The withdrawal from Afghanistan: twenty years of war for nothing?

Karim Pakzad’s point of view

On the sidelines of the withdrawal of American and Western forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban reconquered the Afghan districts one by one, routing the Afghan army and threatening to eventually regain power in Kabul. Faced with this resurgence of the Taliban threat and at the time of the American withdrawal, the report is bitter: the situation on the ground does not seem to have improved, or even seems to have deteriorated. Are there still any prospects for Afghanistan, other than that of a return of the Taliban to power? Update with Karim Pakzad, associate researcher at IRIS, specialist in Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of American and NATO soldiers is ongoing, and on Friday July 2, the large military base of Bagram, symbolic place of this war, is evacuated. Several months after the decision to end Western intervention against the Taliban, can we speak of a war for nothing for the United States?

At the end of 20 years of war led by the United States in Afghanistan, the conditions of evacuation of the large military base of Bagram, symbol of the American military presence in Afghanistan located 50 kilometers from Kabul, are quite significant of the the eagerness and urgency in which the withdrawal of American forces is being organized. Afghan military officials later said that they learned of the departure of US troops four hours later, when the base’s electricity was cut. After the destruction of sophisticated equipment and armaments, nearly three million weapons and equipment were left behind, including several dozen armored cars without keys, light armaments with their ammunition, etc. The next day, some of this material was already found on the stalls of the black market in Bagram. This evacuation was humiliating for the Americans while fueling the anger of those who trusted them in Afghanistan.

This war ended in a defeat, predictable since the years 2010-2011, when Barack Obama had decided to send 20,000 additional soldiers to finish it once and for all, a decision that Joe Biden was opposed to, then. vice-president.

During this destructive war, more than 70,000 Afghan soldiers, 100,000 civilians as well as 4,000 soldiers of the international force, including 88 French soldiers, died. The Taliban have become immensely stronger than 20 years ago and today aspire to return to power. It is this observation that prompts us to qualify, 20 years later, this war as “absurd”, but also “humiliating” for the image of the United States, and “destructive and bloody” for the Afghan population.

The Taliban seized multiple districts including that of Panjwai, a former Taliban home, on July 4. The following night, following clashes between the army and the Taliban in the northeast of the country, thousands of Afghan soldiers fled to Tajikistan. Since the gradual departure of the West, what is the situation of the Afghan army?

The Taliban, who had been in a position of strength vis-à-vis NATO, then American forces and the Afghan army for more than ten years now, reached a pre-peace agreement with the Americans in February. 2020 in Doha. However, in this agreement, by which the Americans had accepted practically all the demands of the Taliban, one of the articles provides that the Taliban do not launch attacks against provincial centers. It should be noted that Afghanistan is administratively divided into 34 provinces and 364 districts. After this agreement, the Americans encouraged direct political discussions between the Taliban and the ruling Kabul, which began a few months ago in Doha. However, the Americans were much more unhappy with the government in Kabul than with the Taliban. The latter have kept their commitment: they have completely stopped their operations against American or foreign soldiers while the Afghan government dragged its feet in negotiations, in particular on the issue of the release of Taliban prisoners. This explains why at the beginning of March, Antony Blinken, the new American secretary of state, sent a letter to the Afghan president, considered humiliating for the Afghans, which he made public and in which he set out a negotiating plan. between the Taliban and the government through three essential points. These could have been the agenda of the international conference scheduled for the end of April in Istanbul, conference ultimately aborted by the refusal of the Taliban who previously demanded the release of their members in prisons in Kabul and the removal of the names of their leaders still on the UN blacklist. The American plan proposed negotiations guaranteed by the international community between the two Afghan parties, the final withdrawal of foreign troops and the establishment of a transitional government including the Taliban. Despite the fact that this plan was almost in favor of the Taliban, the latter delayed their decision-making – using the period of Ramadan as an excuse – only to refuse it, denouncing the lack of sincerity of the government in Kabul and the Americans. However, this Friday, July 9, we learned from the mouth of the head of the Taliban delegation, Mullah Shahabuddin Delavar, on an official visit to Moscow, that his movement had sent a letter to the Afghan government through Zulmaï Khalilzad, the United States’ special envoy, proposing a peace plan and that they had not received a response. Internal government opponents have also denounced for several months the obstacle posed by Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, in the voice of a negotiated peace.

