British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold an emergency response meeting on Friday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson gave no other details but earlier, Johnson’s defense minister, Ben Wallace, said Britain could return to Afghanistan if the country started hosting al-Qaeda in a way that threatened the West.
“The Prime Minister is convening a COBR this afternoon to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Civil Contingencies Committee.
Taliban insurgents tightened their grip on Afghanistan on Friday, wresting control of the second- and third-biggest cities as Western embassies prepared to send in troops to help evacuate staff from the capital, Kabul.
The capture of Kandahar in the south and Herat in the west after days of clashes is a devastating setback for the government as the Taliban advances turn into a rout.
“The city looks like a front line, a ghost town,” provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimi said by telephone from Herat, a city of about 600,000 people near the border with Iran.
“Families have either left or are hiding in their homes.”
A government official said Kandahar, the economic hub of the south, was under Taliban control.
The defeats have fueled concern that the US-backed government could fall to the insurgents within weeks as international forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
“The situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe,” the UN World Food Program’s Thomson Phiri told a briefing, adding the agency was concerned about a “larger tide of hunger.”
The fighting has also raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights. Some 400,000 civilians have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the year, 250,000 of them since May, a UN official said.
Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their face and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes. In early July, Taliban fighters ordered nine women to stop working in a bank.
Of Afghanistan’s major cities, the government still holds Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east, in addition to Kabul.