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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Afghan Taliban: Cementing their hold in the country after US exit

Rahimullah Yusufzai, who has been reporting on Afghanistan since the Soviet Union invasion, interviewed both Osama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar, argues that U.S. leaves behind in Afghanistan a situation favoring the Taliban, who are strong politically and militarily and no doubt will soon be joined by members of the Afghan army and based on their recent advances, they will demand a favorable settlement only to themselves.

When the Taliban were in power from 1996-2001, they had sort of an army with the regular soldiers joining the Taliban fighters to provide technical skills. Some were pilots, others tank drivers, and technicians. They used Soviet weapons captured and left behind for the Afghan army, and were often old and not very worthy of use.

But now, the Taliban have laid their hands on the most modern and sophisticated weapons manufactured in the US and other Western countries and could use them to deadly effect by hiring the surrendered Afghan soldiers. This has happened in the past and can happen again. In these challenging circumstances, the beleaguered Afghan government would face a very challenging task defending the cities.

An Army of their own

The Taliban have now become strong enough to be termed an army even though they are not organized on regular lines. Having captured big military bases and garrisons from the Afghan forces, they are now in possession of vast premises, buildings, barracks, parade lines, and all other bases facilities. They have seized a large number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, rangers and other military vehicles, artillery guns, mortars, and heavy and light weapons.

In fact, the Taliban are finding it difficult to prepare an inventory of the captured weapons and keeping them in good shape. The much-valued American Humvees are now in the hands of the Taliban in unspecified but unusually big numbers. They have been making videos of the captured weapons for showcasing their triumphs.

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A video in which 3,000 Afghan elite forces commandos is shocking as they are lined up with guns in their hands to walk to a specified place to surrender where Taliban fighters welcome and embrace them, call them brothers and tell them their lives are safe. Another video shows Afghan soldiers riding Humvees being escorted by Taliban bike riders to the place of surrender.

The difference in their attire and weapons is striking and it seems the Afghan soldiers and militiamen have lost the will to fight. Some claimed they got no reinforcements, air cover, supplies and were unpaid. Others criticized the Afghan government as being corrupt, incompetent, and self-centered so why should they fight for it.

Relentless gains by Taliban

In less than two months the ground realities on the battlefield have changed with the Taliban seizing scores (159 as they claim) of districts headquarters in Northern provinces and then extending the offensive to almost all parts of the country. It is true the Afghan government controls more districts and all the 34 provincial capitals but the pace with which it is losing the district headquarters is alarming.

The Taliban also captured the strategically important Shir Khan Bandar, the river port in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province bordering Uzbekistan. They repulsed a government offensive and quickly resumed import and expert across the border. The Taliban also seized the Aquina district which borders Turkmenistan.

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The Taliban have gained a decisive edge and the Afghan government is struggling to cope with the situation. The peace talks have stopped and even if resumed the Taliban will now dictate terms. With prodding from important stakeholders, the two sides may talk again but the Afghan government no longer has the cards it possessed earlier and will have to salvage whatever the Taliban agree to give them. The Taliban have shown no willingness to show compromise on enforcing Islamic Shariah, which had been their first and foremost demand and the bedrock of their call for jihad.

Another wave of migrants

Stories are emerging of well-to-do Afghans leaving abroad or making preparations to do so in view of the grave security situation. Some have sent their families abroad and have plans to do this. Turkey and the UAE are the favorite destinations as many Afghans find it easy to get their visas or have made investments there.

The leadership will stay in Kabul as long as it is safe or shift to parts of Afghanistan that have not been seized by the Taliban yet. In the past places like Panjsher, Parwan, Takhar, Jauzjan, Faryab, Baghlan, Samangan, Kunduz, Badakhshan, etc were strongholds of the anti-Taliban erstwhile Northern Alliance and they could move there to survive and organize anti-Taliban resistance. But at this stage, most districts in these provinces have fallen to the Taliban and are no longer safe for their rivals.

Afghan Government in a desperate state

The Arbakis, the Afghan militia paid by the Afghan government is something new and was raised as the irregular force by Kabul several months ago, armed and funded to fight Taliban in vulnerable areas. But soon complaints emerged that they were looting the people and violating the law. Public complaints against them were raised and also voiced in the parliament and media.

Now the Arbakis are being raised in bigger numbers, mostly by former mujahideen commanders, but it is unclear if they have made any gains in the battle or defended a place under Taliban threat. This is surely leading to a civil war and triggering yet another round of battles that will have ethnic, regional, and linguistic overtones. But these are desperate times and desperate times need desperate actions.

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The Taliban have besieged several cities including and they claim their fighters can enter more cities easily but are waiting for orders from their Rahbari Shura (Leadership Council). However, the Taliban also realize that securing, managing, and providing resources will not be easy. Besides, there will be a need for large manpower to run a city and this will reduce the strength of their fighters.

Dwindling U.S. support to Afghan leadership

President Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, and their delegation in their much-anticipated White House meeting with President Biden did not get the desired result. Biden neither delayed the withdrawal of US forces nor slowed it down. Though First Vice President, Amrullah Saleh, counted ten achievements of their meeting with Biden, there was not anything concrete.

The only concrete thing was the $3 billion military assistance the US promised. Biden also put the onus on Afghan leadership to make efforts to put up a united front and also that only Afghans can decide and end the conflict.

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There was no clear commitment for using its military power, particularly airpower, to come to Kabul’s rescue. There could be airstrikes by the US in the future but only in urgent cases to save cities, especially Kabul.

The present situation will help the Taliban to gain a favorable peace deal and political recognition while their opponents can only hope for consolation.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior journalist and security analyst. He has been reporting on Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.