With Departure of NATO Troops, the Taliban Gains Ground in Afghanistan

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The mobile telephone video is abbreviated and somewhat grainy, but you tin perceive the fear, adjacent the panic successful the voices of the radical waiting. They’re making their mode up the gangway into the tiny plane. Nobody wants to beryllium near behind. A azygous antheral yet makes it past the information radical and rushes to the plane. The idiosyncratic filming explains, "That was a senator" – a subordinate of the precocious location of parliament successful Kabul. "These are members of parliament, representatives from the provincial assembly and commanders."

In caller days, the melodramatic scenes successful Faizabad, the superior of the mountainous state of Badakhshan, person been a Saigon infinitesimal for Afghanistan’s government. They are reminiscent of the iconic photograph changeable fractional a period ago, erstwhile 1 of the past American helicopters took disconnected from South Vietnam, leaving hopeless allies behind.

The events successful Faizabad person large symbolic value – and reenforce a suspicion that has been lingering for immoderate clip now: One time soon, the existent elites successful Kabul mightiness besides person to fly from the advancing Taliban.

DER SPIEGEL 28/2021

The nonfiction you are speechmaking primitively appeared successful German successful contented 28/2021 (September 9th, 2021) of DER SPIEGEL.

SPIEGEL International

There person agelong been fears successful Washington that the Afghan enactment and its troops would person a hard clip holding their ain against the Taliban erstwhile the NATO troops left. The Washington Post precocious reported connected a United States quality appraisal forecasting that Afghan enactment could lone clasp retired for six months, possibly a year, aft the last withdrawal.

The timepiece started ticking connected July 2, astatine 3 a.m. section time, erstwhile the past level took disconnected from the Bagram Airfield northbound of Kabul. The Americans didn’t adjacent archer the Afghans successful beforehand that they were leaving, they conscionable disappeared. When the Afghan service yet arrived hours later, they already had to thrust the archetypal looters distant from the base. It lone took a fewer hours for the panic-stricken assemblage to descend connected the Faizabad airport.

Despite its precise wide hazard analyses, the United States decided, aft astir 20 years, to extremity the warfare it launched aft the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, initially to hunt down Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorists helium led. But besides to stabilize and democratize the state successful the agelong word with partners including Germany. The archetypal portion of the ngo succeeded, but the 2nd 1 mostly failed. The Taliban has present secured power of ample parts of the country.

 At night, the streets beryllium   to the Taliban.

Children basal successful beforehand of a bombed-out concern successful Kandahar: At night, the streets beryllium to the Taliban.

Foto: M. Sadiq / EPA

They precocious rapidly successful Faizabad, surrounding the metropolis portion simultaneously conquering astir the full province. By July 14, they were successful power of 26 of the 28 districts and had besieged 2 more. Other areas, particularly successful the north, are besides falling into Taliban hands astatine ever-increasing speed. In the week up to July 5 alone, the Taliban captured different 38 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, astir one-tenth of the country. In all, they present power astir 200 districts, with different 120 oregon truthful besieged. And astir obscurity person they triumphed arsenic rapidly and arsenic radically arsenic successful Badakhshan.

On July 3, each commercialized flights from Kabul to Faizabad were suspended until further notice. Then began the half-hearted evacuation attempts that were caught connected video. Witnesses astatine the airdrome assertion the authorities sent lone 1 plane. GIZ, the German improvement assistance organization, unsocial rented 5 craft from the United Nations fleet to bring its section unit to safety.

Advancing connected each Fronts

Fierce battles erupted astir Faizabad, with dozens killed. But successful astir of the districts, determination were nary reports of fighting. The Taliban conscionable marched done without resistance. The army, police, section militias – immoderate of them lone precocious established – simply gave up, went location oregon fled. According to the Tajik army, implicit 1,037 Afghan information forces escaped crossed the borderline into the desperately mediocre neighboring state successful a span of 2 days. And they weren’t the archetypal to flee. "Staying would beryllium suicide," said 1 worker who had already fled to Tajikistan with an earlier wave. "Unfortunately, the bulk of the districts were near to the Taliban without immoderate fight," Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial assembly member, told Radio Free Europe.

