NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg describes security situation as "deeply challenging" with most foreign troops already out of the country where insurgents are pushing forward with their sweeping assault.

Afghan government forces have abandoned some rural districts without a fight, but are digging in to defend provincial capitals even as Taliban insurgents tighten a noose around the cities.
Afghan government forces have abandoned some rural districts without a fight, but are digging in to defend provincial capitals even as Taliban insurgents tighten a noose around the cities. (AP)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has reiterated calls for a "negotiated settlement" with the Taliban in Afghanistan, admitting the country faced a "deeply challenging" security situation as foreign troops leave.

"The security situation in Afghanistan remains deeply challenging, and requires a negotiated settlement. NATO will continue to support Afghanistan, including with funding; civilian presence; and out-of-country training," Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter after speaking to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday.

Since early May, violence has surged as the Taliban launched a sweeping assault just days after US-led NATO forces began a withdrawal which is now almost complete.

The deadly advance has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.

READ MORE: Unprecedented’ civilian deaths anticipated if Afghan violence not halted

Fighting continues

The fighting continues across the rugged countryside as peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have so far failed to reach a deal to end the war.

Most of NATO's 10,000-strong force have already pulled out of the country after a decision by President Joe Biden to bring Washington's troops home after two decades.

The United Nations warned on Monday that Afghanistan could see the highest number of civilian deaths in more than a decade if the Taliban's offensives across the country are not halted.

The US descended on Afghanistan and its Taliban government in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda, which had sought sanctuary in the country.

There are serious fears that the Taliban's advance could see the collapse of the country and unravel the tenuous gains made in 20 years of costly involvement in the country.

REEAD MORE: Afghan families flee their homes as fighting intensifies in Kandahar

Pakistan sends back Afghan soldiers 

Also on Tuesday, dozens of Afghan soldiers returned to Afghanistan after taking refuge in Pakistan, according to a statement from the Pakistan armed forces' Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

The 46 soldiers, including five officers, returned to Afghan government authorities at the Nawa Pass border crossing in Bajaur district, the statement said.

The Afghan soldiers had sought refuge after losing control of military positions across the border following advances by Taliban insurgents, with the Afghan military commander requesting refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement. 

They were given safe passage on Sunday (July 25) night after clearance from Afghan authorities.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia discuss Afghanistan

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Tuesday that he held talks with Pakistan on a range of issues, including Kashmir, Palestine and Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan of course was an issue of discussion and we will continue to work together to try and facilitate security and stability throughout both of our regions and we are, I think, committed to that and I hope we continue to work together," said Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud.

He made his comments at a news conference in the capital Islamabad on Tuesday. 

The Saudi foreign minister is visiting Pakistan at the invitation of his counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi and he is accompanied by a delegation comprising senior officials of the Saudi government.

READ MORE: Pakistan: Afghan soldiers who crossed border after Taliban attack returned

Russia joint military drills

Also on Tuesday Russia said around 1,000 of its soldiers would take part in joint military drills in Tajikistan next week near the Afghan border, the Interfax news agency reported.

The drills from August 5-10 come amid a deteriorating security in Afghanistan.

The drills will also involve Uzbek and Tajik forces. A total of more than 1,500 soldiers will take part, TASS said. 

READ MORE: Tajikistan holds largest-ever military drill amid Afghan Taliban advance

Source: AFP