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‘We Were Warned’: Kabul’s Fiasco After US Withdrawal From Bagram Airbase – OpEd

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After the May (2021) deadline passed, President Biden was adamant that the goal is ‘zero’ troops by the coming September, without any guarantee that Taliban will respect the Peace agreement or abandon al-Qaeda.  Without giving it a second thought, Taliban started their onslaught to take over what they had been seized off, two decades ago. On 2nd July (2021), without notifying the Afghan security and administration U.S. left Bagram Airbase after twenty years, which has been the epicenter of U.S. ‘War on Terror’. Even after leaving its biggest military base in Afghanistan, President Biden stated that the U.S. still have the ability to conduct airstrikes if needed but the option of reconsidering the withdrawal process is not on the table. Unfortunately, Biden’s words are not supported by his actions as the situation in Afghanistan is getting deteriorated by each passing hour. So far, Taliban has taken control of two-third of country’s territory and their offense is getting more persistent and noxious by each passing day, since the Taliban took over the Bagram Airport in June 2021. 

The World was Warned of the Consequences of U.S. Withdrawal 

On Friday (August 13, 2021), Taliban took control of 18th provincial capital (out of 34 provinces) and by the end of the day Taliban also claimed their control over Kandahar (which was the 12th capital) as tweeted by Taliban spokesperson. Besides, Taliban has taken over Heart and Ghanzi, which is about 130 km from the capital Kabul. They have already taken control over border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and also started to collect taxes at Spin Boldak with Pakistan, which gives strategic advantage to Taliban over Afghan government. It is most unfortunate and shameful on part of the main stakeholders such as the U.S. and NATO forces that they knew the consequence of their ‘irresponsible’ withdrawal, but they let the helpless Afghan public to face the wrath of Taliban. Regional power and stakeholder such as Russia, China and most importantly Pakistan, time and again stressed that there is high probability that the ‘irresponsible’ withdrawal of Western forces could lead to total collapse of Afghan government. 

On April 14 (2021), the U.S. President Joe Biden announced “it is time to end the forever war,” while acknowledging the fact that the contemporary situation in Afghanistan can lead to civil war if the Kabul falls to the Taliban. After President’s statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the U.S. is the biggest external factor influencing the Afghan situation and it must take full responsibility for preserving the outcome of its ‘unilateral’ decades long ‘War on Terror’. China’s concerns are genuine as Taliban successful offense can influence the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in the border region of Xinjiang, China.

Russia, yet another stakeholder in the region, sensed insecurity and feared that the continuously deteriorating situation in Afghanistan can cause spillover effect which could destabilize the neighboring countries. Russia, along with China, has blamed the US for its hasty and irresponsible withdrawal as the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that the power vacuum will give birth to new wave of terrorism in Afghanistan. Similarly, after leaving Bagram Air Base, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had already warned that there is high probability that the country could face civil war after complete withdrawal of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

Moreover, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has consistently highlighted Pakistan’s policy of peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan that favors the ‘responsible and orderly’ withdrawn of the U.S. forces. Since September 2019 Pakistan been the most active player in Afghan peace process and played critical role to keep alive the interest of Russia and China. Most importantly, Afghans themselves believe that a hasty and irresponsible withdrawal will jeopardize the progress Afghanistan has made in the past two decades. Most importantly, it was September 2019 when Atlantic Council (a think tank) release a joint statement of nine former U.S. ambassadors that the U.S. hasty withdrawal could bring a ‘total civil war’ in Afghanistan. They further urged the U.S. administration that the U.S. troops should not leave Afghanistan until it sign a ‘real peace agreement’ with Taliban.

History is Repeating itself

The U.S. President Joe Biden has categorically said it on multiple occasions that the main objective of the ‘War on Terror’ i.e. ensuring that the Afghan soil will never be used for terrorist activities against the United States of America, has been achieved almost a decade ago after the success of ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ in May 2011. President Biden has lost faith in Afghan Peace process and become more frustrated as he has been dealing with the Afghan issue for more than a decade, since 2009 under the administration of former President Barack Obama. The irresponsible and hasty withdrawal is a testimony that the smooth withdrawal of U.S. has become the main objective of Biden’s administration and seeking political settlement is no more a priority. What is more upsetting, is that the U.S. Defense Department still believe that the Kabul is not facing an imminent threat, although Taliban has almost isolated the city. According to the sources, after seizing strategically important cities, Kabul can fall under Taliban control within 90 days. Taliban’s rampage over the capitals was predicted once the U.S. announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan and effectively ending the twenty-years’ war. But it was U.S. hasty and irresponsible withdrawal of Bagram Airbase which heightened Taliban’s confidence and encourage them to take what they had been sequestered off two decades ago. Moreover, the U.S. has decided to send around three thousand troops to facilitate and ensure the safe withdrawal of its over four thousand civilian staffs and not to aid Ghani’s government to fight against Taliban. 

This is not the first that the U.S. forces are leaving a country in peril that is prone to civil war. The United States of America has a history of abrupt and hasty withdrawal from conflict ridden countries, for example the U.S. forces left Saigon in 1975, abandoned Somalia in 1993, sudden withdrawal from Syria in 2018, left Libya in 2019 in total war, and leaving Afghanistan in September 2021. In most of the cases, such irresponsible and hasty withdrawal led to civil war like a situation and destabilize the peace of the neighboring countries in particular, and the whole region in general.

*Omair Farooq Khan is from Pakistan, completed a Master’s in International Relations from Hungary and is now working as freelance writer for international journals.

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