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A year later : Biden's Afghanistan exit decision looks even worse


Mar 21, 2007
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Biden's Afghanistan exit decision looks even worse a year later​

Peter Bergen

Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst

August 9, 2022

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen's new paperback is "The Rise and fall of Osama bin Laden." from which this article is, in part, adapted. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
(CNN)In 1961, after a CIA-backed invasion of Cuba failed spectacularly, President John F. Kennedy said of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, "Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan."

Last week, President Joe Biden took a victory lap when he announced that the US had tracked down and killed its most wanted terrorist, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was living in a house in Kabul, Afghanistan. Don't expect a similar celebration on August 30, the first anniversary of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which ended the longest war in American history. Any realistic assessment of that action shows that it will long be seen as a defeat rather than a victory -- and it's likely no one will own up to the responsibility for the decision.

The US launched a war against Afghanistan in 2001 after the Taliban regime harbored Osama bin Laden, giving him the ability to plot and carry out the 9/11 terrorist attacks which killed almost 3,000 Americans.

As US and NATO troops battled Taliban and al Qaeda forces, the new US-backed government in Kabul also presided over two decades of progress in Afghanistan. To be sure, Afghanistan wasn't Norway, but it was becoming a somewhat functional, democratizing Central Asian state that saw striking progress in reducing child mortality and increasing life expectancy, one that provided jobs for women and education for millions of girls; it nurtured scores of independent media outlets, and held regular, if flawed, presidential elections.

All of that changed when the US began withdrawing and the Taliban took over the entire country on August 15, 2021. Women's rights evaporated. They have no right to work, except in a narrow set of female-related jobs such as cleaning women's toilets in Kabul; when they travel distances of more than 45 miles they must be accompanied by a male relative, and the Taliban have ordered women to stay at home and to cover themselves completely should they ever venture out. Their male relatives will be punished by the Taliban if women don't follow these directives. Girls do not have the right to be educated after the age of 12.
On the Taliban's management of Afghanistan, one data point suffices to underline the group's gross incompetence: Around half of the Afghan population are today "facing acute hunger," according to the UN.

On the Taliban's respect for other ethnic Afghan groups: There is no evidence that the Taliban are creating an "inclusive" government as their leaders claimed they would. Pashtuns make up almost all the leadership of the Taliban, while other ethnic groups in Afghanistan such as the Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks are almost entirely excluded from leadership roles.

On their respect for democracy: The Taliban, conveniently, don't believe in elections. Instead, they are a theocracy; their leader is known as the "Commander of the Faithful," a title that claims he is the leader of all Muslims. In the past year under Taliban rule, 40% of Afghanistan's independent media outlets have closed.

On the Taliban's alliance with al Qaeda: Well, last week's news made clear the relationship is thriving. The fact that the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri was living in downtown Kabul for months -- with what the Biden administration describes as the awareness of some Taliban officials -- speaks for itself. Zawahiri was killed late last month in a US drone strike.

After the news broke that Zawahiri had been hiding in Kabul, Lisa Curtis, the top official at the White House for Afghanistan during the Trump administration, tweeted "#Taliban basically asserting Doha agreement allows them to shelter #AlQaeda. Proves it was the worst agreement in US history. Not worth the paper on which it's written." This was a particularly damming assessment coming from a senior American official who was working on Afghanistan while the Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban was being negotiated.

One of the most powerful men in Afghanistan today is the acting Minister of Interior, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has ties to al Qaeda, according to a United Nations report that said he is "assessed to be a member of the wider Al-Qaida leadership, but not of the Al-Qaida core leadership."

A February 2020 opinion piece in The New York Times with Haqqani's byline blandly identified him only as "the deputy leader of the Taliban." What the Times didn't tell its readers is that Haqqani was also on the FBI's most wanted list and that his men had kidnapped a reporter for ... The New York Times.

This op-ed featured ludicrous lies including, "We together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam -- from the right to education to the right to work -- are protected" and "reports about foreign [terrorist] groups in Afghanistan are politically motivated exaggerations by the warmongering players on all sides of the war."

