The Taliban’s advances over the past week have intrigued even the most pessimistic observers of the situation in Afghanistan. The Islamic militia conquered almost every major city in the country in a few days and on Friday it reached Mazar-i-Sharif, one of three that remained in government hands — the other two are Jalalabad and Kabul, also already surrounded. Twenty years of international intervention disappeared in record time and the extent to which the Afghan state was a fiction was revealed. The country is in the hands of warlords willing to make a pact with the Taliban, who reveal themselves as the only political and military force deployed in the entire territory.
The full withdrawal of the United States was scheduled for August 31, but the Taliban did not wait for President Joe Biden to fulfill his promise to remove every last soldier to advance on all fronts, including areas in the north of the country that they failed to conquer. when they came to power between 1996 and 2001. Afghan security forces theoretically number 300,000 and the United States invested $83 billion in their training and equipment — though it is impossible to know what percentage of that amount has disappeared amid rampant corruption. However, some provinces fell without a fight and in other cases entire units surrendered for lack of supplies. Deprived even of food and water, they surrendered their position and weapons in exchange for saving lives.
In addition to the inevitable damage to the image of the United States as a military and diplomatic power, this disaster has clear victims: civilians who return to live under a regime of terror in which corporal punishment and public executions prevail. This is especially true for Afghans, who risk losing what they’ve gained over the years. For the Taliban, women have absolutely no rights. It is not that they are forced to live locked in a burka, but that they cannot leave the house without risking a beating unless they are accompanied by a man. Access to education or minimal health care is in fact prohibited. Their situation in Afghanistan has remained very precarious, especially in rural areas, although there has been significant progress: in 2001, there were 900,000 children in school, all boys; in 2020, there were 9.5 million, 39% of them girls.
The international community proved unable to defend civilians on the ground. Although Biden announced that he was sending 3,000 soldiers to Kabul to protect his diplomats, it is clear that the Afghans were left to fend for themselves. Countries that participated in the military mission in Afghanistan, including Spain, announced operations to evacuate the country’s translators and employees who worked in their service. Given the speed with which events unfold, in many cases, unfortunately, it will be too late.
The offensive has unleashed a wave of refugees and displaced persons: since May, 250,000 people have been forced from their homes. In addition to diplomatic pressure through Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two main supporters of the militia, for the distribution of emergency aid and trying to give a boost to the peace talks totally overcome by the situation on the ground, the international community has a duty to welcome those fleeing the Taliban’s war and terror. Canada has already been willing to grant refugee status to 20,000 Afghans, especially women or members of the LGTBI community. The latter will face certain death if discovered. The EU and the US cannot ignore a catastrophe for which they have a clear responsibility. The military intervention was a failure. There is still time for the humanitarian response not to be.
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