US withdrawal allows Taliban killers in Afghanistan
Since President Biden announced his withdrawal from Afghanistan, nearly half of the country has come under Taliban control.
The major cities in the south – Lashkar Gah, Kandahar City, Qalat and Tarin Khowt – are essentially surrounded and under siege. Only a shard of Lashkar Gah remains. Fourteen of the 16 districts of Kandahar province are now under Taliban control.
The Taliban have succeeded in this because it is a billion dollar a year company, which smuggles drugs, extorts companies, extracts minerals and now controls customs posts.
The Afghan army and police have been fighting for 20 years and many of their best commanders are now dead. Their lightly armored vehicles were particularly vulnerable to roadside bombs. Twenty years later, the Air Force is tiny and inadequate, and now flies less often because Biden removed the maintainers.
The main flaw in the withdrawal is that a carefully managed impasse suddenly broke loose. The Afghans relied on the Americans to help them with the airstrikes and logistics, which are now gone.
More importantly, ordinary Afghans feel the Americans have abandoned their cause. This has been particularly unsettling because Afghanistan is a tribal system. The tribe and sub-tribe will procrastinate in the face of an unstable situation and support both sides. But if one side seems ready to win, the tribe will switch to that side. This has spurred a wave of recruitment into the ranks of the Taliban as the tribes try to cope with the winners.
The Biden administration understands almost none of this, otherwise they wouldn’t have pulled out. Joe Biden says the Afghan government and its allies can win if they have the will to fight. Biden does not show that he upset a delicate political and military balance that oscillates widely with relatively minor changes. Thus, the departure of only 2,500 American soldiers (plus contractors) has a huge impact on a fight between 300,000 government soldiers and 60,000 Taliban.
This is a strategic blunder with very real human consequences.
The Taliban are cold-blooded killers. Since 1995, they have killed the elders of the tribes who resisted them. As regions come under their control, they kill anyone they feel has cooperated too closely with the United States and the Afghan government.
This means interpreters, government officials and anyone associated with the war effort. The feeling of fear is palpable.
What does it look like in practice? The Taliban will call men’s cell phones on their blacklist and make threats. The Taliban will then hunt them down and shoot them, or place bombs to kill them.
Insecurity persists everywhere, even in cities. The Taliban now have strike squadrons operating in Kandahar, Kabul and elsewhere. The Taliban will get in and shoot someone in their car, as well as the passengers. Or they attach a bomb to their car and detonate them all. The women and children will die as well as the target. If they miss once, they will keep trying; they shelled or shot an official 11 times.
This is why tribal chiefs do business, because they are afraid. This is why many government commanders have simply withdrawn their troops from areas where the Taliban have overwhelming superiority. They don’t want to be shot if they surrender, and the Taliban have the money to pay them to leave. Why not go there?
The Taliban are not reasonable people. They are killers whose goal is the competitive domination of the country. Their recent talks with the Afghan government are undoubtedly proposals that the government is surrendering to. They are not serious in the negotiations unless they control the outcome, for the nation as well as for the districts.
The Biden administration has failed to understand what led to the war, the kind of people they face, and the psyche of their Afghan allies. They throw their best Afghan friends to the wolves, and let in a movement which prides itself on defending the values of the Middle Ages, and which kills without remorse. He is also a close ally of Al Qaeda, which now fights alongside the Taliban.
In short, this withdrawal is a blunder of historic proportions with enormous consequences for the people who have helped us the most, and for America itself.
Douglas Grindle is a former journalist who spent six years covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and four years in southern Afghanistan as a field researcher at the Department of Defense and a field officer at the district level. for the US Agency for International Development.