How it happened​

The US pullout from Afghanistan a year ago was orchestrated by a successive series of decisions by former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and the chief US negotiator with the Taliban, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. None of these men are ever likely to fully acknowledge their paternity of the debacle that unfolded in Afghanistan, which followed the worst diplomatic agreement in US history that enabled the Taliban to win at the negotiating table in Doha, Qatar what they could never win on the battlefield.

A Taliban fighter stands guard as people receive food rations distributed by a South Korean humanitarian aid group, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A Taliban fighter stands guard as people receive food rations distributed by a South Korean humanitarian aid group, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Khalilzad has defended the deal saying, "The negotiation was a result of--based on the judgment that we weren't winning the war and therefore time was not on our side and better to make a deal sooner than later."

By the end of the Trump administration, the fledgling Afghan state was supported by only some 2,500 US troops, a tiny fraction of the more than two million men and women in the active-duty US military, reserves, and National Guard units. Assisted by 9,000 allied, mostly NATO troops and 18,000 contractors this small US force was enough to enable the Afghan military to fend off the Taliban, which was never able to capture and hold any of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals before Biden announced the total American withdrawal in April 2021.

Why Biden went through with the withdrawal plan that he had inherited from Trump is still something of a puzzle since there was no large, vocal constituency in the Democratic Party that was demanding a total US pullout from Afghanistan, and Biden's top military advisers had clearly warned him of the risks of doing so.
In public testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and US CENTCOM commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, said they had advised the Biden administration that unless the US kept around 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the Afghan military would collapse. Collapse it did.

The "Taliban 2.0" delusion​

The publication of Haqqani's op-ed in The New York Times was emblematic of the wishful thinking about the Taliban in the US that had persisted for years. In this view the Taliban were just a bunch of misunderstood backwoodsmen who would eventually do what was only sensible: break with al Qaeda and abandon much of their misogynistic ideology as a quid pro quo for their recognition on the world stage.

This was a classic case of mirror imaging; the belief that the Taliban would do the rational things some gullible Americans expected them to do, as opposed to implementing the quasi-mediaeval ideology that has been at the core of their armed movement since they first emerged almost three decades ago. It was like imagining the Khmer Rouge would "mature" once they had taken power in Cambodia.

An Afghan girl stands by a Taliban fighter in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Saturday, June 25, 2022.

An Afghan girl stands by a Taliban fighter in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Saturday, June 25, 2022.

A key proponent of the view that the Taliban would change if the right carrots were dangled in front of them was Barnett Rubin of NYU, an expert on Afghanistan, who claimed in a paper that he published with the United States Institute of Peace in March 2021 that the US had "underestimated the leverage that the Taliban's quest for sanctions relief, recognition and international assistance provides."

Turns out that it was Rubin who overestimated how much the Taliban cared about sanctions relief and international assistance, while he had also vastly underestimated their desire to banish women from jobs and education and maintain their warm relations with their old buddies in al Qaeda. This shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, since that was exactly how the Taliban had ruled the last time that they were in power in the years before 9/11. The Taliban hadn't fought the US and Afghan militaries for two decades only to install a quasi-democracy when they came to power for the second time.

The "moderate" Taliban 2.0 that was supposedly emerging in recent years was a profound delusion that gripped US policymakers.

A month after Biden had announced the impending withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan, the US negotiator with the Taliban, Khalilzad, testified to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 16, 2021, that those who thought the Taliban would quickly take over the country as the U.S. US pulled out were "mistaken." Khalilzad also asserted that the Taliban would opt for a political settlement over a military victory, testifying, "They say they seek normalcy in terms of relations — acceptability, removal from sanctions, not to remain a pariah."

Just months later the distinctive white flags of the Taliban were fluttering over the capital, Kabul, and the Taliban began implementing their theocratic state. In a symbolic move the Taliban's feared religious police soon commandeered what had formerly been the ministry for women's affairs. Obviously, that ministry would no longer be needed, but the "Vice and Virtue" police would have to be properly accommodated.

