Conflicts & War

Taliban’s return pushes Afghanistan two decades back

By Moncho Torres

Kabul, Dec 23 (EFE).- Afghanistan waited 20 years only to reach back to its point of departure, when the Taliban seized power in August this year, sealing a dazzling victory that coincided with the haphazard withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Ministries and other offices were being vacated by officials even on the morning of Aug. 15 as rumors flew around: the Taliban were outside Kabul, while the people locked themselves indoors amid an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

The Taliban appealed for calm and announced that they would not advance towards the city center until there was a peaceful transfer of power, but hours later they arrived, citing the possibility of looting and disturbances as the Afghan security forces fled the city.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country on the same day, and later justified his quick and stealthy getaway by saying he had left to prevent bloodshed.

As the Islamists took over the presidential palace and Kabul’s streets on the fateful Sunday, there was a desperate scramble towards the airport, where thousands of Afghans were trying to flee the country onboard evacuation planes, and chaotic scenes prevailed.

The images, of dozens trying to climb a moving plane or bodies falling off aircrafts, have already become part of Afghanistan’s turbulent history.

Foreign diplomatic personnel, warned by intelligence agencies, had begun evacuating the embassies in the early hours of Sunday to move to the military area of the airport, where the international community was trying to fulfill its promise of evacuating their close collaborators during the two decades of occupation.

However, nobody had predicted the speed with which all 34 Afghan capitals fell to the Taliban one after the another, starting in May when the last phase of the foreign troops’ withdrawal began.

The foreign powers sped up the evacuation process with the Taliban’s approval.

Washington had already agreed to withdraw troops within 14 months in the Doha agreement in February 2020, with the Islamists promising to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a terror haven, unlike their earlier regime between 1996-2001, which was marked by their support to Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks.

However, the US troops only controlled the military part of the airport and were unable to establish order outside, where thousands were jostling to reach the tarmac.

Stampedes, fights, children getting separated became common, and on Aug. 25 the Islamic State’s Afghan branch carried out a deadly suicide bombing near one of the entrances of the airport, killing 170 people, including 13 US soldiers.

The newly elected US President Joe Biden, who inherited the Afghan situation from his predecessor Donald Trump, pledged to withdraw all troops by the end of August, and a little before the midnight of Aug. 31, the last American soldier left Afghan soil after two decades of conflict.

The Islamists had returned stronger than ever just before the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks in the US that led to the allies’ invasion and the defeat of their earlier regime.

Washington was quick to freeze around $10 billion of Afghan assets, while the international aid supply was also suspended, which had supported the country for years and amounted to around 43 percent of the GDP.

Banks witnessed long queues, while authorities imposed a weekly withdrawal limit of $200, even as a sizable part of the population lost its jobs.

The humanitarian crisis intensified in an economy already weakened by years of war, a severe draught and the pandemic.

The UN warned in November that as many as 95 percent of the Afghans did not have sufficient food as winter approached.

The Islamist regime, despite an attempted image makeover, continues to commit serious human rights violations based on its strict interpretation of Islam.

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