Afghanistan deadline charade: Taliban forces are making their move
WASHINGTON — Originally outlined in the Trump administration’s May 1, 2021 agreement with the Taliban, the entire Afghanistan deadline charade involving the complete withdrawal of all American troops in Afghanistan has been pushed back to September 11, 2021. But this new date exists purely for political show. It shows no regard for the increased danger to US troops posed by extending the original deadline. Further, the Biden/Blinken administration is making a concerted effort to ignore all Afghanistan deadlines. These include peace negotiations and treaties put in place during the Trump/Pompeo administration.
Taliban forces on the move
According to Reason.com, the New York Times observes that the new exit plan risks “an increase in violence—which the Taliban have threatened if the United States keeps troops in Afghanistan beyond May 1, 2021.”
In a May 26, 2021 statement, the Taliban declared they would not accept U.S. forces based in countries near Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the country’s Senate on Tuesday, May 25 that from now on, Islamabad would not allow U.S. bases or permit Washington to launch drone operations from its territory.
On May 1, Taliban forces reportedly overran an Afghan military base in southeastern Ghazni province. According to the Afghan government, the Taliban also staged attacks against security outposts in Farah, Baghlan, Badakhshan, and Herat, as well as instigating security incidents in several other provinces.
Targeted killings on the rise as current Afghanistan deadline approaches
But in addition to the steady pace of attacks against Afghan security forces, the country has experienced a steady rise in targeted killings of Afghan intellectuals, government officials, journalists, and activists. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan, Resolute Support, reported “exceptionally high” civilian casualties in early 2021. Many of these involved female journalists and activists. 93 percent of Q1 2021 civilian casualties were attributed to anti-government forces. 61 percent likely involved the Taliban.
Experienced fighters with connections to Iran’s IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) now see an opportunity to return. Crucially, these include the Hazaras, who earlier had sought refuge in Iran and elsewhere. The Hazaras, approximately 12% of the Afghanistan population, may also bring along the country’s other sizeable minorities. These include the Uzbeks and Tajiks. Together, they provide leverage Iran can exploit for greater involvement in Afghanistan once the US and NATO have withdrawn.
The local Afghan authorities, by themselves, remain incapable of defending the country against a predicted Taliban and anti-government forces onslaught on Kabul. This means American withdrawal may likely reverse the goals of the NATO and US military mission of the past twenty years. In the final analysis, the support they provided proved not as resolute as originally claimed.
Propping up Afghanistan
Secretary of State Blinken stated: “As part of our commitment to invest in and support the Afghan people, we are working with Congress to provide nearly $300 million in additional civilian assistance for Afghanistan in 2021, from both the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development.”
But this statement comes after a scathing report was issued on the subject, according to an article in Forbes. It detailed the waste, fraud and abuse of US funds already channeled to Afghanistan over two decades.
“The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, has reported that the U.S. has wasted billions of dollars on capital assets such as buildings, vehicles and aircraft in Afghanistan. SIGAR is the agency responsible for overseeing U.S. taxpayer money invested in reconstructing the war-torn nation and it conducts audits, inspections, and investigations to ensure all funding is being spent efficiently. It also aims to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. As of December 31, 2020, the U.S. had appropriated approximately $143.27 billion for relief and construction in Afghanistan since 2002. That can be broken down into four areas – security ($88.32 billion), governance and development ($35.95 billion), civilian operations ($14.87 billion) and humanitarian aid ($4.13 billion).”
US Taxpayers funding criminal and terrorist networks?
This information remained consistent with the SIGAR reports since 2001. Moreover, billions of US aid dollars have gone into contracting projects. Subsequently, much of this was siphoned off to criminal and terrorist networks. These programs included “gender equity, education, training, capacity building and transportation projects.” Additionally, Soldier of Fortune notes the following.
“SIGAR has routinely criticized the Afghan government’s efforts to curb rampant corruption as inadequate, saying it is a major concern among the frustrated donor community.”
