Of the various legislative and executive actions that took place under the Trump administration, one of the decisions that had the greatest impact was the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. In February 2020, President Trump and other NATO allies signed an agreement with the Afghan Taliban forces to withdraw U.S. combat forces as long as the Taliban promised to “not allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.” This rosy view was followed up by the Biden administration’s announcement of a full withdrawal of all combatant troops by September 11, 2021.
As a result of the U.S. troop withdrawal, the Taliban has gone on the offensive over recent months to solidify their rule over Afghanistan. After close to twenty years in Afghanistan, the U.S. failure to establish a stable democracy and government in the nation as well as the interim Afghan government’s inability to stop corruption and establish jurisdiction over Taliban strongholds has led to the Taliban’s return to power. As the Taliban advanced over the past two weeks, capturing urban regions that were supposed to be under the interim Afghan government’s control and reestablishing sharia law in their conquered territories, a sense of palpable panic has begun to occur amongst the Afghan populace. As refugees flood the streets and criticism of the U.S. withdrawal begins to mount, the question remains, why was Afghanistan unable to establish a stable democratic government?
As the Taliban sweep through the nation, one problem that has become clear is that there isn’t a lack of Afghan forces to resist the Taliban; rather, the Afghan forces tend to surrender very quickly in the face of the Taliban due to “low morale and a lack of confidence that they’ll be properly supported by their government.” Ironically, this should not be so; the US has spent an enormous sum of money, over $133 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan. However, this money has not necessarily been well spent. A corrupt, kleptocratic government in Afghanistan has pilfered the coffers, spent money on unnecessary infrastructure projects and created a security force that is bifurcated between elite special forces and a poorly trained and demoralized larger army. As a result, even after twenty years of occupation, the US's inability to focus on proper state-building in Afghanistan has led to this ignominious result.
As the Taliban continues to advance, it remains to be seen how things will turn out. The US is currently considering the evacuation of workers at the US embassy in Kabul, a retreat feared by many as analogous to the evacuation of workers from the rooftop of the US Embassy in Saigon by helicopter - pictures that were immortalized as evidence that the US hegemony is not all-powerful. Similar claims will most likely be made if the US is forced to withdraw from Kabul. At the same time, among the Afghan people, there is, ironically, a movement of people from Afghan-controlled territories to Taliban-controlled zones. Part of this may be forced, but as journalists on the ground have discovered, many citizens are merely seeking stability and peace - even if this means being subject to Taliban rule.
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