War ends in Afghanistan, but uncertainty and famine loom

The astonishing Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military from the country later in the month marked the end of America’s longest war, which has lasted nearly two decades, in the year 2021.

Several weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, American and allied troops invaded Afghanistan and quickly ousted the Islamist Taliban from power for harboring the Al-Qaida leaders responsible for the carnage.

But the Taliban quickly regrouped and waged a deadly insurgency against the West-backed government in Kabul and international forces.

On August 15, the insurgent group entered the capital after invading the rest of the country in just 10 days following an incredibly rapid collapse of Afghan government forces, which the US-led coalition led to and equipped for years.

Some of these forces reported a lack of food, ammunition and air support. Others surrendered or fled the battlefield after making deals with advancing insurgent fighters.

West-backed President Ashraf Ghani and senior government officials fled Afghanistan just hours after the Taliban entered Kabul, causing panic as US emergency airlifts began at the international airport from Kabul.

“There was a lot of chaos. There was a lot of confusion. I mean, the President of Afghanistan himself had just boarded a plane and left the country. Nobody saw it coming, ”Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

FILE – Afghans stand next to a torn poster of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Kabul Airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021.

Withdrawal of troops

President Joe Biden and his administration have defended his decision to repatriate all troops, saying they have long accomplished the mission of reducing al-Qaida and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorists’ paradise.

“This summer, we kept that promise. … We knew it would be difficult, ”Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference in Washington at the end of December.

“But it’s also the first time in 20 years that no American troops have vacationed in Afghanistan, and we are not sending a third generation of American soldiers to fight and die there,” Blinken said.

The Taliban’s return to power, however, raised concerns over whether Islamist leaders would sever ties with terrorist groups like al-Qaida, effectively govern the country, and respect the human rights of all Afghans, especially women. It also raised questions about the US war and the nation-building effort that followed, which cost Washington an estimated $ 2,000 billion and the lives of at least 2,400 military personnel.

Critics such as former US diplomat Robin Raphel, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, attempted to sum up the troubled Afghan mission at a seminar in Pakistan.

“After September 11, the United States became angry with Afghanistan, seeking revenge on a country whose history and culture they did not fully understand. He then fell victim to a mission drift, trying to create a Western model of democracy on an accelerated timeline at the point of a gun, ”she said.

“This has resulted in massive corruption, inequality and a [Afghan] government with limited legitimacy living in a bubble in Kabul. So the Taliban movement, which was in many ways more indigenous and closer to the reality on the ground, made persistent gains and, in the end, the government collapsed, ”Raphel added.

FILE - Hundreds of people run alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane as it descends a runway at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan on August 16.  2021.

FILE – Hundreds of people run alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane as it descends a runway at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan on August 16. 2021.

Evacuation efforts

The United States helped evacuate 124,000 people. This effort was marred, however, by an Islamic State terrorist attack that killed nearly 200 people, including 13 US servicemen. Days later, a U.S. drone strike that the Pentagon said was intended to strike Islamic State attackers mistakenly hit and killed 10 innocent Afghan civilians.

Meanwhile, the evacuation left behind hundreds of American citizens and thousands of Afghan allies. Rights groups reported abuses and revenge killings of American allies in the months that followed.

The Taliban takeover triggered an economic collapse, raising humanitarian needs to record levels in Afghanistan, which aid workers say stem from years of conflict, drought and extreme poverty.

The Afghan economy has been heavily dependent on foreign financial aid for the past 20 years. The Taliban’s return to power prompted Washington to suspend its treasury, wiping out 40% of the country’s gross domestic product and 75% of the government budget.

The Biden administration also seized Afghanistan’s roughly $ 9.4 billion in assets, much of which the US Federal Reserve held, and imposed financial sanctions on the Taliban, crippling the country’s ailing banking system. the Afghan currency rapidly losing value.

“The Afghan economy is now in free fall, and if we do not act decisively and with compassion, I fear that this fall will drag the entire population with it,” warned the UN humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths.

People are holding a banner with

People hold a banner that reads “Let’s Eat” before walking down the streets during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 21, 2021, as the country grapples with a deep economic crisis.

the demands of the Taliban

The Taliban have demanded the release of frozen funds while international aid agencies say financial restrictions are hampering relief operations in the country.

The UN estimates that more than half of the estimated 40 million people face starvation, with 1 million children at risk of dying from “severe acute malnutrition”.

A group of 46 lawmakers, mostly Democrats, wrote a letter to President Biden on December 21, asking him to quickly ease ongoing punitive sanctions and unblock Afghan reserves to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in the Asian country from South.

The Biden administration maintains that the status of the Afghan reserves is the subject of an ongoing litigation brought by victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks and other terrorist incidents “who pass judgment against the Taliban.”

Washington also faces difficult questions about how funds can be made available to directly benefit the Afghan people while ensuring that the Taliban does not take advantage as the group remains sanctioned by the United States in as a specially designated global terrorist group.

The US Treasury decided earlier in December to allow personal and non-personal remittances to Afghans. Washington also played a role in arranging the transfer of $ 280 million from the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) to support humanitarian activities.

Critics say the United States and the international community should seriously consider engaging with the Taliban to address the looming humanitarian crisis, without granting them diplomatic recognition.

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, center, arrives for an extraordinary session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Islamabad, on December 19, 2021.

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, center, arrives for an extraordinary session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Islamabad, on December 19, 2021.

“The point is, the United States fought and lost a 20-year war against the Taliban, and it’s hard to imagine that this reality does not color the prospects of some in Washington,” said Laurel Miller, director of the Asia program at the International Crisis Group.

“But I also think that if you take a step back from that reality and look at the larger picture of American interests, I think it’s quite myopic to be complicit in the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding there.” said Miller, who served as an interim US special. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is growing concern that economic and humanitarian upheavals are forcing more and more Afghans to attempt to leave the country.

Eliminate terrorist links

The Biden administration is pressuring the Taliban to cut ties with terrorist groups, end reprisals against Afghans affiliated with the ousted government, rule the country inclusively, and allow women and girls to participate fully in public life and receive an education.

Taliban leaders vowed to run the country differently from their previous regime, when women were not allowed to leave home unless accompanied by a male relative and girls were not allowed to date school.

Most girls are not allowed to return to class under the current Taliban regime, but officials insist they will eventually return to school once the government has enough funds to pay the salaries of the child. tens of thousands of unpaid teachers and ensure a “safe environment” for the education of women across Afghanistan.

“We regard human rights, women’s rights and the participation of all capable Afghans from various regions as our duty. We have done a lot in this regard and will continue to take further steps, ”Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said at an emergency conference on Afghanistan hosted by Islamic countries in Pakistan on December 19.

An Afghan woman wearing a burqa walks out of a small store in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, December 5, 2021.

An Afghan woman wearing a burqa walks out of a small store in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, December 5, 2021.

Critics remain skeptical and say the future of Afghans, especially women, under the Taliban remains uncertain.

“Women’s rights are under immense pressure. All the young women who have gone to school in the past 20 years for a career now see their professional prospects darken, ”said analyst Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official.

Analysts say the international community can still influence the Taliban to moderate their policies in return for diplomatic recognition and conditional access to frozen funds to avert disaster in Afghanistannm

VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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