Afghanistan has been plunged into increased violence in recent months, with the Taliban making significant territorial gains amid the process of international troop withdrawals, which has raised concerns in the international community about the apparent inability of the security forces to deal with the insurgents. 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.
Maintaining security in the country after the withdrawal of troops may become a problem for many citizens who feel uncertain about the future, as the withdrawal may pose new security threats and power struggles between influential groups may worsen as the Taliban increases its power.
A total withdrawal of international troops contrasts with the Taliban advance, which during its latest offensive has seized control of a district in western Afghanistan that includes a major border crossing with Iran. In the past week, the Taliban have overrun border areas with five countries: Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan. Afghanistan threatens another bloody civil war as international troops leave the Central Asian country claiming to have "accomplished their objectives".
A few days after the departure of US troops from Bagram base, the Taliban launched a new offensive that 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 a further blow to the government's aspirations to consolidate stability in the country as international troops withdraw, and after weeks of a renewed insurgent offensive.
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.
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.
While some nations are beginning to withdraw their troops, others, such as Turkey, are beginning to draw up plans to gain influence in Afghanistan and the region after the official withdrawal. Turkey's offer to manage the Afghan capital's airport is part of a strategy by Erdogan's government to bring it closer to the rest of the Western powers. In view of its domestic weakness, partly caused by the economic crisis, Ankara has opted to bury the hatchet and iron out its differences with other regional players, especially after being excluded from the multilateral agreement on hydrocarbon extraction in Eastern Mediterranean waters.
Ankara knows that a well-functioning Hamid Karzai airport is crucial to a future peace deal in Afghanistan. Diplomats and humanitarian aid workers arrive through the Kabul airfield. In addition, safe and steady airlift facilitates the work of development workers deployed in the country. Turkey maintains a total of 500 troops on Afghan soil as part of the NATO-supported Resolute Support Mission (RSM) contingent. Last December, the Ottoman parliament decided to extend the deployment of its troops in the Central Asian country. These troops have not been engaged in direct combat but have been involved in training more than 12,000 local security personnel.
The Turkish delegation has previously acknowledged that peace in Afghanistan must go beyond the existing US-Taliban agreement. In this regard, Ankara proposed holding a peace conference in Istanbul in the midst of the centenary celebration of their diplomatic relations.
However, "Turkey was part of NATO forces for the last 20 years, so they should withdraw from Afghanistan on the basis of the agreement we signed with the United States on 29 February 2020," a Taliban spokesman said, urging Ankara to leave the country, even though it is "a great Islamic country" with which they hope to maintain good relations "as a new Islamic government is established in the country". However, "the decision of the Turkish leadership is not right, it is a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity," the spokesman said. Despite the Taliban's refusal, the Eurasian country continues with its plan to expand its influence in the country through a military, economic and cultural presence. In this way, Turkey would also gain dominance in the Central Asian region.