Images of helicopters taking off from the Embassy in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War will forever haunt the United States. The departure of US troops from the huge Afghan base of Bagram, near Kabul, where 10,000 people lived, occurred last week quietly, quickly and discreetly, without that atmosphere of debacle. But it meant, de facto, the end of the US intervention in its longest war. After almost 20 years, the US leaves Afghanistan, a country that remains at the mercy of the Taliban who are advancing on all fronts.
The United Nations, other allies that are also withdrawing their troops, military experts, human rights organizations, journalists on the ground … They all agree: without the logistical and military support of the US, the Afghan Army has little chance of controlling the country, more beyond Kabul, and to resist a general offensive by the Islamic militia, expelled from power in the winter of 2001, after the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York. Advances in education or women’s rights achieved in these two decades can be lost in months or even weeks. The complete withdrawal will take place at the end of August.
The last US troops will leave Afghanistan on August 31
The last one turned off the light
“The Afghan special forces are good and the air force is improving, but the Army is generally mediocre,” he explains. Michael E. O’Hanlon, director of research at the Brookings Institution, an expert on security issues. “Some ground will be lost, both territorially and in areas such as girls’ rights. The key now is to avoid total collapse, if possible. It is a very delicate situation ”. This same week, the Taliban have launched an offensive against the province of Badgis, in which Spanish troops were deployed, and the city of Qala-i-Naw, which they took on Wednesday in just a few hours, although they then withdrew after heavy fighting, according to different accounts collected by international agencies. A day later, they captured two customs cities in the western province of Herat: Islam Qala, which borders Iran, and Turghundi, which borders Turkmenistan.
Felix Arteaga, an expert researcher in military affairs at the Royal Elcano Institute, believes that this is only the beginning: “The demoralization of the Afghan Army is very important and is taking place. It is seen in what is happening in the provinces, outside the large population centers, where Afghan forces and police forces are isolated. The general perception is that the end is inevitable and that influences the government’s negotiating position. I’m afraid it will precipitate the fall, ”he adds, referring to the attempts at dialogue by the Executive and the Taliban.
Two data offered by the BBC can serve to summarize the situation: thousands of people crowd every day in Kabul in front of the passport office to try to get documents to flee the country and the logistical problems of the Afghan troops in the so-called outposts, Military detachments far from cities are so large that sometimes they do not have food or water. In many cases, Arteaga explains, they reach an agreement with the Taliban and surrender without fighting to save their lives or to eat.
UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Canadian diplomat Deborah Lyons, explained two weeks ago before the Security Council that “all the main trends – politics, security, peace process, economy, humanitarian emergency and covid – are negative or stagnant.” Since May, insurgents have taken 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts. The Taliban, for their part, maintain that they control 85% of the Afghan territory, a figure inflated by propaganda, but which reflects an undoubted fact: beyond the big cities, the presence of the State is very weak.
The British Chief of Staff, Nick Carter, acknowledged this week that he considered it “plausible” that the Afghan state would collapse without an international military presence and that a situation similar to the civil war of the 1990s would occur, of which precisely the Taliban emerged.
Since the Northern Alliance troops took Kabul in the fall of 2001, supported by the US air force and subsequently there has been a huge international deployment under the umbrella of the UN and NATO, many indicators improved in a country of 38 million people that has not lived in peace since the Soviet invasion in 1979. The number of minors who go to school has increased from 0.9 million in 2001 to 9.2 million in 2017 , of which 39% are girls. In 2004 there were just over 51,200 women working in the Administration. In 2018 (the latest year for which data is available) the figure had risen to almost 87,000. This does not mean that violence has stopped – 3,000 civilians died as a result of military actions or attacks in 2020 – or poverty: six out of ten Afghans have problems eating, according to the UN. However, the lives of many civilians have improved in these two decades. And all that can be lost.
The American human rights organization Human Rights Watch has just published a report describing the outlook for many Afghans in the coming months, based on what happened in the sectors that have already been overwhelmed by violence. “No faction has adequately protected civilians and, to some extent, all factions have used violence against civilians,” explains Patricia Gossman, HRW Associate Director for Asia. The Taliban are not the only threat, but the Afghan faction of the Islamic State has been especially brutal with the population, especially with the Hazaras, an ethnic group of Shiite creed. “Approximately 45% of civilian casualties are by the Taliban and 25% by the Government. The rest are for the Islamic State or crossfire, “adds Gossman.
HRW’s investigation reports that when the Bagh-e Sherkat district in Kunduz province (in the north) was occupied by the Taliban between June 21 and 25, there was reprisal against civilians who believed they had collaborated with the Government, and many were expelled from their homes and looting occurred. “The Taliban have eased some of their toughest measures in the areas they control. For example, they allow the schooling of girls in many provinces, but only until puberty, “explains Gossman,” but they seem determined to rule out of fear, without being accountable to the communities under their control. ” In the cities they occupy, the “vice and virtue” police are deployed almost immediately to bring out their more rigorous vision of Islam. “I am very concerned about the future and the worsening of a war to which the Afghans have been abandoned,” she says.