk

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