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Afghanistan on brink of humanitarian crisis amid Taliban surge: UNHCR

A smoke plume rises from houses amid ongoing fight between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the western city of Qala-i- Naw, the capital of Badghis province, on July 7, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The United Nations refugee agency says thousands of Afghan civilians are likely to flee their homes due to the ongoing Taliban advances across various parts of war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Babar Baloch, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday that all efforts should be done to stop what he described as an unfolding humanitarian crisis.

"Afghanistan is on the brink of another humanitarian crisis. This can be avoided. This should be avoided," Baloch said.

The UN official said that the Taliban advances would force civilians to move either within the country or across borders.

"A failure to reach a peace agreement in Afghanistan and stem the current violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighboring countries and beyond," Baloch said.

"We urge the international community to step up support to the government and people of Afghanistan and its neighbors at this critical moment," he added.

Baloch further said that those forced to flee had faced incidents of extortion by armed groups and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on major roads, as well as a loss of income and interruptions to social services.

Over the past two weeks, the Taliban surge has driven more than 5,600 families from their homes, most of them in the northern reaches of the country, dominated by the country's ethnic minorities.

According to the UNHCR, about 270,000 civilians have been displaced inside the country since January, bringing the total population forced from their homes to over 3.5 million.

Figures from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan show the number of civilian casualties in the war rose by 29% during the first quarter compared with 2020.

Taliban execute 22 Afghan commandos

Separately, an investigative report citing witnesses and a video footage revealed on Tuesday that Taliban militants had executed 22 Afghan commandos in Faryab Province as they surrendered after some clashes.

The incident took place in the town of Dawlat Abad, a region close to Afghanistan's border with Turkmenistan, on June 16. The victims were members of an Afghan Special Forces unit, who had run out of ammunition and were surrounded by Taliban militants.

Red Cross officials confirmed the bodies of 22 commandos had been retrieved.

A spokesperson for the Taliban, however, claimed that they were still holding about two dozen commandos who had been captured in Faryab.

US forces are leaving Afghanistan after two decades of unsuccessful war and occupation. The US general leading the war in Afghanistan, Austin Miller, recently relinquished command at a ceremony in the capital, Kabul, and quietly left the country.

The US withdrawal comes amid a surge in violence and the takeover of multiple districts in the northern parts of the country by the Taliban militant group.

Washington has spent trillions of dollars waging the war on the impoverished country, which has left hundreds of thousands of Afghans dead.

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