The Taliban Retake Swathes of Afghanistan: What's Happened?
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
As of now, the Taliban have gained control of 65% of Afghanistan’s districts. Many contested and government-controlled areas fell under Taliban’s hands soon after US president Joe Biden announced the beginning of the withdrawal process of US troops, as well as the withdrawal of NATO troops back on April 13th of this year. Although not all troops have been withdrawn, it is expected that all troops will be gone by September 11th.
In this guide, we explore who the Taliban are, discuss the US troops’ withdrawal, analyse the Taliban’s advances, potential plans to stop more districts falling under their control, and how the international community responded to these events.
The word “Taliban” translates to “students” in Arabic, and is a militia group that was a key player in the region in 1994. During the Cold War, the group fought alongside Al Mujahideen, another extremist militia, against the Soviet occupation. The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 caused a major divide amongst Al Mujahideen leaders who became power thirsty, and ended up creating a full-blown civil war.
Looking to seize the opportunity, the Taliban quickly gained control of Al Mujahideen-controlled regions, especially Kandahar, where they tried Al Mujahideen leaders for war crimes. Following that, the Taliban promised locals to keep them safe and fed, which helped them gain popularity back then.
The US is withdrawing after 20 years of being there. The invasion took place in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. So, let’s look deeper into it.
The US Withdrawal
President Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan came after stating the following: “It’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.” However, this further worsened Afghanistan’s autonomy, putting the Afghan government and the Afghans in a critical position.
With the US troops' withdrawal and lack of NATO presence, Afghanistan could be in danger of being negatively impacted by foreign, neighbouring interests. Since the region is full of troubled relations, the United States’ decision might have amplified the dangers Afghanistan was already facing.
As the Taliban gains more control of Afghan lands, promising to instil an autonomous, Islamic rule upon the nation, the country could be facing a possibility of a civil war. So, with this in mind, what do Taliban advances look like?
As the combat between the Taliban and Afghan soldiers had increased by June 7th, senior government officials estimated more than 150 Afghan soldiers had been killed in only 24 hours. Fighting was also raging in 26 of the country's 34 provinces, according to the report. On June 22nd, Taliban forces had launched a series of attacks up north, which was far from their traditional strongholds in the south, and the UN envoy for Afghanistan claimed that they had gained control of more than 50 of the country's 370 districts.
By July 21st, the Taliban had gained control of about half the country’s districts, underlying the speed at which they were claiming territories. From the 6th to the 10th of August, the Taliban had added major cities like Zaranj, Sheberghan, and Aybak to the list of areas they control.
If this continues, Afghanistan will fall under the Taliban, and that will complicate a situation that is already in a critical state. So, what could be done to at least slow down the ongoing events?
Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Deborah Lyons urged for the Taliban and Afghan government to negotiate. This comes as a call for the halt of civilian casualties and humanitarian crises that have been created because of the conflict. In addition, she urged the Council to issue a statement clearly indicating the UN’s demand for an immediate stop to the human rights abuses being committed.
In addition, a ceasefire agreement between the Afghan forces and the Taliban would at least pause the ongoing conflict. The delegate from Niger, who also spoke for Kenya, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the two sides must agree on a truce in order for the Doha negotiations to succeed. At the same time, the Council must prioritise incentives and red lines to persuade the Taliban to abandon their use of terrorism for political gain.
The Taliban’s advances can only slow down if all sides are willing to cooperate. Otherwise, at the pace the Taliban are moving, the whole nation could be in danger.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin talked with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on August 12th, telling him that the US "remains engaged in the security and stability of Afghanistan," according to the State Department. They also stated that the US was committed to a political resolution of the issue.
Britain said it has plans of sending 600 troops to help citizens get out of the country, while in Qatar there were international envoys to negotiations about the Afghanistan peace process, urging all sides for an immediate halt to attacks on cities. The envoy included diplomats from the US, UK, EU, UN, China, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. The plan is still unclear, but all sides involved are working towards a solution as fast as possible.
A Final Note
The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating quickly, and the Taliban don’t seem to be losing or slowing down anytime soon. The withdrawal of US and NATO troops can be seen as the first step that made this situation occur. It is unclear whether or not there will be peace talks, a ceasefire agreement, or negotiations. However, international powers are trying to create a plan to control the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
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