Zalmay Khalilzad was the U.S. ambassador. He visited Doha, Qatar where the Taliban have a political office to inform them that it was futile to pursue victory on the battlefield. A military takeover in Kabul would make them global pariahs. As NATO and American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Khalilzad and others hope to convince Taliban leaders to resume peace negotiations with the Afghan government.
In less than a week the insurgents captured six of the 34 provincial capitals of the country, including Kunduz in Kunduz Province -- one of the largest cities in the country. They planted their flag on Sunday in the main square. However, the government still controls the strategic airport and the army base at the city's outskirts.
They are currently fighting the Western-backed government to take control of several other provinces. On Tuesday night, Taliban forces invaded Farah and were seen seated in front of the provincial governor.
Zabihullah mujahed, a Taliban spokesperson, tweeted that the insurgents had seized the city. It is also the capital of the province with the same name. Abdul Naser Farahi, a Kabul-based lawmaker, said that the government retained control over the intelligence department as well as a military base.
Many are puzzled by the collapse of the Afghan regular forces after a 20-year Western military operation and billions of dollars spent training, shoring up and supporting them. The fighting was largely won by small elite forces and the Afghan Air Force.
The Taliban blitz's success has made it urgent to restart long-stalled negotiations that could end fighting and bring Afghanistan to an inclusive interim government. So far, the insurgents refuse to negotiate.
According to the U.S. State Department, Khalilzad's mission to Qatar is to "help form a joint international response against the rapidly deteriorating Afghan situation."
According to the State Department, he plans to "press Taliban to cease their military offensive and to negotiate an agreement which is the only way to stability and development" in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the Taliban's military chief issued an audio message to his troops, directing them to not harm Afghan forces or government officials in areas they have conquered. Mohammad Naim, the Taliban spokesperson in Doha shared the recording on Twitter.
The audio is almost five minutes long and Mohammad Yaqoob (the son of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Obmar) tells the insurgents not to go into the homes of security and government officials who have fled. He also advises them to leave open marketplaces and protect business places, including banks.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Taliban fighters would follow Yaqoob’s instructions. Many civilians who fled Taliban advances claim that insurgents placed repressive restrictions upon women and destroyed schools. According to the U.N. Human Rights chief, it received reports about summary executions, military use and destruction and schools, clinics, and homes in captured areas.
Reports of revenge killings have been reported. Insurgents claimed responsibility for the killing of a comedian from southern Kandahar, assassinating Kabul's media chief, and setting off a bomb attack that killed eight people and wounded more. The minister was not injured.
Many are now living in parks because of the intensifying conflict. Civilian casualties have also increased due to the fighting.
Michelle Bachelet (U.N. human rights chief) stated Tuesday that her office had recorded at least 183 deaths in some cities and hundreds of injuries in others. However, she cautioned that the real numbers will be higher.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, its staff treated over 4,000 Afghans in 15 facilities in the country. This includes in Helmand and Kandahar where U.S. and Afghan airstrikes are trying halt the Taliban attack.
Eloi Fillion (ICRC's Head of Delegation in Afghanistan), stated in a statement that "we are seeing homes destroyed", that patients and medical staff are at great risk, and that hospitals, electricity, and water infrastructure have been damaged." "The explosion of explosive weapons in cities is having an indiscriminate effect on the population."
In April, the U.S. announced that they would withdraw their military forces and send all their troops home. Although the U.S. Central Command stated that the withdrawal was complete by 95%, Aug. 31 is the final date.
On Monday, the U.S. emphasized that the Biden administration now sees the fight as one for Afghan political and military leaders to win or lose -- and showed no sign of stepping up airstrikes despite the Taliban gains.
Khalilzad was the architect of the Trump administration's peace agreement with the Taliban. He was expected to meet with key regional actors and seek an agreement from Afghanistan's neighboring countries not to recognize any Taliban government that is brought to power by force. Three countries recognized the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan when they last ran it: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Abdullah Abdullah (head of the government's reconciliation committee) was also among the senior Afghan officials who travelled to Doha. Pakistan's national security adviser, Moeed Yusuf, on Monday called for "reinvigorated" efforts to get all sides in the conflict back to talks, describing a protracted war in Afghanistan as a "nightmare scenario" for Pakistan.
Yusuf declined to say definitively if Pakistan, which has considerable power over the Taliban, would recognise a Taliban government that was installed by force. Instead, Yusuf stated that Pakistan wants an "inclusive government" in Kabul.