The United Nations released a report in May in which it observed that an astonishing 41 members of the Taliban serving in the cabinet or other senior-level government positions in Afghanistan are on UN sanctions lists.

Taliban 2.0 was a mirage, and the Taliban today is Taliban 1.0 with one major difference; they are far better armed than the Taliban that ruled over most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Now they ride into battle with American armored vehicles and M-16 rifles that were left behind as the US military rushed for the exits last summer. The Taliban today also face a far weaker opposition movement in Afghanistan than was the case for the pre-9/11 Taliban.

Signaling weakness to Russia and China​

When Biden spoke to the American people on Aug. 31, 2021, as the last US soldiers departed Afghanistan, he framed the withdrawal as a way of positioning the US to compete better against great-power rivals, saying, "We're engaged in a serious competition with China. We're dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia...And there's nothing China or Russia would rather have, would want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan."

This was an absurd rationale: For years both China and Russia had hoped to push American forces out of Afghanistan because the country borders both China and the republics of the former Soviet Union. Russia had covertly supported the Taliban, according to the US military, while the Chinese had drawn closer to the Taliban in recent years.

Afghan people sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war.

Afghan people sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war.

As they pulled out of Afghanistan, the Americans abandoned the vast Bagram Air Base which could house up to 10,000 troops; a more ideal site from which to engage in competition with either China or Russia is hard to imagine.

You could practically hear the high fives in the Kremlin as the US ignominiously retreated from Afghanistan, which seemed to herald an era of the US pulling back from the world.

It hardly seems accidental that three months later Russian President Vladimir Putin moved an army to the border with Ukraine as a prelude to his invasion of the country.

A predictable fiasco​

In June 2021, I wrote for CNN, "We could see in Afghanistan a remix of the disastrous US pullout from Saigon in 1975 and the summer of 2014 in Iraq when ISIS took over much of the country following the US pullout from the country."

That prediction, unfortunately, proved to be accurate; the American pullout from Saigon looked like a dignified retreat compared to the scenes of thousands of desperate Afghans trying to get on planes leaving Kabul airport last August. Some Afghans were so desperate to leave that they clung to the fuselage of a plane that was taking off -- and two plunged to their deaths. On Aug. 25, 2021, 13 US soldiers and at least 170 Afghans were killed at the airport by a suicide bomber dispatched by the Afghan branch of ISIS. And the Taliban took over the entire country even before the last US soldiers had left Afghanistan.

Compounding Biden's disastrous policy decision to completely pull out of Afghanistan was the botched handling of the withdrawal. According to a report about that withdrawal released in February by Republican senators sitting on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the first White House meeting to discuss evacuating Americans and Afghans from Afghanistan took place on Aug. 14, only one day before the Taliban seized Kabul and five months after Biden had first publicly announced the total US withdrawal from the country.

Biden patted himself on the back that the US military subsequently extracted 124,000 Afghans from Afghanistan, calling the operation an "extraordinary success," which was like an arsonist praising himself for helping to try to put out a fire that he had started.

But even accepting the most self-congratulatory view of the Biden administration's handling of the withdrawal, the vast majority of the Afghans who had worked with the US were abandoned. The Association of Wartime Allies, an advocacy group for Afghans who had worked for the US, estimated in March that only about 3% of the 81,000 Afghans who had worked for the US government and had applied for special visas had made it out of Afghanistan, leaving 78,000 behind.

Four months after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the Biden administration convened the "Summit for Democracy" in Washington consisting of the world's democracies. Five months earlier Afghanistan would have warranted an invitation to this summit, but Biden had enabled the Taliban to take over the country, which ended almost every shred of a liberal democracy that had once existed there.

Following the Afghan debacle, Biden's favorable ratings dropped to the lowest level of his presidency to that point to 46%. They have never recovered.

The Biden administration now faces a policy dilemma of its own making. Since so many millions of Afghans are on the brink of starvation, Biden officials cannot completely turn their backs on Afghanistan. And yet, it's hard to help Afghans without propping up the Taliban in some manner. The Biden administration has tried to ensure that all US aid to Afghanistan is administered in a way that it doesn't end up in the hands of the Taliban, but realistically any help that the US sends to Afghanistan tends to help the Taliban remain in power.

