By Edwin Hutchings, Aston Brown and Jasmin Myers
As the Taliban rapidly retakes control over Afghanistan Middle East watchers warn the population faces revenge killings and a return to the brutal conditions of the past.
Kandahar, the country’s second biggest city, fell to the Taliban earlier today, the latest of 11 provincial capitals to be stormed. Kabul, Afghanistan’s national capital is predicted to fall within days without US intervention.
But in scenes reminiscent of the fall of Saigon, when US troops evacuated at the end of the Vietnam War, up to 3,000 US troops have been flown in to help fly out embassy staff. The UK is doing the same, sending 600 troops.
In recent weeks following the announcement of the withdrawal of US and Australian troops the forces of the once-marginalised Deobandi fundamentalists have retaken large swaths of territory in fighting with government troops.
The Taliban is an ideologically based organisation and you don’t change your ideology, so most of it will be window dressing.
Intense fighting with government forces has seen the provincial capitals of Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat fall before the advance of an 85000-strong insurgency.
“The Taliban would like to give the indication that they have changed, they have learnt their lessons, but the reality is the Taliban is an ideologically based organisation and you don’t change your ideology, so most of it will be window dressing,” Lowy Institute Research Fellow Rodger Shanahan told Central News.
“In a country like Afghanistan… the terrain it soaks up troops very, very, quickly. You’re never going to have enough troops to control the entire country. The coalition couldn’t do it, the Afghan government is not going to be able to do it, the Taliban won’t be able to do it either.”
The US and Australia are withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years operating as a ‘security force’.
I am extremely disturbed by reports from areas captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
It is horrifying that hard-won rights are being ripped away from Afghan girls & women.
The @UN is determined to promote the rights of all Afghans & provide life-saving humanitarian support.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 14, 2021
Speaking to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Mohammad Haneef Atmar (Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister) said receding US air support had “diminished the capability of our forces to put up resistance”.
Although Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has indicated Australia may establish a military post there again soon, he hoped Australia would send diplomats back to the country sooner.
Claims that 85 per cent of the country is already back in the hands of the radical Deobandi sect of Sunnis has been rejected by the Afghan government, however, the Afghanistan Analysts Network estimates the Taliban controls at least half the country and is recapturing much more territory.
Map showing areas held by the Taliban. Source: Wikipedia
The Taliban’s rapid retaking of lost territory has sent shivers down the spines of Afghanis, who fear a return to the radical fundamentalism of the group.
Mariam Hasib, 43, from Sydney, a second-generation immigrant, who’s family migrated to Australia from Afghanistan in 1977, said: “It’s all going to go down … it’s already started … they’re gearing up to fight the Taliban who are coming, who are approaching.
“(We) are not going to win anything unless they (Afghan tribes) unite. So, to drop the whole – ‘You’re Sunni, you’re Shia, you’re Pashtun, you’re Farsi-speaking, you’re Hazara, you’re not Hazara … They need to stop that and just think of themselves as Afghans.
Another Australian resident with ties to Afghanistan, who spoke to Central News but wished to remain anonymous, said: “The one thing [the] Taliban may have done successfully is provide security to the regions it controls.
“Although, this is at the cost of many [of the] civil rights of its citizens … They have a very swift, efficient justice system, however, it is one that is outdated and vulnerable to injustice due to a lack of a more formal and precise process.”
Already as many as 300 refugees have fled insurgents in Shērkhān Bandar, into neighbouring Tajikistan, although the Afghan government has denounced these claims as fearmongering.
It’s their country to defend now. It’s their struggle.
Members of the Australian-Afghani community told Central News they feel angry that the country now faces even more bloodletting with the withdrawal of Coalition forces.
Earlier this week Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States had no intention of ramping up air strikes in Afghanistan.
“It’s their country to defend now. It’s their struggle,” he said.
Coming up to the US elections last year then nominee Joe Biden, announced that in his tenancy of President; he would ‘keep a small force there (Afghanistan) to prevent extremists from posing a threat to the United States and its allies”, telling US military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Biden only WEEKS AGO: "The likelihood there's going to be, the Taliban overrunning everything, and owning the whole county is highly unlikely."
