While US Withdrawal: Afghanistan and the Taliban

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The United States of America (USA) plans to completely withdraw the troops from Afghanistan on the 20th anniversary of September 11 attacks and is implementing this withdrawal plan it has put forth. However after the withdrawal process started, the Taliban seized most of the coutry’s territory. Due to the the rapid progress of Taliban, the USA also started air strikes. In this environment, it is stated that Uzbek leader Raşid Dostum will join to war with their own troops. Also negotiations are taking place among Dostum, Hazara leader Muhammed Muhakkik and Tajik leader Ata Muhammed Nur aiming to form an allies against Taliban. Therefore, the footsteps of the civil war in Afghanistan are prominently felt.

In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents to your attention the opinions received from leading experts and academics in their fields in order to evaluate the latest developments in Afghanistan.

Assoc. Dr. Oktay BİNGÖL (ANKASAM Consultant)

Assoc. Dr. Oktay Bingöl, stating that a few issues should be attantion within the scope of the subject, after giving conceptual information, he emphasized that the conflicts and escalating violence in Afghanistan should be evaluated accordingly. He said “The civil war and conflict in Afghanistan is a long-term, multi-actors, resistant and difficult to solve conflict within deep-rooted causes and sectarian dimensions. Conflicts are living phenomenons. The new actors and subjects included in the process. The life circles are in the form of climbing-blocking-softing-climbing. Such conflicts not possible resolve in a short time and with a few meetings. Because the dynamics of conflicts vary. For this reason the solution process are started, first softening and then hardening are experienced, softening again… Therefore, it is necessary not to be a great expectation about establishing the permanent peace. Despite everything, a solution process has started with Taliban in Afghanistan. But it should be known that this process will be painful.”

Also Bingöl stressed that Taliban has not a homogeneous and monolithic structure, there are “Talibans” inside the Taliban that some of them consent the peace while others may oppose, hence the groups inside in the Taliban may clash with each other and some of them may take action as “disruptors”.  In this sense, Bingöl stated that the groups within the Taliban may have different interests and goals and said “We should not find such conflicts surprising.”

Bingöl expressed “There has been a decentralized administration in Afghanistan for nearly half century. Local leaders and leaders of different groups and tribes are autonomous for years. Afghan demographics and harsh geography offer suitable conditions for this kind of fragmentation.” Bingöl thinks that some local leaders, who have also benefited from conflict economy for a long time, will lose their autonomy with the peace process. He said: “Loss of the local autonomy is loss the power. Therefore, the leaders of variety groups may resort to violence provocation.” According to Bingöl, It is striking that the news that the Taliban has seized several settlement in the north of the country has increased. But it is so difficult to predict and verify who is behind the conflict and violence.

Finally, Bingöl ended his evaluation with these sentences: “The withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan does not mean that its capacity will be withdrawn completely from the region. The USA will withdraw its soldiers in uniform, but today the all soldiers and special forces are not in uniform. Warrior can take place inside the aid institutions. This is common phenomenon in today’s hybrit war. On the other hand, The USA will continue its existence in the region with the bases in the Middle East or its aircraft/missiles in its naval fleets. Long-range systems can be used remotely and a region can be monitored 24/7 with satellites and high-altitude UAVs. In other words, the withdrawal of the American soldiers does not mean that Washington administration’s say in this region is over. Moreover, there are thousands of Americans working in different fields, from aid organization to think thanks.

Prof. Sertif DEMİR

In his statement on the issue, Prof. Dr. Sertif Demir said: “Taliban has seized almost 42% of the country after the USA announced that it would withdraw completely from the country. According to evaluations of the US intelligence services the Taliban will dominate the entire country after the six months after the completion the withdrawal. Because Afghan security forces that fighting to Taliban either leave their weapons and flee the war or face a heavy defeat. But Taliban will maintain the fighting at a slow pace until the US withdraw to avoid being exposed to air attacks.”

Demir said: “In this case, The twenty year struggle under the leadership of the USA seems doomed to fail. It can be considered as an option for the USA to start the air attacks again in this process to stop advance of the Taliban. However these air attacks will not provides an advantage to the United States and it will put it soldiers still in the country at risk against Taliban attacks. The main problem in here is why Afghanistan does not have its own air power. Thanks to the developments in the process, Afghanistan’s not only land power; It turned out that he had to have air power as well.

Demir reminded that the local militias or ethnic elements has started to form their own armed groups against advanced of the Taliban and said: “It is remarkable also that Uzbek leader Dostum formed his own armed militia groups again. Because, the possibilities and allegations that there may be various conflicts between the Taliban and the Uzbeks led by Dostum are being brought to the agenda with each passing day.

Khalid Taimur AKRAM (Center for Global and Strategic Studies (CGSS) Director/Retired Lieutenant Colonel)

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Khalid Taimur Akram, stated that US troops continue its air attacks against to warrior of the Taliban in the Helmand city located in northern Afghanistan, where the conflicts are quite intense. Akram said: “The Pentagon is conducting airstrikes to support Afghan security forces in case the capital Kabul or any other major city comes under Taliban control. This gives flexibility to US President Joe Biden’s withdrawal plan.”