This is surely one of the most spectacular own goals the US has ever scored.

One year later ....

Images of crowds storming parked planes, climbing atop aircraft and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway were aired in news bulletins around the world.

The Taliban’s lightning offensive against government forces triggered a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign troops, stunning the international community.

The ensuing chaos was nowhere more evident than at Kabul airport as crowds of people rushed to be evacuated on any available flight out of the country.

This combination of pictures created shows (top) an Afghan child walks near military uniforms as he with others wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, and (bottom) the same area of the airport taken on August 1, 2022.-AFP

This combination of pictures created shows (top) an Afghan child walks near military uniforms as he with others wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, and (bottom) the same area of the airport taken on August 1, 2022.-AFP

An AFP photographer captured images of the panic that symbolised Washington’s turbulent withdrawal after two decades of military intervention that began after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

For days, thousands of people attempted to push through barricades set up by the Taliban, Afghan forces and US marines, who often fired in the air to push them back.

Panic struck the crowd just days before the US pullout on August 31.

On August 26, a suicide bomber blew himself up not far from the entrance to the airport, killing scores of people including 13 US service members.

This combination of pictures created shows (top) Afghan people climbing atop of a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, and (bottom) the same area of the airport taken on August 1, 2022.-AFP

This combination of pictures created shows (top) Afghan people climbing atop of a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, and (bottom) the same area of the airport taken on August 1, 2022.-AFP

The jihadist Islamic State group claimed the attack.

One year on, Taliban authorities gave AFP photographers access to the airport to shoot the facility and areas that were trashed last year.

Afghanistan: one year since the Taliban takeover

The airport is now back to some kind of normalcy, with a few domestic and international flights operating.

But significant support is needed for major foreign airlines to resume a full schedule from the facility.

This combination of pictures created shows (top) Afghan people sitting at the door of a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, and (bottom) the same area of the airport taken on August 1, 2022.-AFP

This combination of pictures created shows (top) Afghan people sitting at the door of a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, and (bottom) the same area of the airport taken on August 1, 2022.-AFP

Taliban authorities have tasked an Abu Dhabi-based firm with ground handling services and security screening of passengers.

Air traffic control is the responsibility of Afghans trained by experts from Uzbekistan and Qatar.

Kabul airport’s return to full operations is seen as crucial to reviving Afghanistan’s shattered economy.
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A year after Biden’s Afghanistan exit, accountability in short supply



WASHINGTON: As weary US military planners wrapped up the evacuation and pullout from Afghanistan one year ago, officials across the government steeled themselves for intense public scrutiny into how America’s longest war ended in shambles with the Taliban retaking power.

But as the United States marks the first anniversary of the withdrawal this month, some US officials and experts say President Joe Biden’s administration has moved on without properly assessing lessons from the 20-year war and the Taliban victory.

Nor has there been public accountability for the chaotic evacuation operation that saw 13 US service members killed at Kabul’s airport and hundreds of US citizens and tens of thousands of Afghans left behind, they said.

“We need to open up that ugly history book called the 20 years in Afghanistan and see why we fail,” said John Sopko, the US special inspector general tapped with tracking some $146 billion in reconstruction aid.

These lessons are especially crucial now as the administration pumps billions of dollars of assistance into Ukraine’s fight against Russia, Sopko told Reuters.

US policymakers, however, are now preoccupied with Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine and soaring tensions with China, even as the Taliban erase women’s rights, harbor al Qaeda militants and execute and torture former government officials.

The Biden administration portrays the pullout and extraction operation - one of the largest airlifts ever - as an “extraordinary success” that wound up an “endless” conflict that killed more than 3,500 US and allied foreign troops, and hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

The evacuation ferried more than 124,000 Americans and Afghans to safety over 15 days. Tens of thousands of Afghans, many of whom worked for US forces, now have resettled in the United States in the largest US refugee operation since the Vietnam war.