"Two helicopters picked up lone the uniformed people, soldiers and police,” a militia subordinate who had deserted told DER SPIEGEL: "It was wide to everyone that it is over. Some fled, others conscionable went home." All the reports from those holding retired successful Badakhshan and of those who person escaped Kabul corroborate what the Taliban’s propaganda channels are communicating: The Taliban is advancing everywhere. In galore cases, the authorities troops near their vehicles, weapons and ammunition. The lone connection from the Wakhan corridor, a distant mountainous area, is that the authorities has simply abandoned the district.

In Kabul, however, Defense Ministry spokesperson Fawad Aman tweeted: "Vast areas were cleared of Taliban terrorists successful outskirts of Faiz-Abad,” utilizing an alternate spelling of Faizabad. In a 2nd tweet, helium posted 4 photos from the metropolis arsenic impervious cars were inactive connected the road. "People proceed to unrecorded without fearfulness of the Taliban terrorists." But determination was nary connection astir the abrupt nonaccomplishment of astir the full state and the city’s expected fall. There was lone speech of victories – adjacent successful the country’s different combat zone, wherever the Taliban are presently inactive advancing.

The spokesperson, indeed, the full government, arsenic good arsenic President Ashraf Ghani and the governmental elite successful Kabul each look to beryllium retired of interaction with reality. Ghani’s nationalist information adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, who conscionable visited Moscow, earnestly declared that the Afghan forces had not expected a Taliban offensive. Nonetheless, helium said they would "absolutely, definitely” spell connected the counterattack.

In Kabul, politicians person been moving for months to finalize the enactment of a Supreme State Council that would person the authorization to behaviour bid negotiations with the Taliban astatine immoderate constituent successful the future. But the process has been repeatedly delayed, partially owed to divisions among the Kabul elite: A "High Council for National Reconciliation" was announced successful 2020, but a feud betwixt President Ghani and his governmental nemesis, Abdullah Abdullah, implicit however galore of his supporters could beryllium included successful the assemblage has stalled that effort.

For 20 years, the changing governments successful Kabul told themselves confidently that the Americans would enactment forever. For erstwhile President Hamid Karzai, successful particular, that self-deception became a mantra: The U.S. would never, ever propulsion retired of Afghanistan. They judge the U.S.’ concealed interests successful Afghanistan – its fabled mineral resources, geopolitical aspirations, oregon a big of different imaginable incentives – were conscionable excessively great. This made it casual for them to disparage their American occupiers portion besides sending them each bill. Afghanistan was occupied, they would say, and Kabul wasn’t liable for anything.

"We didn’t recognize the Americans were gone until it was light. No 1 told america anything."

This feigned incapacity, combined with expansive patriotic gestures, was nurtured successful Kabul. Even erstwhile then-President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal woody with the Taliban enactment successful 2020, galore inactive reacted with disbelief. And when, aft his election, President Joe Biden gave circumstantial withdrawal dates successful April, immoderate inactive didn’t privation to judge it. Even arsenic Ashraf Ghani flew to Washington successful precocious June, galore successful the Presidential Palace and the authorities ministries hoped that Biden, astatine the past second, would say: "OK, we’re going to stay."

But that didn’t happen. Instead, portion by unit, the U.S. military, quality and work providers said goodbye – and disappeared. The harsh awakening came aboriginal successful the greeting of July 2. Over 2 decades, the gigantic U.S. basal astatine Bagram had grown into a benignant of metropolis with, astatine times, tens of thousands of residents, fast-food outlets, a hospital, a situation and a 3.6-kilometer (2.2-mile) runway large capable for a Boeing 747 craft to instrumentality disconnected and land. Bagram was the bosom of the American subject instrumentality successful Afghanistan. But the spot fell soundless overnight. "We didn’t recognize the Americans were gone until it was light," said General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the Afghan who is present successful complaint of the compound. "No 1 told america anything.”

At an evening gathering successful Kabul, officers were inactive upset astir the callous departure days earlier. And it sounded little similar determined choler than fearful indignation.

No 1 successful Kabul seems to person a program for stopping the Taliban. President Ghani doesn’t marque nationalist appearances. Western diplomats successful Kabul accidental helium lone consults with his closest confidants. A caller defence curate with combat acquisition from the guerilla warfare has been appointed, but overall, the enforcement subdivision successful Kabul seems shockingly paralyzed.

 The Afghan elite   had someway  convinced themselves the Americans would enactment   forever.

Afghan soldiers connected the erstwhile U.S. basal astatine Bagram: The Afghan elite had someway convinced themselves the Americans would enactment forever.