I've asked numerous questions of the Biden Admin as to their plans. They never had any answers.
This is Joe Biden’s Saigon. pic.twitter.com/Nm2oP9eQ0Y
— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) August 14, 2021
President Biden on Tuesday evening told reporters at the White House that “Afghan leaders have to come together,” and that the Afghan troops outnumber the Taliban and must want to fight.
“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” he said.
Mr Shanahan said there is a very real threat of Afghanistan returning to the dark days of ideological repression. In the last two decades, Afghanistan has enjoyed many social improvements ‘significant improvements in education, particularly female education, expansion of health care, and a reduction of mortality rates, particularly among infants.’
He said this may all change under the leadership of the Taliban with its lack of social structure to address the needs of all Afghani’s stating.
“The future looks bleak for Afghan people, particularly those outside the large urban areas, it is yet to be seen what the future holds for people in urban areas, it’s not good either way.”
President Ashraf Ghani blames the country’s currently deteriorating situation, on the US “abruptly” deciding to withdraw troops. Australia quickly followed suit, months after the release of the Brereton report which claimed Australian forces had committed war crimes in the Urzugan province, including multiple claims of murdering unarmed Afghanis.
Before the current offensive Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, told Reuters the group had no intentions of extending their territory before troops had left.
“We don’t want to capture any province or provincial headquarters anywhere in Afghanistan by September 2021 when the US forces leave our country,” he said at the time.
But the Taliban’s offensive has come well ahead of the complete withdrawal of Coalition troops, and it has been reported that Afghan government units have had to negotiate with the Taliban by abandoning their weapons and vehicles, without major resistance.
The cities of Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar have been attacked and taken and the Taliban is stretching the resources of Afghan security forces, capturing major border crossings with Tajikistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. The capitals of Badakhshan, Faizabad (the capital considered an anti-Taliban stronghold) and Baghlan provinces in the north-east and Farah province in the west have been seized. Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, aka ‘Doctors Without Borders’ stated casualties were swelling.
“There has been relentless gunfire, air strikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,” said Sarah Leahy, aid group coordinator for Helmand.
Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission has released reports of Taliban revenge-killings of non-militant governmental officials, identifying, and chasing them down. On Sunday, it was reported flights out of Kandahar were halted by a barrage of rocket’s. Airport chief Massoud Pashtun told Al Jazeera three rockets directly hit the airport.
There is fighting, power cuts, sick people in hospital, the telecommunication networks are down.
Taliban forces have continued in their assault on provincial capitals such as Lashkar Gah, Kandahar, and Herat; the province of Herat, borders Turkmenistan and Iran and is a region important in its telecommunication services and trading port’s. In Spin Boldak – bordering Pakistan, the Human Rights Commission stated at least 40 non-militants were murdered, this month alone.
Recently, in the city of Islam Qala crucial fibre optic devices and system’s equipment were destroyed affecting communication services across the country while skirmishes continued on the outskirts of the city. A resident, Hawa Malalai, told the AFP news agency: “There is fighting, power cuts, sick people in hospital, the telecommunication networks are down. There are no medicines and pharmacies are closed.”
The #Taliban not only seized appr. a hundred US humvees and (MaxxPro) MRAPs at Kunduz airport, but also several US ScanEagle drones.
Billions of US tax payer $ going to Islamist extremists, thanks to the administration's hasty withdrawal without a peace deal or follow up mission. pic.twitter.com/Fb5MTpdLKK
— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) August 12, 2021
The insurgents are slowly tightening their grip around all of Afghanistan, local officials said on Wednesday. The Taliban seized three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan, bringing a total of 11 of the nation’s 34 towns, under insurgent control. Avenues for foreign support and escape, are becoming barricaded as insurgent’s push on to Kabul, the national capital.
A negotiator for the Taliban, Shahabuddin Delawar, recently declared in a news conference the Taliban control 85 per cent of territory in Afghanistan. An Al Jazeera correspondent Charlotte Bellis in Kabul speaking with residents before communications were shut down, reported: “Everyone is hiding in their homes.”
Kabul administrators had hoped for a resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Qatar that could halt fighting but, so far, the Taliban has refused to return to the negotiating table.
Main image by Defence Images.