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Afghanistan Reboot- Part 1


American president Joe Biden announced that by 11th September 2021 United States will withdraw all remaining 2500 military troops from Afghanistan, marking an end to America’s longest war just two months short of its 20th anniversary.


U.S. and NATO troops are rapidly executing President Biden’s policy of a complete withdrawal of American troops and contractors supporting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) by a deadline of September 11.


With all the recent incidents, there are some questions that need to be asked.


What will this mean for the Afghan women and girls?


Will this mark the return of the Taliban in Kabul? Or even worse, will other terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, use this opportunity of weak governance and lack of strong regional support to establish their stronghold in the country?


Welcome to part one of a two-part report on withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan- Afghanistan Reboot. I have divided the report in different sections.


The total cost of the war:


The 20 years of Afghan war cost the United States about 2 trillion USD of taxpayer’s money of which $296 billion [spent on Veterans of Afghan War] and $10 billion [spent on counter narcotics in Afghanistan]. Obviously, some were spent on good old corruption.

But the real cost was more than just money, it was the human lives that were claimed.

A total of 171,000 lives were lost. Not just US troops but it included contractors, aid workers, journalists and many more. Of those 171,000 lives there were 2,312 US soldiers, 110,000 Afghan police and military and roughly 47,600 civilians. Remember that these are only the numbers which were reported, they do not include deaths caused by diseases, loss of access to food, water or medical infrastructure and direct/ indirect consequences of war.


Old scars:


Afghanistan has been at war for the last 40 years. Before the US and NATO’s combined invasion in 2001, the country was invaded by the Soviets in 1979. In 1996 Taliban came into power. The Taliban sought to establish an Islamic government through law and order alongside a strict interpretation of Sharia law, in accordance with the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the religious edicts of Mullah Omar, upon the entire land of Afghanistan. By 1998, the Taliban's Emirate controlled 90% of Afghanistan. The scars (both psychological and physical) are still visible to his day.


Before moving ahead, it is important to understand the present demographic situation of the country. More than 50 percent of Afghanistan is currently controlled or contested by the Taliban with over 70 districts fully owned by the group and this number is only increasing.


This condition likely raises a very obvious question of How long can the ANDSF (Afghan National Defence and Se curity Forces) and the Afghan government stand against the Taliban stronghold and will the Taliban use military force to enter Kabul?


Present Scenario in Afghanistan:


The security situation: The Taliban have both psychological and military momentum as U.S. troops depart. District capitals are falling to the Taliban at a quickening pace. Some are remote and non-strategic but others are along key transportation routes that link provincial capitals to Kabul. Afghan security forces suffer from low morale and frequent changes in leadership and supply shortages caused by poor planning and the withdrawal of international air support.


Meanwhile the Taliban has continued to apply pressure on the ANDSF by maintaining high levels of violence through its military campaign across Afghanistan, including a coordinated attack in October 2020 around Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province. This was one of the largest and most concerning attacks that took place over the course of a week in 2020. According to the United Nations, fighting throughout the city displaced as many as 35,000 residents.


The most recent attacks included the school bombings in Kabul, which I’ll be talking about in part two of this report.


Humanitarian Needs: One third of Afghan population needs urgent humanitarian aid, millions suffer from acute food insecurity. According to a UN report, in October 2019 there were about 10.3 million people living in a state of "severe acute food insecurity". 14 million Afghans are in need of humanitarian assistance among whom 5.1 million are children.

There are about 2.5 million refugees from Afghanistan. The country is the second largest source of refugees in the world. There are about 2.7 million Afghans in an Emergency situation, and 8.6 million in a Crisis situation. 10 million people are prone to acute food insecurity and need urgent humanitarian assistance.


After 40 years of conflict, Afghanistan today continues to face a humanitarian crisis worsened by political instability and ongoing violence, while the focus of the international community lies elsewhere.


Rise in IDPs: Afghanistan faces one of the world’s most acute internal displacement crises as it suffers protracted conflict and insecurity as well as recurring disasters, including droughts, floods, storms and earthquakes and now with COVID-19 the situation has only worsened.