To be sure, Biden was left a mess by his predecessor Donald Trump, who committed to completing the troop pullout by May 2021 without processing a massive backlog of visa applications from Afghans who worked for the US government.

“We inherited a deadline in Afghanistan, but not a plan for withdrawal,” a National Security Council spokesman said.

But some US officials, experts and private evacuation organizers say the administration has avoided taking responsibility for misreading the speed of the Taliban advance.

The US military and the State Department have been preparing so-called “after-action reviews” on their roles in the withdrawal. But it is unclear if those reports will be made public.

“It’s accountability for the Americans that were left behind, the allies that were left behind that are still being hunted down, for the 13 Gold Star families (of slain US troops),” said US Representative Michael Waltz, a Republican lawmaker who commanded special forces in eastern Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sent back the military’s initial draft review because he was dissatisfied with the limited insight it provided, two US officials said.

The report is now complete and Austin is reviewing it, one official said. A State Department spokesman could not say when, or in what form, it would release its report. “We’re going to have to take a black eye on our performance over the past year,” said another official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

‘Rearview mirror’

In December, the Air Force inspector general concluded that no US military personnel would be held accountable for a drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in the final days of the evacuation.
The Pentagon said it would compensate the family and relocate them. But nearly a year has passed without either happening, though US officials said there has been progress.

A congressional commission approved by Biden to study the history of the US intervention and the pullout has yet to begin work because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has not named the Republican co-chair.

Afghanistan momentarily returned to the headlines this month after a CIA drone strike killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Washington’s first known strike in Afghanistan since US troops left, with Biden giving a televised address to mark the success.

The strike could complicate already difficult talks that US officials are pursuing with the Taliban on releasing billions in foreign-held Afghan central bank assets and ending human rights abuses. The United States also remains Afghanistan’s largest humanitarian aid donor.

But over the past year, Afghanistan largely has faded into the background in Washington. Congress has held few hearings to dissect how the US effort there failed and many limited gains in Afghanistan reversed.

Current and former officials say that despite the Zawahiri killing, they remain concerned about the US intelligence gathering capability. And the military has been unable to come to any basing agreements with countries near Afghanistan.

Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center think-tank, said that Washington had not shown a willingness to think about what went wrong in Afghanistan.

“I have been struck that much of Washington has appeared keen to essentially put Afghanistan in the rearview mirror and try to move on,” Kugelman said.

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power

August 11, 2022

KANDAHAR: One year on from the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, some cracks are opening within their ranks over the crucial question of just how much reform their leaders can tolerate.

Infamous during their first reign for their brutal crackdowns on rights and freedoms, the Islamists vowed to rule differently this time. On a superficial level at least, they appear to have changed in some respects.

Officials in Kabul have embraced technology, while cricket matches are cheered in full stadiums. Televisions were banned under the Taliban government’s first incarnation, while Afghans now have access to the internet and social media.

Girls are allowed to attend primary school and women journalists are interviewing government officials — unthinkable during the Taliban’s first stint in power in the 1990s.

The group’s hardline core, composed of battle-hardened veteran fighters, is against any significant ideological change that could be viewed as a sign of capitulation to their enemies in the West.

“You have one (Taliban) camp, which is pushing ahead with what they’re seeing as reforms, and another camp that seems to think even these meagre reforms are too much,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan analyst with International Crisis Group.

The United States and its allies — which had bankrolled Afghanistan for 20 years — have locked the country out of the global banking system and billions in frozen assets abroad, as they hold out for reforms from the Taliban.

Without significant progress, it is the Afghan people who suffer as the country reels under a massive economic crisis that has seen some families choose between selling their organs or their infant daughters.

‘Retrograde dogmatic views’

On whether the Taliban are even capable of reform, analysts are wary that recent policy changes amount to little more than “tokenism”.

“There are some cases where we could point to an evolution in policy, but let’s be very clear... We’re still looking at an organisation that has refused to move beyond very retrograde, dogmatic views,” said Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan specialist with the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank.

