The New Saigon?
As international media announce that the Taliban are closing in on Afghanistan’s capital, the global leaderships’ eyes are riveted on this country’s destiny. Just a little more than a month after Joe Biden - the president of the United States – announced the decision of concluding the military mission in Afghanistan by the 31st of August, the situation has precipitated. What was meant to be a swift withdrawal aimed at allowing the state to build itself independently, turned out to be a passageway to the Taliban’s takeover. Since the American statement, the terrorist group has proved to be highly efficient and has been able to take over almost a third of the country’s provincial capitals. Advancing through the territory, the Islamic militia is wiping away any trace that might contradict their religious ideology, paving the way for a series of war crimes. Meanwhile, the international community taken by surprise seems to be engrossed in a blame game, with the Biden administration at the centre of the criticisms.
At the beginning of July 2021, after having sent thousands of forces to Afghanistan over the past 20 years, the United States seemed to have wanted to turn the page on the “forgotten war” and moved on. The conflict that counted almost 2400 American casualties and cost around $2 trillion was set to end. After announcing that he “will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome” and asserting that “it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country”, Joe Biden declared all troops would be pulled out by the 11th of September. Echoing the president, Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, said that “(I)t is now time to bring our troops home, maintain humanitarian and diplomatic support for a partner nation, and refocus American national security on the most pressing challenges we face”. However, the American withdrawal strategy has produced the opposite effect desired, setting off a green light for the Taliban to take control over the country. In a matter of weeks, the Islamic forces have seized 14 out of the 34 Afghan provincial capitals, 5 of which fell in just 24 hours. On the 12th of August, the second and third largest cities, Herat and Kandahar, have also surrendered to the insurgents. The subjugation of Kandahar has represented a symbolic milestone for the Taliban. Indeed, the city is not only the spiritual home of the Islamic militia but also a strategic area because of its international airport and status as a major economic hub. As of the 14th of August, the international community is anxiously observing the Afghan disaster unfold, with the United States military intelligence warning that Kabul could fall within 30 days. Taken back by the Taliban’s rapid advance, countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, the United States, and the United Kingdom, are scrambling to evacuate their embassies.
As the world watches the Taliban’s control expand throughout the country, political leaders and analysts try to understand the causes that led to the current events. The target of the criticisms is president Joe Biden, who has been accused of adopting an inappropriate decision and leading the United States to a situation comparable to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Frederick Kagan, a military historian, has commented on the president announcement affirming that “(T)he core of the problem is the way President Biden made and announced this decision and its timing”. He also argued that “(T)he president could perfectly well have ordered withdrawal to occur after the completion of the major fighting this year, and allowed the Afghans to continue to have the support that they had expected and prepare themselves for a world without US support”. The former British international development secretary, Rory Stewart, has joined the chorus of criticisms against Biden, highlighting the disregard for the Afghan citizens when going forward with the decision to withdraw the troops. Rory Stewart said that “(E)ssentially over the past two months we’ve pulled the rug out from underneath the Afghan people and it’s a terrible, terrible tragedy and shame”. Joe Biden has declared not to regret his decision and commented that Afghanistan’s political leadership and military “have the capacity to be able to sustain the government”. Moreover, in defence of the United States’ administration, specialists argue that the American president’s choice should not be considered as the only cause of the events unfolding today. Indeed, putting all the blame on Biden and his administration would be falling into the trap of simplistic explanations. According to Matthew Hoh, former Marine and USG Official, “(N)early 50 years of at best political chaos and more typically war has led us to this point. The simple explanations certainly fall flat, as well they should. This notion that somehow the reason what we’re seeing in Afghanistan, occurring now with the Taliban at breathtaking speed, is because Joe Biden pulled 2,500 American troops out from a country the size of Texas makes no sense”.
The next months will be crucial to understand how the situation in Afghanistan unfolds. As the Taliban move up to Kabul, future security concerns arise amongst analysts and governments. According to Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, were Afghanistan to turn into a failed state, it could become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Similarly, Sir Richard Barrons, a former British general, has warned that “(W)e will run the risk of terrorist entities re-establishing in Afghanistan, to bring harm in Europe and elsewhere”. The “forgotten war”, what the American administration hoped to move on from, will once more be at the forefront of media tabloids and become a crucial foreign policy issue for the international community.
Written by Cinzia Saro
Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.