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U.S., Britain Accuse Taliban Of Civilian ‘Massacre' In Afghan South As Ghani Laments Insecurity

An Afghan man who was injured in a bomb blast is shifted to a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province.

The United States and Britain have said the Taliban may have committed “war crimes” and accused the militant group of “massacring” Afghan civilians when it captured the southern town of Spin Boldak in July.

The urgent warnings came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed increasing insecurity on Washington's "sudden" withdrawal decision and as the United States opened its doors to more at-risk Afghans who worked for the United States or U.S.-funded entities.

"In Spin Boldak, Kandahar, the Taliban massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings," the U.S. and British embassies tweeted separately on August 2. "These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated and those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable."

The tweets cited a new report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission that documents atrocities committed by the militant group when it seized Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border.

The embassies said that the Taliban’s leadership must be held accountable for the crimes of its fighters.

“If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later,” the U.S. and U.K. embassies said.

In its report, the Afghan watchdog says the Taliban killed dozens of civilians, including civil servants, and looted people’s properties when it captured southern regions in July.

Afghan government troops are battling Taliban militants for control of the capital of the southern Helmand Province following weekend assaults on urban centers in a major escalation.

Fighting raged in Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban launched a coordinated offensive on the city center just hours after the government announced the deployment of hundreds of special forces to the area.

Taliban fighters also continued attacks on least two other provincial capitals overnight -- Kandahar, also in the south, and Herat in western Afghanistan -- after a weekend of heavy fighting that saw thousands of civilians flee the violence.

"The reason for our current situation is that the [U.S.] decision [on the withdrawal] was taken abruptly," President Ghani told a joint session of the Afghan parliament on August 2.

He said he had warned Washington of such "consequences."

But he said his government had a plan to bring conditions under control within six months and that the United States supported the scheme.

Fighting has intensified since early May amid an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces scheduled to be completed by the end of August and an ongoing stalemate in intra-Afghan talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

Taliban militants have captured dozens of districts and border regions as government forces said they were focusing their efforts on more populated areas.

Helmand Province was one of the major focal points of the waning U.S. and British military campaign in Afghanistan.

"Afghan forces on the ground and by air strikes repelled the attack," the military in Helmand said of the offensive on Lashkar Gah.

Helmand, with its vast poppy fields, provides most of the opium for the international heroin trade -- making it a lucrative source of tax and cash for the Taliban's war chest.

The loss of the Helmand capital would also be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the Kabul government, which has already lost much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.

Fighting has also been raging in Herat, where a spokesman for the provincial governor told RFE/RL that ground operations and air strikes continue against the militants.

Jailani Farhad said the militants suffered heavy casualties during the operations, which were joined by hundreds of Afghan commandos.

"As a result of the clearance operation by the Afghan joint forces, 100 Taliban militants were killed and several others injured," Farhad said.

Aref Jalali, the head doctor of Herat Central Hospital, says 19 bodies, including four civilians, and 78 wounded, including 48 civilians, were transferred to the hospital on August 1.

Heavy fighting was also reported in some districts of Kandahar and on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Kandahar City.

Kandahar airport came under a Taliban rocket attack that damaged the runway overnight on July 31, leading to the suspension of flights for several hours.

Kabul has repeatedly dismissed the militants' steady gains over the summer as lacking strategic value but has largely failed to reverse their momentum. The loss of government control included several border crossings into neighboring Central Asian states to the north and Pakistan to the south.

Hundreds of Afghans, including police and government troops, have fled the country in recent weeks and sought refuge in neighboring Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan amid the Taliban offensive.

Russia has announced joint military drills from August 5-10 at Tajikistan's and Uzbekistan's borders with Afghanistan, including some 1,800 Russian soldiers and about twice the military hardware it originally planned.

One day after calling for a "countrywide mobilization," Ghani told Afghan lawmakers that "we have had an unexpected situation in the last three months."

The Taliban will not return to substantive peace talks unless the worsening security situation is curbed, Ghani warned.

But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on August 2 dismissed Ghani's statements as "nonsense, an attempt to control his fears" in the face of the government's "dire situation."

"Declarations of war, accusations, and lies cannot prolong Ghani's government's life; his time has run out, God willing," the spokesman said via Twitter.

This story is based on reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.

With reporting by AFP and
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