Akram commented: “It has been observed that US warplanes and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) do not hesitate to intervene in situations such as the capture of Kabul or a siege that puts the USA and its allies at risk. However, the withdrawal of the USA will create a huge vacuum in the region. This could pave the way for the Taliban to become stronger.”

Stating that Uzbek’s preparation for war under Dostum’s leadership is a different issue, Akram said: “Some sections thinks that Dostum leave from Afghanistan to Turkey for medical assistance. However it is not possible that know the developments living at the background of these issues.” He ended his statements with said: “US launch of airstrikes will mean violating of the Washington administration’s agreement with the Taliban.

Umut ARIK (Retired Ambassador)

Evaluating the aforementioned developments through Turkey-Afghanistan relations, Retired Ambassador Umut Arık said “Afghanistan was one of the countries that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk give great importance in Turkish foreign policy. At the same time Turkey carried out the first technical assistance work in Afghanistan. The beginning of the Afghan Army, the healthcare sector and the judiciary has provided with teachers sent from Turkey to the region and students brought from Afghanistan to Turkey. Additionally, the fact that Afghanistan is among the most important countries for Turkey has been a balancing factor against the British presence in Iraq and Palestine.”

Reminding the Tajik presence in the Afghan internal structure Arık said “Aforementioned Tajik population is not Shi but Sunni as different from Iran. Whereas the Uzbek and Turkmen structure also so important. Especially Uzbeks have a lot of influence. Dostum, who speaks Anatolian dialects better than Uzbek and is the second big power in Afghanistan’s internal structure and constitutional arrangements, is one of the most important elements in the country.

Arık stated that Iran has an intense pressure over the Afghanistan, and explained: “One of the reasons of the US invasions of Afghanistan is desire to encircle Iran. This desire based to US embassy raid that lived in Tahran at 1979. Since that time Iran efforts to remove the USA from the region.”

Arık also drew attention to the Russian population in Afghanistan and reminded the Soviet invasion. He commented “Mujahideen that supported by USA have caused to withdraw of Russia. Another phenomenon created by that period was the Taliban which came to power as a result of the civil war caused by the power struggle between the Mujahideen. The Taliban continued to exist with the support of the USA. But at this point, the situation seems to have changed. The support in question is the drug connection, from which regional commands generate great income. This is one of the main reasons why the US wants to get rid of Afghanistan.

Finally, Arık concluded his assessment: “The important point for Turkey is that Afghanistan is in a critical position in terms of increasing its influence in the Eurasian region. The demand for the control of Kabul Airport by Turkey provides a great opportunity for Ankara. Turkey’s gaining control here may deepen its cooperation with Pakistan and Azerbaijan. Therefore, it is extremely important to keep Afghanistan under control.”

Halil SİLAHŞÖR (Journalist-Anatolian Agency)

In his statement on the subject, Journalist Halil Silahşör said, “While the Taliban warned about foreign air attacks; U.S. drones targeted the group’s positions in Afghanistan. Hours before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghanistan Supreme Reconciliation Council Chairman Abdullah Abdullah met with Biden, the US announced that it had bombed Taliban positions in the northern provinces of Baglan and Kunduz. Since February 2020; In other words, since the Doha Treaty, the United States has repeatedly targeted Taliban positions with air strikes.” However, he also emphasized that these attacks were carried out in order to defend the Afghan forces and in accordance with the Doha Agreement.

Silahşör commented, “While rising the violence of the conflict among Taliban and Afghanistan State Security Forces, according to the US authorities there has been no Taliban attack on foreign forces since signing of the Doha Treaty. The US bombing of Taliban positions in the crisis-stricken Kunduz and Baghlan provinces may not be militarily significant. However, politically, it contains two important and powerful messages. First of them, aforementioned attacks took place immediately after the meeting between Ghani and Biden at the White House. Undoubtedly, one of the most important aims of the visit was to gain the US support against the Taliban attacks. Therefore it is possible to say that the White House sincerely supports Kabul against the Taliban through airstrikes and aims to show this sincerity in practice. But these attacks did not deal any devastating blow to the Taliban militants. The second point is that the attacks took place in two city that Taliban is preparing to take under control.

Slahşör used the phrases “Another implicit message of the US airstrikes in two provinces while on the verge of withdrawal may be that the Washington administration will not allow the Taliban to seize power. The Taliban is not expected to respond to these attacks. Any conflict between the Taliban and the United States would jeopardize the Doha Treaty and prevent the withdrawal of foreign troops. This would be a situation that the Taliban never wanted.”

Silahşör stated “The security problems in the north of the country and the weakness of the government forces led to militias group campaigning against to Taliban to organize local people. The news from the provinces of Seri-Pul, Jawzjan and Faryab also show that people taking up arms in their own regions.

Özge Eletek 1999 yılında İzmir’de doğdu. İlk ve orta öğretim hayatını İzmir’de tamamlayan Eletek, 2017 yılında Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nü kazandı. Çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında birçok konferans ve seminere katılan Eletek, Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi’ndeki stajını sürdürmektedir.