Most secondary schools for girls remain closed. Many women have been forced out of government work, while many fear venturing out and being chastised by the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2022

Afghan Taliban stronger than ever a year after takeover​

To tighten their grip, Taliban have poured thousands of fighters into the Panshjir Valley

August 11, 2022


AFGHANISTAN/ BAZARAK: A year since returning to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban are a stronger military force than ever, but threats to their rule do exist.
To tighten their grip, the Taliban have poured thousands of fighters into the Panshjir Valley, home to the only conventional military threat the group has faced since their takeover.
The scenic valley, located in northeastern Afghanistan, was for decades a bastion of resistance against outside forces, and the birthplace of the National Resistance Front (NRF).
On the other side of the spectrum, the Islamic State-Khorasan group (IS-K) has planted bombs and staged multiple suicide attacks in the past 12 months.
But the militants have focused on soft targets — chiefly mosques and Sikh temples — rather than tackle the Taliban head-on.
Following the chaotic exit of US-led troops on August 31 last year, Western threats to Taliban rule have also been crushed.
Still, the recent assassination of al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri by a US drone strike on his hideout in Kabul shows how vulnerable Taliban leaders could be to a high-tech enemy.
While the Panjshir Valley is what worries the Taliban the most, analyst Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Wilson Centre think-tank believes serious resistance is a long way off.
"If we start to see IS-K pick up its attacks and start carrying out more strikes... I think that the NRF could really benefit from that," he told AFP.
"If Afghans are seeing their families getting blown up by IS-K... that could, I think, deliver a major dent to the Taliban legitimacy and that could benefit the NRF, and give them a window."
'Fear in our hearts'
Panjshir was the last province to fall to the Taliban in their lightning takeover of the country last year — holding out until September 6, three weeks after the capture of Kabul.
An uneasy calm then enveloped the valley — around 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Kabul — until May, when the NRF emerged from the mountains to strike again.
In response, the Taliban sent in more than 6,000 fighters in long columns of armoured vehicles, striking fear into the hearts of residents.
"Since the Taliban arrived in the valley, people are in panic, they can't talk freely," said Amir, speaking to AFP in hushed tones in the provincial capital as a patrol passed by.
"The Taliban think that if youths are sitting together, then they must be planning something against them," he added, asking not to be identified by his real name.
In the 1980s, fighters led by Ahmad Shah Massoud -- nicknamed the Lion of Panjshir — fought the Soviet forces from its rugged peaks of Panshjir.
When the Red Army pulled out, Afghanistan descended into civil war and the Taliban seized control of the country.
Panjshir held out, though Massoud was assassinated two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The NRF is led by his son Ahmad Masood, who like many NRF leaders is now in undisclosed exile.
Taliban forces now firmly control the main road that cuts through the valley, with checkpoints everywhere.
Thousands of people have fled the valley — once home to around 170,000 — and an atmosphere of fear prevails, with residents speaking only if their real names were not revealed.
"Previously, we used to feel good to come here," said a visitor named Nabila, who was in the valley with her four sisters to attend their mother's funeral.
"Now we have fear in our hearts. We are scared that if our husbands come, they will be dragged from the car," she said, asking that her full name be withheld for fear of retribution.
Will vs capacity
Rights groups have accused the Taliban of committing widespread abuses in Panjshir — allegations they deny — including extrajudicial executions.
"Those arbitrarily arrested are also facing physical torture and beatings that, in some cases, even resulted in death," Amnesty International said in June.
"The Taliban arrested and threatened to kill relatives of fighters who are with the resistance," said Jamshed, a resident of a Panjshir town.
"These threats compelled many fighters to come down from the mountains and surrender."
Still, Taliban authorities send mixed messages about the threat the NRF poses — denying their existence, on one hand, yet sending in troops to fight them.
"We have not seen any front; the front does not exist," Abdul Hameed Khurasani, head of a Taliban special force unit deployed in the valley, told AFP.
"There are (only) a few people in the mountains. We are chasing them."
Ali Nazary, head of the NRF's foreign relations department, questions the Taliban's claims.
"If we were a few fighters, and if we have been pushed to the mountains, why are they sending thousands of their fighters?" he asked.
Nazary said the NRF now had a fighting force of 3,000, and bases across the province — a claim impossible to independently verify.
Kugelman believes the NRF have the will to fight, but not the capacity.
"For NRF to be a truly effective group, it's going to need... more external support, military and financial," he said.

