The Taliban does not want to engage in fighting with government forces inside Afghanistan’s cities, a senior leader said on Tuesday, AFP reported.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, the head of a Taliban commission that oversees government forces who surrender to the insurgents, urged the residents of cities to reach out to them.

“Now that the fighting from mountains and deserts has reached the doors of the cities, Mujahideen [Taliban] don’t want fighting inside the city,” Muttaqi said in a message that was tweeted by a Taliban spokesperson. “It is better... to use any possible channel to get in touch with our invitation and guidance commission,” he said, adding this would “prevent their cities from getting damaged”.

In a separate statement, the insurgent group said that Turkey’s decision to protect the Kabul airport when the United States-led forces leave the country was “reprehensible”, Al Jazeera reported. “The ill-advised, a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity and against our national interests,” the group added.

Foreign military forces are due to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31. Around 650 United States service members are expected to remain in Kabul to guard Washington’s sprawling diplomatic compound.

Since United States President Joe Biden announced in April that he would pull back troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of several districts. In the last few weeks, the group has seized border crossings with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.

In the last 15 days, Taliban advances have driven more than 5,600 families from their homes, most of them in the northern part of the country, AP reported, citing the government’s Refugee and Repatriations Ministry.

A February 2020 agreement the Taliban signed with the United States prevents the insurgents from capturing provincial capitals. However, two of them — Kandahar in the south and Badghis in the north — are under siege, according to AP.

The Afghan Ministry of Interior said last week that a rocket defence system has been installed in Kabul, where many fear an eventual Taliban assault.

On July 9, the Taliban claimed that it controlled around 85% of the country’s territory, a claim that the government denied and called propaganda campaign. The insurgent group made this statement after a meeting between Special Envoy of the Russian President for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov and a Taliban delegation led by Sheikh Shahabuddhin Delawar.

Hours later, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that India was concerned at the “direction of events” in Afghanistan. India has also temporarily evacuated officials from its consulate in Kandahar due to “intense fighting”.