The Fall of Kabul
Following Biden’s July announcement that United States’ (US) troops would leave Afghanistan by August 31, the Taliban seized control of cities across Afghanistan, paving the way for their capture of the capital city, Kabul. Kabul had been home to the US embassy and was one of the last outposts of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Following its capture, the Taliban claimed victory and officially declared the 20-year war over.
Ashraf Ghani, the 72-year-old president of Afghanistan, fled the presidential palace in Kabul shortly before Taliban forces arrived and is now said to be in Uzbekistan.
While it was always likely the Taliban would have a resurgence following US withdrawal, the speed and precision with which it took place surprised many. A recent US intelligence assessment had wrongly predicted that it would take at least 90 days for Kabul to fall following the departure of American troops.
Looking back only days ago, the Taliban’s capture of Kandahar, the second largest city in Afghanistan, was considered a shocking defeat for Afghan forces. On the same day, the Taliban had also taken Herat, the third largest city, and Lashkar Gah in the South, cementing their control over two-thirds of the country.
The quick surrender of Herat, Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and many more have the international community and American officials scratching their heads. In theory, the ANSF should have vastly overpowered the Taliban given the US had spent over $88 billion to build security forces, providing military training and high-tech equipment.
Instead, a lack of leadership, intense corruption and two decades worth of casualties are some of the reasons being attributed to the ANSF’s failures. It didn’t help that as cities fell, a sense of inevitability spread across Afghanistan, disheartening soldiers and putting them under increased pressure to defect in order to secure their own safety and that of their families. For example, the governor of Ghazni, Daoud Laghmani, was recently arrested for abandoning his post and allowing the Taliban to take the city with little to no resistance.
The US and other countries, including Australia, are now scrambling to conduct mass evacuations as the fall of Kabul is being likened to the fall of Saigon. A viral picture showing more than 600 people crammed into a C-17 US aircraft illustrates the chaotic scenes as thousands rush to evacuate the airport of Kabul. India has been the latest embassy to leave Kabul, with only China, Pakistan, and Russia continuing to have an official presence in the capital.
This has placed Australia in hot water as it too attempts to evacuate the hundreds of Afghans who assisted the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during the 20-year war. Translators, local workers, cultural advisors, and many others who aided the ADF are now at high risk of being jailed or killed by the Taliban. Australia has continuously been accused of acting slowly to process visa applications and conduct evacuations.
Time, it seems, has run out. Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded that Australian ‘support won’t reach all that it should’ in a press conference on August 17.
Furthermore, recent deadly attacks at Kabul airport’s Abbey gate and a nearby hotel have made the situation increasingly dire. The attacks, claimed by a group called ISIS-K, killed at least 175 people. Among them were Afghan civilians, US troops, and members of the Taliban. With Australia having completely withdrawn its forces just before the bombings, the PM was able to do little more than offer condolences. It is still unclear how many Afghans, who were granted visas, have been left behind.
As for the future of Afghanistan after evacuation efforts cease, life under Taliban rule will be the norm. Just what this may look like in the coming years is still uncertain. In an open letter to the New York Times in February 2020, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban, outlined what kind of Afghanistan they wanted to establish. Haqqani stated that the ‘the new Afghanistan will be a responsible member of the international community’ and somewhat surprisingly, that they would create an ‘Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights [and] where the rights of women that are granted by Islam ….. are protected’. He also made note that the Taliban would not support or harbour any terrorist groups planning attacks on countries overseas in a move likely to appease US leaders.
Despite these claims, many Afghans have spoken of a very different existence. One where music is banned outright, amputation is the punishment for thieves and women’s rights have been drastically curtailed. For example women are required to have a mahram, a male chaperone, to go out anywhere including medical appointments. In Kunduz, a rickshaw driver transporting a female passenger was beaten by the Taliban for allowing her to travel alone.
With almost all the country now under Taliban control and the fall of Kabul finally breaking what little was left of the ANSF, this will be a fate many have to reckon with in the coming years.
Hannah Scallion is an International Studies student at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). She has a strong interest and passion for issues within the fields of security and political economy.