Afghanistan and the Taliban Takeover: Where Did It Go So Wrong?
President Biden’s decision to finally withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September 11 has been a significant focus globally this year. But with news largely quiet and most of the world closing their doors to the South Asian country, two months after the Taliban regained control of the country on August 15, it is time to reflect on the misdoings of the 20-year Afghanistan war and what the future looks like for its civilians.
Earlier this year, Biden announced the drawdown of all 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, starting May 1 and concluding by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In his announcement to the nation, he declared it was time to end the America’s longest war since “our reasons for staying have become increasingly unclear,” having met its objective of assassinating al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in 2011.
The decision came as it was noted that only the citizens of Afghanistan have the right and responsibility to run their own country, as opposed to Western nations. However, is this now the case after Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country back in August and Taliban forces swiftly took control of the country?
Arsalan, who fled Afghanistan last year and is now living in the UK, explained, “They will have control over media and only show you what they want.”
“Any act of kindness is just a game, their promises just a lie. If you know history, they have made these fake promises countless times in the past but never fulfilled them.”
Many people live in fear of being persecuted by the Taliban, as Arsalan told me, “They (Taliban) said everyone is free to practice their own religion, but it was a lie. A few days ago, they killed so many people who practice my religion.”
Arsalan is a Shia Muslim, an ethnic group who faced intense persecution during the Taliban’s previous rule, as they do not consider Shia to be true Muslims.
From this account alone, it seems that the comment of the US is evidently flawed and the citizens of Afghanistan will have even less democratic rights to run their own country than ever, now that the Taliban is in control.
Going back 20 years, the decision to invade Afghanistan came soon after militant extremist al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden ordered the 9/11 attack on the United States. In 2001, four planes were hijacked and flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City and the Pentagon, a government building in Washington, killing 2,977. After the discovery of who was involved in the attack, the United States questioned the Taliban, known for its links to harboring al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden but the Taliban chose to protect him. With retribution at large, the US, alongside NATO forces including the UK, decided to launch a war on the Taliban to capture bin Laden and eliminate those who coincided with him.
The Taliban were rapidly defeated by the end of 2001, and by 2004 the capital of Kabul was governed by a new US-backed, supposedly democratic government. Osama bin Laden was subsequently killed by US Navy SEALs under former US President Barack Obama, in a raid on his residence in Pakistan in 2011 and soon after NATO called back their troops due to war fatigue. Part of the US military remained in Afghanistan as Obama was concerned the Afghan military could not hold out alone. But this created a vacuum, and the Taliban used this opportunity to regain the control it had lost, becoming active in almost 70% of Afghanistan in 2018. When administrations changed and Trump became President, 3,500 extra troops were deployed, however, once again, they were withdrawn from the country due to frustration of the Taliban’s tenacity.
With the Taliban back in full control this year after complete withdrawal from Western forces, it raises earnest questions about the approach to war in the Middle East and how serious implications will be for civilians in Afghanistan and for global security.
From the outset, there was a fundamental arrogance in the approach to war, and the US invasion began with little preparation, governed mostly by strong emotions following the 9/11 attack. Once the Taliban was defeated, there was a lack of planning in how to conclude the campaign once the main objective was completed and a real lack of clarity over the nature of the war.
Then in 2003, former President Bush rushed to invade Iraq, for reasons less legitimate, such as the leadership of Saddam Hussein were creating Weapons of Mass Destruction. This statement was found to be false, and many insiders of the former US government have spoken out about the extent of these lies. But this second invasion in another Middle Eastern resulted in a loss of focus in the unfinished Afghanistan campaign, with critics arguing that it gave time for the Taliban to gain confidence and regroup.
The way in which the war was carried out was another flaw. Under Obama, improvements were noticed as he tried winning the “hearts and minds” of civilians by investing in education and infrastructure and improving human rights, especially for women but this is dismissed in the minds of many due to the sheer number of those who were killed from 2001-2021.
There were over 47,000 civilian casualties, and in total between 171,000 to 174,000 deaths, with the Costs of War Project by Brown University estimating in 2015 that this could in-fact be as high as 360,000 additional casualties due to indirect consequences of war. Data published by London-based charity Action on Armed Violence found that 3,977 of these civilian casualties between 2016 and 2020 were caused by US-led airstrikes. Among them, 1,598 were innocent children.
Drone strikes targeting civilians, US soldiers posing with body parts of dead Afghans and urinating on Taliban corpses and other war crimes reported, sparked anger in the community and made it impossible to gain relations with civilians, similar to that in Vietnam. Insensitivity and a lack of respect for the Afghan people would prove difficult for international relations and many did not want the presence of Western forces on their land.
The fatal flaw was the manner in which the withdrawal was conducted. A lack of preparation to ensure the safe departure of US and other foreign diplomats and civilians, along with thousands of Afghan interpreters who helped through the duration of the war was catastrophic and has led to reports of beheadings by the Taliban. The corruption inside the Afghan government was also underestimated, leading to the rapid takeover of the Taliban, as they used payoffs and bribes to regain control.
As for the future of Afghanistan, it seems instability and war within the country is far from over. Women’s rights are the first to be discussed, with many reporting from within that girls are not being allowed access to education, and women told to stay inside the home.
The struggle for those fleeing Afghanistan does not end across borders, as the difficulty to begin a new life starts. After the UK’s involvement in the war, we should take more responsibility for those fleeing.
Ali Ghaderi, a public speaker advocating for the rights of refugees in the UK, responded to the UK’s inhumane offer of resettling just 5,000 refugees this year: “England, Wales, Scotland: there is enough space in the UK for more people from Afghanistan.”
Whilst the situation in Afghanistan remains volatile, this is the time to be helping those in need of asylum and not granting the government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill, seeking to criminalize those who arrive here without papers. Check out how you can get involved in the Week of Action against the ‘anti refugee’ Nationality and Borders Bill here!