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Taliban expansion continues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international troops 

Taliban strike new blow with seizure of two key cities 
PHOTO/AFP - Militantes talibanes afganos

PHOTO/AFP  -   Afghan Taliban militants

The situation in Afghanistan is extremely delicate. Since US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US troops by 31 August, the situation in Afghanistan has been extremely fragile. In the last week alone, insurgents have taken control of at least 50 districts out of 370 Afghan districts, 85% of the territory. The withdrawal of US military troops has been gradual since last April, but in recent weeks the process has been accelerating.

A few weeks ago, the US abandoned the Bagram airfield without warning. Bagram, located 70 km north of Kabul, is a symbol of the US invasion of Afghanistan. This complex, which eventually became a small town for US soldiers with everything from gymnasiums to shops, has seen more than 100,000 US troops pass through. Bagram thus became the centre of military power in Afghanistan, as well as the epicentre of the war to drive out the Taliban and track down the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

PHOTO/AFP

A few days after the departure of US soldiers from Bagram base, the Taliban have carried out a new offensive that has resulted in the fall of more than a dozen districts. The town of Islam Qala and Torghundi, the main border enclaves with Iran and Turkmenistan respectively in Herat province, have fallen to the Taliban in the last few hours in a further blow to the government's aspirations to consolidate stability in the country as international troops withdraw, and after weeks of renewed insurgent offensives.

The insurgents have focused on capturing districts and trade routes. The seizure of Islam Qala is particularly counterproductive for the Afghan authorities as it is one of the most important in the country, contributing some $20 million to the government's coffers through its commercial activities.

AFP/DIMITAR DILKOFF - El negociador talibán Shahabuddin Delawar en una conferencia de prensa en Moscú el 9 de julio de 2021
AFP/DIMITAR DILKOFF - Taliban negotiator Shahabuddin Delawar at a press conference in Moscow on 9 July 2021.

Meanwhile, Iran's armed forces said they are monitoring "the slightest movements" on the country's border with Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the border customs city. These new developments follow the conclusion of talks in Tehran between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban, who agreed that "war is not the solution to the Afghan crisis".

The joint statement issued at the end of the meetings stipulates that "both sides agree that the continuation of the civil war is dangerous" and that "efforts should be directed towards a political and peaceful solution", although the situation on the ground shows a different reality.

AFP/ ANPREET ROMANA - Regimiento de Marines de la 2ª Brigada Expedicionaria de Marines en el Campamento Dwyer en la provincia de Helmand en Afganistán
AFP/ ANPREET ROMANA - Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

The Taliban have also stated that foreign troops remaining in the country after the withdrawal date will be targeted. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, in an interview with BBC news, said that no foreign forces - including military contractors - should remain in Kabul after the withdrawal is complete. "If they leave their forces behind against the Doha agreement, in that case it will be up to our leadership to decide how to proceed," Shaheen told the BBC.

Kabul airport is the main departure point for Western diplomats and aid workers. Fears that it could fall into Taliban hands when foreign forces withdraw are pushing NATO to find a quick solution.

Last May during the last NATO meeting, Turkey offered to administer Kabul airport in anticipation of the announced withdrawal of US troops and thus the departure of NATO troops. The US, which was initially reluctant to the idea, finally accepted Turkey's proposal and Biden himself pledged to support Ankara economically and militarily. However, the Taliban have demanded Ankara's withdrawal along with other NATO troops, and have warned Erdogan not to make a "big mistake".

REUTERS/MOHAMMAD ISMALI  -   Las fuerzas de seguridad afganas cerca del lugar de un ataque en una base aérea militar estadounidense en Bagram, al norte de Kabul, Afganistán
REUTERS/MOHAMMAD ISMALI  -   Afghan security forces near the site of an attack on a US military air base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

With the withdrawal of international troops, insurgent groups have been gaining more power on the ground while the Afghan National Army is experiencing a power vacuum that is leading many soldiers to desert and flee to neighbouring Afghanistan. In this regard, Moscow has warned of increased tension on the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border, two-thirds of which is now under the control of the insurgent formation.

One of the big questions was what would happen to all those Afghan civilians who had collaborated with the international troops, including interpreters and translators, and who, with the withdrawal of US forces and other countries, would find themselves in danger. On this issue, Biden pointed out that "the processing time for Special Immigration Visas to bring them to the United States has been dramatically accelerated". With this speech, Joe Biden brings an end to America's longest war, which has cost the US administration a trillion dollars and the deaths of 2,448 Americans.

The US human rights organisation Human Rights Watch has just published a report describing the outlook that awaits many Afghans in the coming months, based on what has happened in the sectors that have already been engulfed by violence. HRW's research reports that when the Bagh-e Sherkat district of Kunduz province in the north was occupied by the Taliban between 21 and 25 June, there were reprisals against civilians perceived to have collaborated with the government, with many driven from their homes and looting taking place.