Return to the dark ages

Zahid Hussain
August 11, 2022

The writer is an author and journalist.

The writer is an author and journalist.

IT is a year since the Taliban stormed Kabul to retake control of Afghanistan some two decades after the conservative Islamic regime was routed by American forces following the events of 9/11. It was a return of the old order though with the promise of some moderation.

Unfortunately, the Taliban regime has fully reverted to its old ways.

While the war has ended and there is relative peace, Afghanistan is witnessing a great leap backward as fundamental human rights are severely curtailed. The international community may have remained engaged with the Taliban administration but there is no sign of their recognising them formally.

The Taliban’s own intransigence, fostered by the hard-liners among them, regarding women and other human rights as well as their constant violation of the promises made have stood in the way of formal recognition by the international community, besides being a cause of serious concern even to those countries that had been in favour of a more lenient approach towards them.

Thus, a year down the road, the country continues to face international isolation as the Taliban, who favour a strict interpretation of religious law, have gone back on their pledges to moderate their stance on women’s education and women in government offices, among other things.

The regime’s dreaded Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is back in action. Besides, Taliban officials have also banned women from travelling in taxis, unless a male family member accompanies them, for a distance greater than 72 kilometres. Such actions remind one of the strict rules framed and enforced by the Taliban regime of Mullah Omar before 9/11.

Those who were hailing the Taliban takeover of Kabul last year should be over their euphoria by now.

Finding themselves under international pressure, the Taliban had earlier announced they would reopen high schools for girls but reversed their decision quickly, shattering the dreams and aspirations of a million girl students who were excited about returning to their studies.

The rationale given by the Taliban’s education authorities for their action was that a plan built on Islamic principles was to be drawn up to reopen the schools; until such time, girl students would not be able to access these schools. Some officials are even said to have said that religion asserts that Muslim women receive limited education. There is no time frame as to when these schools will reopen.

Clearly, this reversal of the decision to reopen girls’ high schools shows that the hard-liners call the shots in the ruling administration and control its leadership. The move came following a council meeting. Meanwhile, in their ongoing attempt to stamp their conservative writ, the regime has also imposed restrictions on the media in the country and have cracked down on peaceful protests.

Such moves only make one thing clear: the Taliban want their obscurantist views to prevail over international engagement, and in order to do so, the radicals among them have no qualms about sidelining the more moderate Taliban elements. Such an approach will surely spell doom for a country already in the throes of multiple economic, social and political challenges.

There seems to be little realisation among Taliban ranks that the country’s problems cannot be successfully solved while Afghanistan remains isolated from the rest of the world which is not willing to accept a retrogressive regime that thwarts fundamental human rights and equal rights for women.

In spite of some humanitarian aid from the international community, which helped to alleviate last winter’s misery in Afghanistan, the crisis is far from over. Increasing international isolation will only worsen the regime’s predicament.

With such scant regard for human rights, including the Taliban’s U-turn on ensuring that girls receive an education — a key condition of potential donors if Afghanistan is to receive foreign aid and recognition — it is unlikely that donors will come forward. The regime’s actions could cost it millions of dollars in foreign aid.

More worrying are reports of transnational militant groups resurfacing in Afghanistan and presenting a serious threat to regional security. The presence of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul, where he was apparently living under the protection of the Taliban interior minister, means that the worst fears of Afghanistan once again becoming the centre of militant activities are coming true. He was killed in a US drone strike in a highly protected upscale neighbourhood of the capital.

The increasing frequency of Zawahiri’s video and audio messages had reinforced suspicions about his presence in the country. His killing has come as a serious blow to the Taliban government which had given its commitment to the international community to not allow any militant activity on Afghan soil. It is apparent that a faction of the Taliban refused to break its ties with the global terrorist network.

