The Taliban in Afghanistan have appealed for international support, as the country deals with the aftermath of a devastating 6.1 magnitude earthquake.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and at least 1,500 injured. Unknown numbers are buried in the rubble of ruined, often mud-built homes. The death toll is expected to rise as information trickles in from remote mountain villages.
Southeastern Paktika province has been worst-hit and the UN is scrambling to provide emergency shelter and food aid.
However, the US State Department said it was not aware of any request for American assistance from Afghanistan's Taliban government.
The United States expects the humanitarian response to the disaster to be a topic of conversation between Taliban and U.S. officials in the coming days, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
US 'saddened' by quake
On Wednesday, the US expressed sorrow over a devastating earthquake in Afghanistan and said it would look for ways to help, including through potential talks with Taliban rulers.
“The United States is deeply saddened to see the devastating earthquake that took the lives of at least 1,000 people in Afghanistan,” said Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor.
“President Biden is monitoring developments and has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected,” he said, referring to the US Agency for International Development.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States was in touch with humanitarian groups active in Afghanistan that receive support from Washington.
“US humanitarian partners are already responding, including by sending medical teams to help people affected, and we are assessing other response options,” Blinken said in a statement.
The earthquake comes nearly a year after Biden ended the two-decade US military involvement in Afghanistan, with Taliban insurgents quickly taking over the country.
The United States has engaged in talks but refused to recognize the Taliban government, saying it wants to see progress on key US priorities including the treatment of women.
State Department Spokesman Ned Price said that the United States was open to discussion with the Taliban but was unaware of any immediate requests by the de facto government.
“I imagine the humanitarian response to the earthquake will be a topic of conversation between US officials and Taliban officials in the coming days,” Price told reporters.
Taliban appeal for aid
The disaster comes as Afghanistan grapples with a severe economic crisis that has gripped it since the Taliban takeover last year, and amid rapidly mounting concerns over the ability of the Taliban and international agencies to respond quickly.
While major international agencies still operate in Afghanistan, the Taliban takeover saw other agencies and governments reduce their assistance programmes in a country where about 80% of the budget came from foreign assistance.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a senior Taliban official, said the government “appreciated and welcomed” help that has been pledged by some other governments and relief agencies such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross.
But the 5.9-magnitude earthquake – initially reported as magnitude 6.1, and the country’s deadliest for more than 20 years – had caused such widespread damage and suffering that more help was needed.
“The government sadly is under sanctions so it is financially unable to assist the people to the extent that is needed,” he said.
More than 60% of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million already relies on international aid to survive.
(with inputs from agencies)