Over 404,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence were recorded in 2020, and there were 3.5 million people internally displaced as a result at the end of the year. Disasters and conflicts throughout 2020 triggered more than 46,000 new displacements, with most displacements caused by flooding in March, May, and August, particularly.


 Humanitarian needs are high and the situation is further complicated by widespread poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to basic services.


Lack of political unity and a stronger face: Afghans across the political spectrum expressed concern about greater ethnic divisions among society and perceived ethnic biases in the appointment of government officials. Political leaders recognize they are stronger together against the Taliban. But deep mistrust and political selfishness have impeded progress on a proposed High State Council that would expand the tent of the government to include Abdullah and former president Karzai, along with other political leaders, in decisions on peace and security that have national significance.


So far, the political crisis has been seen as an opportunity to settle past disputes about power-sharing within the Republic rather than to unite to confront the existential threat posed by the Taliban. The sense outside of government is that the leadership is failing to grasp the urgency of the situation.

Back to our questions.


What does this withdrawal mean for the Afghan women and girls?


After 20 years of liberty, female education may once again be threatened by hard-line Islamists, the Taliban. According to UN statistics violence against civilians, especially women and children, has surged over the past year.


Recently the Taliban in a statement outlined the type of government they seek. It promised that women “can serve their society in the education, business, health, and social fields while maintaining the correct Islamic hijab.” It promised girls would have the right to choose their own husbands, considered deeply unacceptable in many traditional and tribal homes in Afghanistan, where husbands are chosen by their parents.


But the statement offered few details, nor did it guarantee women could participate in politics or have freedom to move unaccompanied by a male relative.


Many worry that the vague terms the Taliban use in their promises, like “correct hijab” or guaranteeing rights “provided under Islamic law” give them a wide margin to impose hard-line interpretations.


“Women in Afghanistan who raise their voices have been oppressed and ignored.” Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries in the world for women, after only Yemen and Syria, according to an index kept by Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security.


Will this mark the return of the Taliban in Kabul? Or even worse, will other terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, use this opportunity of weak governance and lack of regional support to establish their stronghold in the country?


Well to answer this I’ll divide the presence and influence of all the three organisations in Afghanistan into three parts:

The Taliban.


The Taliban and the Haqqani Network maintain the capability to conduct offensive operations and high-profile attacks against ANDSF and CF. Since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement in February 2020, the Taliban reduced violence against U.S. forces while increasing offensive operations against the ANDSF officials. The Taliban continue to pressure the ANDSF across the country through its military campaigns and increased violence levels.


Al-Qaida


Al-Qaida has fighters in Afghanistan, but its ability to launch international terrorist attacks from there and from Pakistan, where the core organization has been based for almost 20 years, is limited. Al-Qaida has conducted limited attacks, including a December 2019 attack that killed three people at a U.S. naval base in Florida, but they are not based in Afghanistan and Pakistan like the core. Indeed, in the past decade, al-Qaida has localized more, relying heavily on affiliates to keep its name alive.


ISIS


Since late 2019, concurrent operations by Coalition Forces and ANDSF degraded ISIS-K (The Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan) through the killing, capture, and surrender of ISIS-K fighters. The Taliban also conducted operations against ISIS during this reporting period. ISIS-K no longer holds territory in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces and the organization has transitioned to operate in smaller urban cells to evade detection. The Taliban, ANDSF, the United States, and Coalition Forces maintained pressure on ISIS-K to prevent the expansion of their operational capability.


Although ISIS continues to develop connections to other networks outside of Afghanistan, it is operationally limited. There has been no evidence that large numbers of Taliban have defected to ISIS-K in the aftermath of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement.


In the next part of the report, I’ll talk about the aftermath of the withdrawal announcement, the effect of these incidents on the regional powers and the most important question, “Did America lose its longest war?” and hopefully its not a mistake like Iraq and Libya.




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