Story by Cassie Clark / Contributing Writer
The Taliban, an extremist Islamic group who ruled most of Afghanistan until ousted by U.S.-led forces after the 9/11 attacks, has taken over Afghanistan once again. The group previously ruled under a harsh interpretation of the Quran and often used violence to enforce it. In addition, the Taliban harbored Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda, an act that ultimately led to the invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S. The current takeover happened just two weeks before U.S. troops were set to be removed entirely from the country.
President Joe Biden resolved to withdraw troops completely from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, 2021. This deadline extended the May 1 exit date set by the Trump administration
“There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict.”President Joe Biden
Biden has referred to the invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S. as the “forever war,” and many feel the same. It has been 20 years since the initial invasion, and nearly a trillion dollars has been put towards the effort.
“While I don’t think it is fair to say that this roughly trillion-dollar investment – and the sacrifice of nearly 2,500 American service members – were in vain, it is an extraordinary commitment of resources, and Americans should take an interest in how those resources are used,” said Dr. Jon DiCicco, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University.
Dara Zwemer, a senior at MTSU, believes that removing the troops from Afghanistan was the right decision. “We were meddling in the affairs of another country without the correct cultural competence, political knowledge, and strategies to actually support Afghanistan,” she said.
Evacuation efforts are taking place at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Biden considered extending the August 31 deadline, but the Taliban stated there would be “consequences” if the U.S. remained after that date.
After their defeat by the U.S. and its allies in 2001, most members of the Taliban fled to Pakistan, continuing as a guerilla organization, according to the N.Y. Times. They slowly grew strength and support over time. Now, the group has captured all major cities in Afghanistan, doing so in a matter of days. Afghan citizens fled to the Kabul airport.
Citizens are scared that the group’s strict enforcement of Islamic law will return, though the Taliban has claimed that they will now rule more moderately. Specifically, women are frightened by the takeover. These fears are not unwarranted.
When the group ruled previously, women were not allowed to go to school or work at most jobs. Women could also not be seen in public with their faces uncovered, and unmarried women and men could not be seen out together. In July of 2021, Taliban fighters ordered nine women in a bank to leave and let male relatives take their places, Reuters reported.
On August 26, a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. soldiers and at least 90 Afghans, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Islamic State claimed the bombing.
A family says 10 of its members were killed in a U.S. drone strike on August 30, according to the N.Y. Times. The strike was targeted at a vehicle with suspected explosives inside in a residential neighborhood of Kabul. The Pentagon acknowledged the possibility of civilian deaths but claimed that they would have resulted from the explosives inside the vehicle, the N.Y. Times reported.
A U.S. official told CNN that as many as five rockets were fired at the Kabul airport on August 31. Though it is too early to verify, the official said that they were most likely launched by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate.
On August 31, the final U.S. aircraft left the Kabul airport, ending the U.S. military’s 20-year presence in Afghanistan. In a White House press conference, Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie stated that almost 80,000 civilians were evacuated. McKenzie also said that “every single U.S. service member is now out of Afghanistan.”
McKenzie explained that the Taliban established a “firm perimeter” outside the airfield to prevent anyone from entering it during the last plane’s departure. McKenzie called the group “pragmatic and businesslike” when it came to U.S. evacuation efforts.
“If we were going to be challenged, it would be by ISIS. They remain a very lethal force.”General Kenneth F. McKenzie
McKenzie estimates that there are around 2,000 “hardcore ISIS fighters” in Afghanistan.
Now that the U.S. troops have entirely withdrawn from Afghanistan, many speculate about how things will play out in the country. DiCicco, professor at MTSU, believes that people seen as allies of the U.S. could be at risk for retaliation by the Taliban or other armed groups. He also said that a rise in domestic violence is possible “since some will see the return of the Taliban as validating a particularly cruel form of patriarchy.”
When it comes to the region at large, DiCicco said that, since Pakistan already has close connections with the Taliban, the takeover of Afghanistan could have consequences for Pakistan’s biggest rival, India. However, he stated, “…the security challenges inside Afghanistan are far greater than those to the wider region…it is worth remembering that groups like al-Qaeda in Afghanistan were able to operate even while the U.S. and allied forces were in-country.”
Gen. McKenzie stated that the “military phase” is over, but that the “diplomatic phase” has just begun. There are many ideas about how the U.S. should continue to assist Afghanistan without troops on the ground.
“We, and every other country who meddled in Afghanistan, are obligated to assist refugees…we encouraged Afghani people to make revolutionary strides in women’s rights and other areas of life. Now these same activists are being targeted. They will be punished for progressive strides we promoted and encouraged. We cannot leave them behind,” Zwemer, a student, said.
Logan Mcvey, a junior at MTSU, believes that the U.S. “should commit an overwhelming amount of resources towards helping refugees.” He also said that “any efforts by the Taliban to reject the evacuation of refugees should be combatted with any means necessary, though with the utmost care taken to avoid civilian casualties.”
Mcvey believes that “staying informed, and educating ourselves on this issue serves not only to help those in danger in the Middle East, but also ourselves by realizing that we should take care in escalating global conflicts.”
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