Besides Al Qaeda, there are militant groups like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement that continue to use Afghanistan as a base for their cross-border operations and are a source of serious concern to Islamabad and Beijing, the two capitals which have been urging the international community to maintain close contact with the Taliban administration.

There has been a marked increase in militant activities attributed to the TTP in Pakistan’s former tribal regions and other parts of KP. The militant attacks have taken the lives of scores of Pakistani soldiers over the past one year. Instead of taking action against the terrorist sanctuaries, the Taliban have been calling Pakistan to negotiate peace with the terrorist group.

It’s apparent that the TTP is being protected by the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban. The initial euphoria among a section of the Pakistani ruling elite after the Taliban took Kabul last year should have vanished with the spillover effects of the conservative regime in the country.

One year on, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan may not be facing any organised resistance yet with its backward actions, public discontent has been rising and could take the form of a strong movement. Moreover, the Taliban’s protection to transnational militant groups could cause its further international isolation.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2022
The Taliban's control in Afghanistanf ( full control ) , is the first steps to pave way for their disintegeration.

Ex-Australian hostage arrives in Afghanistan to celebrate Taliban takeover anniversary​

Timothy Weeks, who embraced Islam, says he is visiting the war-torn country to complete his journey’s ‘part two’

News DeskA
ugust 12, 2022

i am also coming to celebrate one year anniversary of the government of islamic emirate afghanistan says timothy weeks screengrab

I am also coming to celebrate one year anniversary of the government of Islamic Emirate Afghanistan, says Timothy Weeks.

Timothy Weeks, an Australian citizen taken hostage in Kabul in 2016 and later released as part of an exchange, returned to Afghanistan on Friday to celebrate the first anniversary of the Taliban-led government.

In a video statement, Weeks said he was visiting the war-torn country to complete his journey’s “part two”.

“I am also coming to celebrate one year anniversary of the government of Islamic Emirate Afghanistan,” he added.

Weeks, 54, an Australian teacher kidnapped in Afghanistan along with his American colleague in 2016.

The longest-held captive in Afghanistan’s four-decade-long conflict, he spent 1,192 days (more than three years) in Taliban custody along with his American colleague, before they were swapped with the US in exchange for three Taliban leaders.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency earlier this year, Weeks, who converted to Islam in the second year of his captivity and preferred to be called by his new name Jibra'il Omar, said he is planning to team up with former Afghan parliamentarian Soona Barakzai, currently in Australia to set up a charity for Afghanistan.

Although he was tortured by the Taliban during his three-year captivity, the Australian teacher wanted to help the new rulers and promote education in the country.

"Once I was listening to children's voices through a small window in one of the cells, and as a teacher, I adored them. This was the moment of my gradual shift, and I decided to help the people after my release," he said, adding, “Afghan children deserve an education and a better life.”
Afghanistan will be another Iran, a very powerful country.
What are your reasons for this?
Taliban mullah government. Ideological mullah governments are sovereign, independent and self respecting. They will create a state like the Iranian mullahs did.
Taliban mullah government. Ideological mullah governments are sovereign, independent and self respecting. They will create a state like the Iranian mullahs did.
There is a "10 thousand light years" difference between the Taliban and Iranian gov.
There is a "10 thousand light years" difference between the Taliban and Iranian gov.

One of the differences is that the Iranian govt started in 1979 and the Taliban only started this year. Sovereignty and independence are great qualities of any leadership that propel a nation forward, time will do it. This is my prediction, you can have a different opinion; I am fine with that.
For those idiots who are criticizing the Afghan Taliban, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Pakistani tacitly support it.

Now the true story of 9/11 has come out.

USA asked for Osama Bin Laden.

Then some Islamic scholars suggested to give him up, but there was a difference of opinion and somebody said bring proof, and if no proof then come and get him.


Now the Afghan Taliban are back. USA will be known as arrogant empire, that it was arrogant.

USA retreating from Afghanistan, almost as if its out of a movie:
An old Mullah from Saudi Arabia said Afghanistan will be USA's graveyard, that it will be.

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