The Forever War

By Cosima Allen

‘I was not going to extend this forever war’. Biden’s words echoed across the podium on September 1st, the day after the final withdrawal of US troops out of Afghanistan. The belligerence of his tone struck the audience as a seemingly deliberate avoidance of his responsibility in the chaos that emerged at the hands of his administration. Within two weeks, the Taliban secured victory over the US, secured on August 15th by Taliban forces strolling into a deserted Kabul brandishing US weapons under white flags promoting the Shahada scripture beginning the end of the twenty year long US occupation. 

The organisation of the new Taliban government remains undecided. Senior leader Wahidullah Hashemi suggested a council will be formed under the top Taliban leader, Mullah Hubatullah Akhundzada, who has led since 2016. As former head of the Sharia courts in the 1990’s his concern mostly pertains to religious restructuring. The council would be comprised of other prominent and longstanding Taliban leaders working under their senior figurehead. The next senior position will be held by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as political deputy. He was one of the four cofounders of the Taliban and headed the political office from Doha, Qatar. After spending eight years in prison following his capture in a joint US- Pakistani mission, his release in 2018 was facilitated as a peace barter and in 2020 he was the first Taliban leader to communicate with a US president, signing the Doha agreement with the Trump administration for the withdrawal of US troops by May 2021. The leaders of the various Taliban sects hold significance when trying to infer how this new government will lead. The religiosity of the supreme leader weakens the threat of a purely outward militaristic regime informing their state aims. Statements by leaders such as Mohammad Yaqoob, the head of military organisation urging fighters not to harm members of the toppled government seem to agree with this, however the aggressive search and kill missions of individuals who aided US troops question the spoken narrative of the Taliban for the future.

The bedlam that emerged following the takeover seemed inevitable. A sudden flush of fury infiltrated people across the city. Scenes emerged from the Kabul airport in a pertinent display of the desperation of those entrapped in this new regime. The shock of the speed by which the Taliban took over stunted evacuation order. Hundreds of people flooded the airport runway, obstructing moving cargo planes or handing over their children to US soldiers trying to secure a place leaving Afghanistan. While hundreds of thousands of refugees walked across the border to Pakistan, those attempting to fly out were left disillusioned by the lack of opportunity to do so. The Taliban made it increasingly difficult, erecting armed checkpoints on Airport Road to prevent individuals from reaching the terminal and arbitrarily rejecting those with a legitimate right to leave. This chaos claimed over a dozen lives including that of a nineteen-year-old who fell from a departing military plane. Now, with the final evacuation of foreign troops, the Taliban has officially secured control and has full authority over those remaining in an unprecedented power shift. 

Statements such as “American myth down” by Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chungying seem to exploit the monstrous mishandling of this crisis in an attempt to manifest the demise of the US as a global force. The immediate international response and criticism reflected the disappointment directed towards the irresponsibility of the US position, the crux of which is directed personally towards President Biden. This was exacerbated by polarisation of political media outlets demonising Biden from the right while encouraging this move as a necessary shift of US resources from the left. What has become an objective truth however is the neglect of the administration of their responsibility in the organisation of the withdrawal, abandoning individuals who aided troops during their long occupation and weaking the moral credibility of US foreign policy. The Biden administration continues to justify their mishandling by the suggestion the war was never winnable, and after over a trillion dollars in investment, Biden welcomed the agreement made by his predecessor President Trump as the opportunity to step back and refocus foreign policy. Unfortunately, an indelible mark has been left on his promises of competence and order, and his miscalculations of the ease by which this withdrawal could occur encouraged sentiments regarding this as a failure rather than a victory arguably putting his legacy in an unrecoverable position. 

The future remains unknown. The speed by which the Taliban took over only proves the fragility of leadership positions in Afghanistan. The Taliban have attempted to rebrand themselves as more moderate, pledging their sincerity to protect Afghan citizens. However, the events of the 1990’s when the Taliban previously held power shows the true colour the humanitarian crisis which is already beginning to emerge towards women and those considered traitors to the Islamic State. This coupled with the US arsenal the Taliban now has access to, following the 80-billion-dollar total US investment to Afghan troops has only bred more unrest in ensuring the safety of Afghan citizens. For now, the Biden administration must focus on rebuilding internal support while preparing for the influx of millions of Afghan refugees let down by the global networks who pledged to protect their safety. 

Image Source: ABC News

References:

Security Threats at Kabul Airport Prompt Multiple Warnings

Afghanistan: Danger lies on Kabul’s airport road to freedom

 Analysis: America’s Afghan war is over but the battle for Biden’s legacy is only just beginning

In Leaving Afghanistan, U.S. Reshuffles Global Power Relations

Calm and fear on the streets of Kabul as Taliban celebrate victory

Afghanistan: Who’s who in the Taliban leadership

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