Friday, September 24

The Kabul assault: what happened in Afghanistan and why it happened so quickly

Taliban militiamen have entered Kabul this Sunday, the last stronghold of power of the Afghan government. Meanwhile, after nearly two decades of military deployment, the United States and other allies burned documents and removed personnel from their embassies. Just a few hours ago, the Biden Administration, in its worst forecasts, calculated that Kabul could fall into the hands of the Taliban in the next month. In July, President Biden said it was “highly unlikely” that this would happen.

Women’s race to flee the Taliban creates a new wave of refugees

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What happened?

The Taliban lost power after the US invasion in 2001, but they did not disappear or give up their aspirations to re-dominate the country while some of their leaders took refuge in Pakistan. They retreated to some areas, but the civil war has never stopped. More than 60,000 Afghan army soldiers have died fighting them, and more than 70,000 civilians have been fired upon from both sides in the war. More than 2,300 US soldiers have died. Within the NATO operation 102 soldiers from Spain also died, which withdrew in May.

Since Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2020, later confirmed by Joe Biden, the Taliban have stepped up their offensive. In May this year, the Taliban managed to control several districts, including towns near Kandahar, a symbolic place because they began their rise there in 1994 and because it was the headquarters of a large US base.

Why was the Afghan Army not ready?

It is one of the big questions. The US government has spent at least $ 83 billion since 2001 to train and arm the soldiers of the Afghan Army. Spanish military and police have also participated in some of these training operations. But in these years part of that money has ended up financing phantom projects in the hands of local satraps and Afghan governments have built the most precious asset that has often been lacking in the country’s history: legitimacy.

The Taliban have fewer forces and fewer weapons than the Afghan Army, but their advance has been facilitated by the desertion of regular army soldiers, who have managed to save their lives in exchange for abandoning their posts and handing over their valuable weapons to the Taliban.

And the president of Afghanistan?

He is Ashraf Ghani, an anthropologist and former World Bank leader whom the United States decided to support in the 2019 elections that Ghani narrowly won with a turnout of less than 20%. His intellectual air and his studies at American universities inspired a confidence in the United States that was not commensurate with his ability and acceptance in his own country. His low popularity and little leadership capacity within his own government has given him even less room for maneuver than his successors.

Ghani has had special bad relationship with his army and its members have often felt abandoned by leaders who seemed more concerned with saving equipment than their soldiers. The United States government had also lost confidence in the Afghan president, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken made clear in an irritated letter in March.

Throughout these two decades, his predecessors have also failed to gain enough acceptance among the population to control the country. Hamid Karzai, who presided over the country from 2001 to 2014, used to be nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul.”

What responsibility does the US have for the fragility of the Afghan government?

Corruption and the consolidation of some known criminals has happened with the complacency – at least – of the United States, as revealed by the Washington Post with the publication of the documentation and most extensive interviews of these two decades. “Washington tolerated the main criminals, warlords, drug traffickers, defense subcontractors, because they were allies of the United States … The United States Government failed to face a more disturbing reality: it was responsible for feeding the corruption by spewing huge amounts of money with little vision or attention to the consequences ”, write the Post in the so-called “Afghanistan papers”.

And the negotiations?

Since 2018, there have been several rounds of negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States, with several times when a peace agreement seemed close. In September 2020, as part of a possible peace agreement, the Afghan government agreed to release thousands of Taliban prisoners. And in March of this year, the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire. Supposedly, the withdrawal of US troops was to occur as part of the agreement for the Taliban and the Afghan government to negotiate peace.

Where did the Taliban come from?

This is a new generation, in part, of the extremists who conquered the country between 1994 and 1996 in the midst of chaos between guerrilla attempts to dominate Afghanistan and Ahmed Masud’s so-called Northern Alliance, which was presented to the United States and Europe. as the way to restore peace in the country after the Soviet invasion of 1989 and the fall of the communist government in 1992. In this context, the ascendant drug market that financed all sides. By the end of that decade, Afghanistan was the world’s leading opium producer.

Masud received help from Russia, but little support from Western allies. On September 9, 2001, he was assassinated in a Taliban trap during a bogus interview. His son said this spring that there would be another civil war in Afghanistan if the United States withdrew its troops now.

Instead, in the 1980s, the intelligence services of the United States and Pakistan assisted some of the groups that later became known as the Taliban to fight the invasion of the Soviet Union. It is one of the ghosts that haunts the foreign policy of the United States, although the role of its spies in those years is not detailed.

How did they come to power last time?

In 1996 they devastated villages and began to become known for their extremist practices in the name of Islam, with the prohibition of women in education or public life, the veto of music or the attack of any symbol of religions other than Islam. Islam, how the Buddhas carved in the mountains of Bamiyan, an archaeological treasure that had withstood the ups and downs of Afghanistan for centuries and was blown up by the Taliban.

Meanwhile, civilians were killed in military clashes or by million antipersonnel mines scattered by the Soviet Army and tens of thousands of children died each year from dysentery.

Why are women fleeing now?

The advance of the Taliban has created a wave of new refugees who are desperately trying to flee from the Taliban tyranny. About a million people have fled their homes seeking refuge in recent months, according to estimates by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations estimates that almost 70% are women and children. The Taliban have already taught themselves to women, attacking schools and killing journalists.

Why did the United States invade Afghanistan?

The Taliban sheltered Osama Bin Laden and his al Qaeda militants for years while organizing attacks in the West. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush requested that the leader who orchestrated the attacks be handed over. When the Taliban failed to do so, the United States launched an offensive, authorized by Congress and then supported by NATO and European allies, against Bin Laden.

The United States killed Bin Laden in May 2011, with President Barack Obama, but that did not end the military deployment in a country that was still threatened by the Taliban.

Why is Biden retiring now?

It is one of his electoral commitments and comes from his conviction of years of skepticism about the ability of the United States to stabilize Afghanistan after so many years of occupation. As Obama’s vice president, Biden even opposed the operation to capture or assassinate Biden Laden because he considered it too risky. In his years as vice president, he used to play the role of “dove” and also opposed interventions in Syria or Libya against other people on the Obama team, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Part of the Pentagon apparatus wanted to convince him to leave at least a small number of troops in Kabul to help the Afghan government, but Biden refused, arguing that if they were few they would not serve to stop the offensive, and the United States could not maintain a war without final. He has the support of the population, but not of the military elite and foreign policy experts of both parties.

“I am the fourth president of the United States to lead the presidency of the United States troops in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth ”, said Biden in April. He also added: “We will not rush to the exit. We will do so responsibly, deliberately and safely.”

Has the country improved anything in these 20 years?

The rapid deterioration of the political and military situation in the country indicates that the state remains fragile and lacks the institutions it promised. Society has had glimpses of progress, with progress in the education of women and their access, although still limited, to public office.

The health situation has shown slow progress, although Afghanistan remains one of the countries in the world where it is most likely to die from preventable diseases, especially for women and children.

Freedom of the press, non-existent two decades ago, has advanced thanks to the brave journalists fight, especially young women, who now fear losing their lives, as a reporter who has stopped giving the news to try to save herself said. “I know the Taliban are coming for me,” he wrote a few days ago.