Foto: Haroon Sabawoon / Anadolu Agency / ABACA PRESS / ddp images

Even the elite units, which are robust successful combat and yet manageable successful size, are driven haphazardly and without screen into termination missions, complains 1 of their commanders. On June 16, erstwhile a peculiar forces radical was sent into the Taliban stronghold of Faryab to retake a district, the men came nether mortar occurrence from a overmuch larger Taliban force. They had been expected.

If things had gone according to plan, determination would, for example, person been aerial enactment for the elite force. But arsenic 1 subject antheral aboriginal summed it up "the service didn’t come, the constabulary didn’t travel and the concealed work didn’t come." He didn’t adjacent fuss mentioning the aerial force. "Everyone near them hanging." At slightest 21 of the elite fighters were killed successful little than an hour, including their well-known commander. There was a large ceremonial successful Kabul, and the territory was retaken. But lone for 3 days. The Taliban has been successful power ever since. A subordinate of the provincial council, Abdul Ahad Elbek, criticized the deployment, saying that sending the troops determination successful the archetypal spot had been a decease sentence.

It’s a unusual contrast: On the 1 hand, the authorities is acting mindlessly, while, connected the different hand, arsenic Bill Roggio, the matter-of-fact exertion of The Long War Journal, argues, the Taliban is acting much strategically. By attacking the north, helium says, the Taliban is astir to endanger the powerfulness bases of the authorities and its allies. "If the Afghan authorities loses the north," helium precocious wrote, past Afghanistan is efficaciously lost. Then "the Taliban could instrumentality the colonisation centers successful the south, east, and westbound without a fight, and statesman its siege of Kabul."

Badakhshan, the mountainous state that has present been conquered, played a cardinal relation arsenic the past bastion against the Taliban successful the 1990s. The legendary guerilla person Ahmed Shah Massoud, the "Lion of the Panjshir Valley," successfully fought to guarantee the Taliban ne'er captured the region. He besides became celebrated for controlling the hinterlands starring to the borderline with Tajikistan, done which helium ran his proviso route.

A Fight to the Death

The Taliban grew retired of the Pashtun taste radical astir 3 decades ago. They ne'er gained implicit power implicit bluish Afghanistan, which is chiefly location to Tajiks, Uzbeks and Ismailis. Taloqan was the past provincial superior they managed to seizure successful 2000, a twelvemonth earlier they were driven retired altogether by the U.S. forces. The Taliban captured the remainder of Takhar successful June and present Taloqan is nether siege.

Back successful the autumn of 2019, a squad of reporters with DER SPIEGEL witnessed however the government’s powerfulness successful the districts had shrunk to the cardinal subject posts. Even then, the Taliban controlled the villages and streets aft sunset.

As successful Takhar, galore soldiers and constabulary successful Badakhshan are simply giving up. Before closing in, the Taliban dispatch colony elders arsenic emissaries to the subject posts to marque an offer: the state to retreat and astir 50 euros successful pouch wealth – oregon a combat to their death. According to reports from the ground, the Islamists sometimes wage other for equipment, vehicles and ammunition near behind. Afterward, the radical who wantonness the combat are near alone.

Politically, the Taliban are seeking to beforehand themselves arsenic representatives of each Afghans and not arsenic conscionable the leaders of the Pashtuns. Their shadiness politician for Takhar state is an Uzbek, and the subject commandant for the bluish violative is simply a Tajik. A high-ranking Taliban delegation precocious traveled to Day Kundi state to guarantee the Shiite Hazara surviving determination that thing would hap to them. Just 20 years ago, they were persecuted and massacred by the Taliban arsenic heretics.

But what is credible alteration and what is conscionable deception? The fearfulness runs heavy successful millions of Afghans, and the dearth of accusation from distant districts fuels that fear. Shaky mobile telephone videos are circulating of women being flogged by the Taliban for "immoral behavior," of idiosyncratic men being executed. Some of the radical who person fled to Kabul picture acts of revenge. Decrees issued by section Taliban leaders forbid women from leaving the location without a antheral household member, girls’ schools person been closed.

Not everything tin beryllium corroborated, but the Taliban’s ft soldiers look to person changed acold little than its enactment successful exile, who similar to deliberation of themselves arsenic modernized and having arrived successful the 21st century.

"But what prime bash we have?” asks the militiaman from Badakhshan who had watched arsenic the solider and constabulary officers were taken distant by helicopter. "The authorities is abandoning us, the overseas troops are gone, astir each the borders are closed. What are we expected to do?”

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