Thousands of Afghans fleeing the advancing Taliban fighters in the northern part of the war-torn nation are overwhelming neighboring countries, increasing fears of a humanitarian crisis amid the withdrawal of American troops.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is traveling to Uzbekistan on Thursday for meetings to discuss the looming crisis, as Pakistan announces it can no longer accept any more refugees.
The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated that roughly 270,000 Afghans have been displaced since January because of fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, and the recent spike in violence and deteriorating security situation are exacerbating the problem.
More than 3.5 million Afghans have fled the country over the course of the 20-year war.
“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,” the UN agency said in a statement.
Images taken at the Pakistan border show guards firing tear gas into crowds of hundreds of Afghans who tried to storm across Wednesday after the Taliban took control of the Afghan side of the border.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his country is unable to handle any more people fleeing Afghanistan.
“It cannot afford to welcome more refugees if the situation within Afghanistan deteriorates again,” Qureshi said during a meeting in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
Pakistan houses 1.4 million Afghan refugees, and Iran hosts nearly a million, the UN said.
Last week, more than a thousand Afghan civilians crossed into Tajikistan after Taliban forces overran troops in Badakhshan province.
In response, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon deployed 20,000 military reservists to secure the border with Afghanistan.
Rakhmon also appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to help bolster security at the border.
Russia has a substantial troop presence in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic.
Not only are Afghan civilians fleeing, but also Afghan troops.
More than a thousand Afghan soldiers fled into Tajikistan last week after clashing with the Taliban in Badakhshan, surrendering their military equipment — much of it supplied by the US military.
The Taliban celebrated the seizure of the US Humvees, tanks and assault weapons in propaganda videos posted online to tout their return to power after being defeated by American troops following the al Qaeda-led attacks on 9/11.
And this week, shocking new video emerged showing Taliban fighters gunning down nearly two dozen Afghan commandos after they surrendered.
The special forces soldiers had been battling the Taliban in Dawlat Abad in Faryab province near the Afghanistan border with Turkmenistan when they ran out of ammunition.
“The commandos were surrounded by the Taliban. Then they brought them into the middle of the street and shot them all,” a witness to the carnage told CNN, which had obtained the video.
The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it would evacuate Afghans who worked with US forces during the 20-year war before the withdrawal of American troops by the end of August.
A senior administration official said “the United States is launching Operation Allies Refuge to support relocation flights for interested and eligible Afghan nationals and their families who have supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan.”
President Biden, who announced the pullout in April, said the US could continue its partnership with Afghanistan but that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future.”
In a speech last week announcing the Aug. 31 timetable, Biden said the US has accomplished its objectives in Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden and to stop terrorists from launching attacks against the US or its allies from inside the country.
Biden continued to express the belief that the Afghan army will not allow the Taliban to take over the country.
“The Taliban is at its strongest militarily since 2001,” Biden said in remarks in the White House East Room. But he added, “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
With Post wires