This year marks twenty years since, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US launched airstrikes in Afghanistan and the ‘war on terror began. On April 14 Joe Biden announced it was time to put an end to ‘America’s longest war’, and hence the withdrawal of US troops will begin on May 1. The process will be finalised by September 11 and by then all 2,500 US service members currently stationed there will leave the country.
The conditions for the troops’ removal are not perfect as even though the government controls the biggest cities, the Taliban maintain a large presence in the countryside. In fact, the Taliban have control over around twenty per cent of the Afghan territory. Nevertheless, since the intra-Afghan peace talks have stalled and the situation is not likely to get better anytime soon, Biden decided there was no point in waiting any longer. He promised, however, that, even after the withdrawal, the US will continue providing humanitarian assistance and supporting the Afghan security forces.
Many wonder whether the US decision to leave is the right one or whether it puts Afghanistan at risk of spiralling into yet another war. Currently, there is no stable government in the country and the Taliban are still determined to establish an Islamic government, which makes an escalation of violence and a resurgence of terrorist activity extremely likely.
The Taliban remain an extremely powerful group that can threaten Afghanistan’s stability and citizens’ rights. When the group was in power from 1996 to 2001, they enforced a strict interpretation of Sharia, which required women to wear full-body burqas and banned music and television. On top of that, the group deprived women of access to healthcare and education and repressed the population. Over the last twenty years, a lot of progress has been made in Afghanistan in terms of advancing the rights of women, minorities and youth. Sadly, all that can be compromised if the Taliban strengthen their grip on power.
In 2020, the UN revealed that the Taliban still have ties with al-Qaeda. Therefore, the American troops leaving Afghanistan can potentially lead to the re-establishment of al-Qaeda and ISIS cells, which in turn might pose a new threat to the citizens of both Afghanistan and the US. A similar situation could be observed when the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 allowed for the rise of the Islamic State.
While the people of Afghanistan hope that this time around the Taliban will have a more moderate ideology than during their rule over twenty years ago, the international community is deeply concerned about what will happen next. The scenario in which ethnic cleansing, warlordism and human rights breaches rise to prominence is, regrettably, more likely than the one of peace and stability that everyone in the country dreams of.
The Taliban referred to the US decision saying ‘we have won the war, America has lost’, which indicates that the group is ready to bask in its victory, showing the world that now there is no one to stop it from introducing whatever reforms it wants. The future of Afghanistan looked promising but the US decision might have just ruined it, putting the Afghan people at risk of further exploitation and abuses. The next few months will show, however, who rises to power and how they will lead the country.
About the author:
Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News. This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world and helps people get immigration advice.