Afghan authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew across much of the war-torn country to stem the Taliban’s blistering military offensive.
The decision follows the militant group’s capture of dozens of districts and key border crossings from government forces since the start of the international military withdrawal on May 1.
In a statement on July 24, the Interior Ministry said it had imposed a curfew, effective the same day, in 31 out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces to "curb violence and limit the Taliban infiltration" of government-held territories.
The three provinces exempted from the curfew were the capital, Kabul, the northern province of Panjshir, and the eastern province of Nangarhar.
Ahmad Zia, the deputy Interior Ministry spokesman, told reporters that the curfew would be effective between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. local time.
Earlier this week, a curfew was imposed in the southern city of Kandahar, where Afghan forces and Taliban militants have been engaged in fierce clashes.
The militants have captured several districts surrounding the city, the country's second largest, in the past month. On July 9, the militants breached the city and fighting is raging in several neighborhoods.
As the U.S. military is ending its mission in Afghanistan on August 31, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the Afghan security forces' first job was to make sure they could slow the Taliban's momentum before attempting to retake territory.
Afghan government forces "are consolidating their forces around the key population centers," Austin told reporters in the United States on July 24.
"In terms of whether or not it will stop the Taliban, I think the first thing to do is to make sure that they can slow the momentum," Austin said.
Austin added that he believed the Afghans had the capability and the capacity to make progress, but "we'll see what happens."
The United States, the European Union, and NATO on July 23 urged the Taliban to stop its military offensive in Afghanistan and engage in peace talks.
"We call on the Taliban to end their military offensive, and on both the Islamic Republic and the Taliban to engage meaningfully in the peace process," said the joint statement.
U.S. and European officials met in Rome on July 22 to discuss the intensifying violence in Afghanistan and the deadlocked peace process.
Intra-Afghan talks that began in September have made little progress, hampered by soaring Taliban violence, deep mistrust, and a huge gulf between the Taliban and Afghan representatives on key issues.
"The people of Afghanistan have suffered for too long from conflict. We are deeply concerned about the high levels of violence, the Taliban's military offensive, and the number of reported serious human rights abuses and violations alleged in communities most affected by the ongoing armed conflict across the country," the joint statement said.