After the US withdrew, the Taliban took over Afghanistan in a week. What was so special about the terrorist group? What clicked for them in the past week?
Afghanistan emerged as a significant US foreign policy concern in 2001, when the United States, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, led a military campaign against Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban government that harboured and supported it.
After more than a year of negotiations, US and Taliban representatives signed a bilateral agreement on February 29, 2020, agreeing to two “interconnected” guarantees—the withdrawal of all US and international forces from Afghanistan soil by May 2021 and “unspecified” Taliban action to prevent other groups including Al Qaeda from using Afghan soil to threaten the United States and its allies.
In the months after the agreement, several US officers projected that the Taliban were not fulfilling their commitments to the agreement, especially concerning Al Qaeda.
Although no provisions in the publicly available agreement address Taliban attacks on U.S. or Afghan forces, the Taliban reportedly committed not to attack U.S. forces in non-public annexes accompanying the accord.
Al Qaeda is still assessed to have a presence in Afghanistan and its decades-long ties with the Taliban appear to have remained strong in recent years. May 2021 UN-sanctioned monitors reported that Al Qaeda had minimized communication with the Taliban to not jeopardize the Taliban’s diplomatic ties with the US.
In October 2020, Afghan forces killed a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, where he reportedly was living and working with Taliban forces, further underscoring questions about Al Qaeda-Taliban links and Taliban intentions concerning Al Qaeda.
On April 21, 2021, President Biden announced that the United States would begin a “final withdrawal” on May 1, to be completed by September 11, 2021. This came after US forces in Afghanistan were reduced to the lowest ever numbers, 2,500 under President Trump, when ordered a drawdown of forces in November 2020.
In a written response from the Taliban, they claimed the breach of the February 2020 agreement, stating U.S. decision to stay beyond May 1 “in principle opens the way for [Taliban forces] to take every necessary countermeasure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences.”
The future consequence, as we now know, was the fall of Kabul to the Taliban with Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, leaving the country to prevent bloodshed. The US intelligence community initially concluded that Afghanistan would fall in six months, which went down to 30 days, and then, within a week, everything was under Taliban control.
The Mass Effect
The UN places the number of children killed in the past week at over 27, with over 1,000 people killed in the past month.
Despite having 3,00,000 armed forces, hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the US in training and defence equipment, the real number on the ground is at most 1/6th of the total number on paper.
The swift offensive has resulted in mass surrenders, captured helicopters and millions of dollars of American-supplied equipment paraded by the Taliban on grainy cell phone videos.
The Taliban, in contrast, has approximately 75,000 men. And although they have no formal backing from any state, no trained army, no air force, no technology, and only what vehicles and weapons they can scrounge on the open market, they have blitzkrieged their way into the city.
This raises the question, if the last 15 years or so, the US has been feeding the public at large that the War On Terror in Afghanistan was a necessary step to ensure US security and the progress of Afghanistan military and defence, in the wake of the fall of Kabul in a week, have all of us been lied to?
What were the actual numbers and the actual on-ground scenarios that we have not been made aware of?
What will be the future of Afghanistan? Only time will tell.
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