The U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan on Friday said the war in the country has entered a “deadlier and more destructive phase” and questioned the Taliban’s commitment to political settlement.
“A party that was genuinely committed to a negotiated settlement would not risk so many civilian casualties, because it would understand that the process of reconciliation will be more challenging, the more blood is shed,” Deborah Lyons told the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
This comes after Afghan civilian casualties climbed to more than 1,000 in the past month, and as the Taliban continues to achieve territorial gains in Afghanistan.
Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces has raged since April when U.S. and coalition forces began their withdrawal from the country. The withdrawal is set to be completed later this month.
On Friday, the Taliban captured its first provincial capital, Zaranj of the Nimroz province, since launching its offensive.
The group also killed the Afghan government’s top media officer in Kabul on Friday, just days after attempting to assassinate the country’s acting defense minister, according to The Associated Press.
The Taliban is also in control of large rural areas of Afghanistan, and is now challenging Afghan security forces in several large cities, Lyons said. This includes Herat, near the western border with Iran, as well as Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south, which are “under significant pressure.”
“To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties. Nonetheless, the threatening of large urban areas appears to be a strategic decision by the Taliban, who have accepted the likely carnage that will ensue,” she said.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that began last year have not made any substantive progress, Lyons said.
Lyons added that the U.N. expected a reduction in violence in Afghanistan after the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed in February. But instead, there was a 50% increase in civilian casualties in the country as more cities were attacked by the Taliban.
Afghan citizens “expect far greater engagement and visible support” from the U.N. Security Council, Lyons said. She urged the council to issue a statement that calls for an end to violence in the country, and to ensure “a meaningful peace process.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also addressed the recent attacks by the Taliban at a Friday press briefing, stating that their actions won’t help them gain international legitimacy.
“Our view is that, if the Taliban claim to want international legitimacy, these actions are not going to get them the legitimacy they seek,” Psaki said.
“They do not have to stay on this trajectory. They can choose to devote the same energy to the peace process as they are to their military campaign.”