Over recent weeks, the Taliban have taken over the most populous areas of Afghanistan with relative ease and minimal bloodshed. It is clear and evident why this has occurred. The U.S. troop withdrawal in 2021, of which the bulk was completed in early July, has opened space in the country and left the Afghan army vulnerable without the deterrent of American forces. This withdrawal came at a time when Italy and Canada also evacuated their troops and the UK had only left around 100 soldiers to protect their Embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The Taliban took 33 provincial capitals in nine days. Nine days seems incredibly quick and ‘Blitz-esque’ for the Taliban to overpower 300,000 soldiers equipped by the American military. As a result, the Taliban are now in possession of many American military assets, including Black Hawk helicopters, fighter jets donated to the Afghan military, and Apache attack helicopters. But the question is: how? How did the Taliban advance and take over at such a rapid rate?
Since President Ghani won the 2014 presidential election and was installed by the U.S. government and the UN (despite accusations of voter fraud), he has been criticised for being ineffective at handling administrative and military situations, including allowing corruption and the mishandling of the nation’s security forces. Therefore, it is clear to see why a disorganised Afghan military that was scattered and made up of many disloyal soldiers was easily swept aside by the Taliban as they drove across the country. This was not a war or a battle, but mostly a peaceful transition of power, emphasising the dire situation the Afghan army found itself in. It would have been useless to carry on fighting by early August, especially after the July skirmishes in which the Taliban emerged victorious. Not only was this a failure of the United States, but a major part of this disastrous episode must be attributed to President Ghani and the Afghan armies’ sheer ineptitude and amateur behaviour.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan indicated in early August that Ghani would have to step down for the Taliban to stop their advance across Afghanistan. This would have furthered the Taliban’s goal for a less secular nation. This warning from Khan came as no surprise, as Pakistan has a close relationship with terrorism and knowingly hides international terrorists within its borders. Yet Pakistan will be horrified by the prospect of potential terrorist attacks emanating from anti-Pakistani militant groups that organise within the caves of Afghanistan.
Many people in Afghanistan will now suffer from anti-female policies enacted by the Taliban. They plan to enforce rules whereby women have no control over their own lives and bodies and will not have a right to an education. The political agenda of the Taliban, laid out on 15th August, points to a very dark place indeed. Abortions and same-sex marriage will be made illegal once again. Sharia will be taught in schools to indoctrinate children to use Islam as a weapon of violence, rather than it being the weapon of peace that we all know it to be elsewhere. The isolation of minorities and the oppressed will lead to death on an unimaginable scale, and a purge of those who have previously supported Ghani’s regime and helped the American mission will occur.
Many political pundits and politicians in America view the withdrawal from Afghanistan as still the correct choice because it allows the U.S. to focus more on China and Russia. However, the American failure to protect a vital ally in the region from a hostile takeover is setting off alarm bells for many countries and leaders, especially those who view American foreign policy as a way to combat China’s and Russia’s influence on the global stage. This episode has undermined that objective for multiple reasons. The first reason is that many countries in East Asia, who the U.S would wish joined the western world’s cold shoulder approach to China, will now be reluctant to support those western efforts after seeing how America treated the Afghan government when the Taliban threatened their sovereignty. Therefore, nations such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and South Korea will be less easily influenced by the U.S., and these countries will be more inclined to accept assistance and support from China. This will further damage America’s objective of marginalising China in the Asia region and globally.
Furthermore, this misstep didn’t achieve the goal of reducing the Biden administration’s focus on Afghanistan – it only increased it. Over 3,000 soldiers were sent to evacuate American citizens and allies, and the Taliban has released hundreds, possibly thousands, of Al-Qaeda and terrorist affiliated prisoners at Bagram Airbase. Despite the U.S. leaving Bagram Airbase on 1st July, it fell into the Taliban’s hands within a month. This might be because the U.S. forces left without informing the Afghan military commander that they were doing so. This inevitably left the base vulnerable to Taliban operatives and scouts, as well as looters, the next day.
President Biden’s mistake is plain for all to see. There will now be another refugee crisis and most Afghan citizens will once again live under the dark and cruel oppression of the Taliban regime. Its evil is being outdone in the region only by ISIS, whose similar quick military victories in Iraq and Syria were gradually crushed by U.S. military air assistance. All this is paving the way for an American military resurgence in the region, although given political attitudes in Washington D.C. and the attitudes of American voters towards Middle Eastern wars, it would require the return to neo-liberal presidents that seem unlikely to be nominated by either party.
One cannot underestimate the failure of the American political establishment in all of this. From Donald Trump to Joe Biden, both sides of the American political aisle are culpable for letting the people of Afghanistan down, and the writing seems to be on the wall for the return of international radical Islamic terrorism that is conjured up on the streets and in the caves of Afghanistan, which the Taliban will turn a blind eye to. Or perhaps, it would be more of a modern foreign policy opinion to believe that the Taliban won’t turn a blind eye because of the potential consequences. After all, should a 9/11-type event occur again in the west, America and her allies would not hesitate to depose the Taliban for a second time. Either way, it seems that the people of a nation where an American combat zone had been established have once again been abandoned and had the rug pulled from beneath their feet.