After 20 years of war and spending a whopping amount of money, the Afghan government collapsed.
There are two basic questions about the recent developments in Afghanistan. First, why did the United States withdraw its forces without informing its allies; and second, how could the Taliban capture 90 percent of Afghanistan in a matter of days?
The first question was answered by Robert Ryan in a Clubhouse room with a group of his former friends. Ryan, a CIA agent who was on a mission in Afghanistan for many years, revealed that Khalilzad’s agreement with the Taliban was actually designed to close the US case in the International Criminal Court. The United States was under intense pressure from the court and went out of its way to obstruct the legal proceeding.
Thus, the two thousand billion dollars global coalition war funded by NATO members came to a dramatic end. The United States and its allies’ military presence continued for 20 years without any international protest. It was meant to fight terrorism, build a democratic government and nation in Afghanistan, and contain China, India, Iran, and Russia forever. However, not only did this war not achieve its goals but also, to the astonishment of the whole world, legitimized the Taliban and turned bad terrorism into a good one.
Concerning the second question, what really shocked the media and experts all around the world was how the Taliban could defeat trained Afghan government forces without central command and modern warfare tactics in a matter of days. Obviously, US troops’ withdrawal paved the way for the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban’s emergence, and the plunder of the multibillion-dollar US weapons left in Afghanistan.
But in fact, a good part of the Taliban’s success stems from a series of ‘shadow’ judicial systems that were launched 20 years ago throughout the country and are very popular with people. Due to the corruption and inefficiency of the government judiciary system, people have been going to these courts to resolve disputes over water, land, and criminal cases. Unlike corrupt government courts in Afghanistan, Taliban judges rule in less than a few hours without receiving a bribe based on sharia law. These courts are an important source of power and legitimacy for the Taliban among Afghans.
In addition, the Taliban set up a local intelligence-gathering system alongside these courts that collected intelligence about the weakness and abuse of power of local officials and commanders. Within a few days after the US withdrawal, the Taliban simply bought the corrupt officials and conquered Afghanistan. It is now enforcing its own laws and regulations which are accepted by most people in the occupied cities.
Usually, when the armed opposition of the government and the nation reach the cities from outside, people do not welcome them. But in Afghanistan, only a small number of people fled to Kabul or the borders after the conquest of each province by the Taliban. Even Ismail Khan, one of the legendary commanders during the guerrilla war with the former communist government of Afghanistan, did not leave Herat and told Taliban commanders after his capture that he would accept the Taliban if they treat people kindly. The current situation has forced all local officials to take the lead in cooperating with the Taliban to save their lives.
The US goal after leaving Afghanistan was not to overthrow the Kabul government and establish an Islamic caliphate under the Taliban. Especially now that any equal political understanding between the Ghani government and Taliban is out of reach and the United States will be forced to either accept the Taliban Islamic Caliphate or blacklist the Taliban again as a terrorist group and consider sending more troops to Afghanistan again.
Another concern is that if the Afghan government falls, the regional currents overthrowing the Kabul central government will provide more support to the Taliban and strengthen the Taliban’s strategy of dominating border areas and internal transportation routes. In this situation, the only way left for the United States to protect its interests is to internationalize the Taliban threat.
World and regional powers are watching the developments in Afghanistan very closely. China is now appraising developments in Afghanistan and is even willing to recognize the Taliban as the official government of the country. Russia has said it is not considering evacuating the Russian embassy in Afghanistan and its embassy will continue to operate in Kabul, despite the Taliban taking control of major Afghan cities. That is, Moscow and Beijing have no worries about the formation of an Islamic caliphate in Afghanistan. Similarly, Iran, as one of the most influential Islamic states in the region, has recognized the Taliban and has acted as if it has no worries about the continuation of Ashraf Ghani’s government or the formation of a government by the Taliban. The NATO Secretary-General did not go beyond a warning that if the Taliban occupied Afghanistan by force, the international community would not recognize them. The United Nations has also said it does not recognize the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has sent 3,000 troops to Kabul to save the lives of its personnel and has promised air support if necessary. What is more painful is that even the US State Department has asked its embassy staff in Kabul to destroy US flags at the embassy, along with sensitive documents, so that they do not become a propaganda tool for the Taliban.
At present, the US is making concerted efforts to preserve as much of its lost interests in Afghanistan as possible, at least in Kabul, even through military intervention under the pretext of transferring its embassy staff to the airport. At the same time, Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, is trying to hold the presidential palace, at least for some US-affiliated officials, in exchange for abandoning the rest of the country for the Taliban to establish its interim government.
The United States hopes to retain as many Afghan jihadi and political leaders as possible for the future of the next administration. At the very least, the retention of jihadi leaders is another goal of the US-British re-invasion of Kabul to facilitate the transfer of power.
There is a reason why only Britain will accompany the United States to the new military campaign in Afghanistan. The reason for the non-cooperation of other countries stems from the confusion of the US in Afghanistan that forced the country to announce its exit plan without informing its 42 allies. The allies who fought alongside the United States against Taliban and terrorism for 20 years and paid political, financial, and human costs and received nothing in return. This led to a loss of motivation for US allies to deal with the Taliban again. Unlike the United States, the fear of terrorism still lingers in Europe and people still remember war and terror in their streets.
But it is unclear whether the United States, without its former allies, will be able to organize a serious new war against the Taliban by deploying troops in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Kabul. Therefore, it is very unlikely that a half-hearted military attempt can stop the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan. History has shown that there is no military solution for Afghanistan. Thus, the current situation in Afghanistan is a direct product of the strategic mistakes of previous presidents and the Biden government.
*Timothy Hopper, an international relations graduate of American University.