The Taliban militia, an Afghan fundamentalist armed group, managed in about three months to put in check the Afghan army, trained and supported over the past two decades by international contingents, in a rapid offensive that advances from the perimeter of the provinces towards smaller capitals and now to big cities like Kunduz, Herat and Kandahar. Nearly 20 years after the Taliban surrendered to the military campaign launched by the United States and the Northern Alliance (Afghan) in the country considered a sanctuary for the al Qaeda terrorist network, the insurgent armed group is threatening to retake total control of Afghanistan. Here are the key points to understanding what is happening:
Who are the Taliban?
The Taliban armed group, or “students” as the language translates Pashtun, took shape in the early 1990s. mujahedin —armed jihad (holy war) fighters—whether Afghans or foreigners defeated Soviet troops in Afghanistan after a decade of war. From the Afghan-Pakistan border, the Taliban, born in fundamentalist religious seminaries, promised order and security in their offensive to govern the country.
In 1996, the guerrillas seized control of Kabul and snatched the government and presidency of mujahedi leader Burhanuddin Rabban, one of the heroes of the victory against the Soviets. In its advance, the Taliban established a fundamentalist regime in strict interpretation of Islamic law. Among other measures, the Taliban imposed physical punishment, ranging from the death penalty in a public square to lashings or amputation of limbs for minor offenses; they stripped women of any rights (they were forced to cover themselves entirely with the burqa, and girls were forbidden to go to school after the age of 10); they eradicated all cultural expression (cinema, music, television) and even archeological expression—destroyed, for example, the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001. After the capture of Kabul, only three countries recognized the Taliban: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. The intelligence services of the latter, by the way, despite the denial of its government, were accused by the United States of supporting the Taliban insurrection. The West Point Center for Combating Terrorism estimates the Taliban has around 60,000 fighters, who would be joined by tens of thousands of like-minded militiamen and collaborators.
Why did the United States declare war on the Taliban in 2001?
Five years after the Taliban took Kabul on September 11, 2001, the United States suffered attacks on the Twin Towers, which left some 3,000 dead. Washington blamed the al-Qaeda terrorist network, born in the late 1980s and then led by Saudi Osama bin Laden. The government of Republican President George W. Bush has declared war on terrorism and its sanctuaries, including Taliban Afghanistan, where bin Laden is said to have found refuge and where the al Qaeda leadership was under the shelter of mujahedin Mullah Mohamed Omar.
In October 2001, the United States launched an offensive (Operation Enduring Freedom) against Taliban forces, in conjunction with the Northern Alliance, a coalition of rival militias born after the fall of Kabul. Fundamentalists capitulated in Kunduz, on the border with Tajikistan, in just two months. However, the invasion of US troops, later supported by dozens of countries in the administration of the new Afghanistan, did not find the whereabouts of bin Laden and Mullah Omar.
The Taliban admitted in 2015 that Mullah Omar had died two years earlier. Mullah Mansur, his successor, was hit by a US air strike in 2016. Maulaui Hibatullah Akhundzada is the current leader of the Taliban. Bin Laden was found and killed by US special forces in May 2011 in the city of Abbottabab, Pakistan.
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What did the Taliban do after 2001?
After the victory of US troops and during the transition to an Afghan government under democratic standards, the Taliban maintained its zone of influence in the interior and border areas with Pakistan. The fundamentalist group did not surrender, but repositioned its members in difficult-to-reach mountain areas or outside the country. The Taliban have pursued different strategies, from the gradual advance of their militiamen in a traditional guerrilla war to terrorist attacks against security forces, officials, politicians —on Aug. 4, they tried to reach the Defense Minister’s residence in Kabul— women , journalists… All of this has earned them the condemnation of the United Nations in different reports of human rights violations.
In the sad routine of their violence are, without a doubt, the shooting against the girl Malala Yousafzai, in Mingora, in October 2012, for raising her voice on the internet in defense of girls’ education, and the attack in Peshawar, in Pakistani territory, against a school in December 2014, with 156 dead. However, the arrival of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, through the defections of other Afghan armed groups such as the Taliban, has complicated the authorities’ work to identify those responsible for the terrorist attacks of recent years. The Taliban often takes responsibility for their attacks through their main social media spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid.
What is the current war in Afghanistan due to?
In December 2014 —13 years after the start of the war—, US President Barack Obama declared the end of major combat operations. The Democratic president, who has increased the number of US troops on the ground to nearly 100,000, has chosen to focus his troops’ efforts on training and transferring security responsibilities to Afghan forces so that he can end his action in Afghanistan. His successor in office, Donald Trump, despite advocating the return of soldiers from longer wars, finally agreed to keep the contingent in Afghanistan until the conflict situation allowed. However, in February 2020, as part of the peace talks in Doha (Qatar), Trump agreed with the Taliban that he would withdraw troops from the country within 14 months.
Last April, current White House tenant Joe Biden informed that the United States would withdraw its troops in a withdrawal that began in May and is expected to end by September 11, when two decades after the terrorist attacks will be completed. the twin towers. In May, precisely, the Taliban began an offensive to extend its area of control in the south, north and west of the country, with a strategy of attrition of the capitals of the country’s 34 provinces towards large cities such as Herat, Kandahar and Kunduz.
While US intelligence services estimated in June that the country could fall into Taliban hands six months after the withdrawal of foreign troops, those same sources now believe Kabul could be controlled by the Taliban within 90 days. Between July alone and now, in August, 1,000 civilians have lost their lives in the violence unleashed in the Taliban offensive, according to UN data. About 250,000 people have fled their homes since May. Although, on paper, Afghan forces, trained and supported by the international coalition over the past two decades have more troops — about 288,000 police and military — the Taliban’s advance is being rapid.
Can an agreement be reached between the parties to stop the violence?
In February 2020, the United States, under Donald Trump, and the Taliban reached an agreement whereby Washington pledged to withdraw troops in May 2021 and the insurgent militia not to attack them and to begin a dialogue with the Government of Kabul, led by Ashraf Ghani. The pact was signed by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban militia. Last year, negotiations between the parties began in Doha, the capital of Qatar, but without much success. On August 12th, precisely through Qatar, the Afghan Government sent the Taliban a proposal to share power in exchange for ending the escalation of the war. For now, the insurgents have not decided on a possible deal and are continuing their offensive.
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