But the US has no reason to believe sending more money and “civil society programs” to Afghanistan may fare any differently.
A Narco State & Operation Reciprocity
Most Americans remain unfamiliar with the Quetta Alliance. It consists of a loose confederation of three powerful tribal clans living in the Pakistani border town of the same name. US intelligence cited in Operation Reciprocity legal documents, notes that much of the region’s narcotics trade has been controlled by the Alliance for decades. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 1988, the clan leaders gathered secretly to approve an alliance with the Taliban. That alliance continues, and an article appearing in Politico noted the results.
“To finance its insurgency, the Taliban was reaping anywhere from $100 million to $350 million a year from its cut of the narcotics trade in hashish, opium, heroin, and morphine, according to U.S., United Nations and other estimates. Much of the money went to pay for weapons, explosives, soldiers for hire and bribes to corrupt government officials.”
The US and NATO made concerted efforts to decrease production of heroin and cultivate other crops for export. The US also moved to revive an earlier successful anti-narcotics plan.
“Operation Reciprocity, was modeled after a legal strategy that the Justice Department began using a decade earlier against the cocaine-funded leftist FARC guerrillas in Colombia, in concert with military and diplomatic efforts. The new operation’s goal was to haul 26 suspects from Afghanistan to the same New York courthouse where FARC leaders were prosecuted, turn them against each other and the broader insurgency, convict them on conspiracy charges and lock them away. Operation Reciprocity began in earnest and was making headway when on May 27, 2013, when the then-deputy chief of mission, Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, [Obama/Kerry] summoned Marsac and two top embassy officials supporting the plan to her office and issued an immediate stand-down order.”
Does Afghanistan possess realistic alternatives to poppy cultivation?
Poppies were and are the main cash crop in Afghanistan. In 2020 and the early part of 2021, production increased, according to credible sources.
“There are no factories or other businesses here that can offer employment. Our prospects have been ravaged by drought,” Noor Agha, a young farmer in Kandahar’s rural Zhari district, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Now the coronavirus [pandemic] has hit us, too, which has left us no option but to cultivate poppies. Currently the land under poppy cultivation has increased in Zhari, Maiwad, and Kandahar districts, which is also the provincial capital. Dand, Damman, Arghandab, and Takhta Pul – four of Kandahar’s 17 districts where poppy cultivation had ceased for five consecutive years.”
Some key questions about the current Afghanistan deadline for US forces to exit
Beside poppies, Afghanistan can still exploit its own natural resources. These include gold, lithium, emeralds, cash crops of opium poppies, saffron, barley, rice, and other agricultural and mineral products. But how many more will die or be harmed in the upcoming conflict over power, resources, and territory in Afghanistan? Many questions remain.
Can we expect the new governing entities to carry out reprisals on Afghan citizens who worked with allied organizations?
Does the Taliban intend to purge those suspected of “support” as the Vietcong did after America’s Vietnam withdrawal? Do they intend to embark on a mission of revenge as they did after the Russian withdrawal in the 1980s?
Does the US government plan to extricate loyal Afghans who supported allied efforts over the years?
America’s Memorial Day weekend is here. We should all take time to pause and remember those who have died in our country’s service. Additionally, we should also remember those who lost their lives due to their service to America and our allies. Today as in the past, American policy makers remain unable learn from the lessons of history or economics. Thousands of men and women were deployed to Afghanistan or worked as contractors there. Countless others worked as support personnel for US and NATO military forces. Many of these military and civilian personnel were killed or badly injured in the Afghan arena.
Many will ask… Given the original and current Afghanistan deadline charades involving US withdrawal, was it all really worth the sacrifice? Will the change of Afghanistan deadlines prompt more attacks on remaining US military and civilian personnel? What is our intent and mission in Central Asia now and in the foreseeable future?
There are no easy answers.
*Personal note: The author lived and worked in Afghanistan 2014-2017 and in Pakistan from 2010-2011 as part of various programs funded by the US Department of State, USAID and the DOD.