After a short period of hesitation, Joe Biden finally decided to implement the policy of his predecessor, Donald Trump, aimed at the total withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. It was then, in early May, that the Taliban began their offensives against government positions across the country. To date, they occupy nearly 140 districts – out of the country’s 364 districts – some of which are particularly strategic, such as border crossings and customs at the border of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. The offensives of the Afghan army, dispersed across the country, were poorly conducted. The soldiers are badly armed and malnourished, sometimes without real motivation, which pushes some of them to desert, including in neighboring Tajikistan, others to join the ranks of the Taliban with their weapons. The army’s counter-offensive to regain lost positions is long overdue. We must not forget that within the armed forces, there are tens of thousands of special forces, trained and armed by the United States and NATO, and equipped with air forces. This is the reason why we are not on the eve of the fall of big cities like Kabul or of big provincial centers. But the Taliban nevertheless managed to put pressure on the government by occupying, as we have seen, many districts and cutting off essential transport routes for supplying the capitals. It has been nine days since the people of Kabul have had electricity, the Taliban having dynamited the sources of electricity purchased from the countries of Central Asia. As for small businesses, several hundred of them in Kabul and other cities are no longer in operation due to the lack of electricity. The war will take a heavy toll on the lives of the Afghan people.

And now what will happen politically? In view of the evolution of the situation, what scenarios can we envisage for Afghanistan?

The US withdrawal is taking place both militarily and politically. Even though Joe Biden has promised to continue helping Afghanistan by giving the Afghan army ($ 3.3 billion this year and $ 3 billion next year as well as war material), it is obvious that this aid will only prolong the war. The Afghan government is not in a position to win it, it not having been successful with 150,000 soldiers and contingents of foreign soldiers. This American withdrawal risks replacing the war in its regional dimension. Joe Biden keeps repeating that the United States has achieved its objective in Afghanistan, because now no terrorist group can threaten American territory from that country,

The countries of the region did not wait for the withdrawal of American soldiers to establish relations with the Taliban, provoking the ire of Washington which baselessly accuses Russia and Iran of supporting and arming the Taliban. Since the Taliban’s advance on the ground, Chinese, Russian and Iranian diplomacy has been active. This Friday, July 9, China denounced the American irresponsibility which has created a situation of chaos in Afghanistan.

Tehran was notably the place of a meeting between the Taliban and representatives of Kabul on Wednesday, July 7. According to their statement a few hours ago, the two parties pledged to find a political solution. The Taliban have pledged not to launch an offensive against Kabul, that is to say to rule out the possibility of a seizure of power by force and to open themselves to negotiations. However, given their current presence on the ground, they will not negotiate with the Kabul regime as they could have negotiated yesterday or the day before. As for the government, it has sent a high-level delegation to Russia to study the possibility of receiving military assistance from Moscow, especially in the north of the country, a request that seems unachievable. This Thursday July 8, the Qatari foreign minister went to Afghanistan to try to relaunch peace negotiations between the two parties in earnest. If the Americans, the Europeans and even the United Nations are out of the game in Afghanistan, Iran becomes a country inescapable to the point that Washington has seen Tehran’s commitment as constructive.

After Tehran, a delegation of the Taliban went to Moscow on July 9 where they made revelations about their contact with the government in Kabul. The situation is such that even the Indians, fierce opponents of the Taliban who saw in them only Pakistani agents and refused any contact with them, finally made contact during a meeting organized in Doha.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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