Taliban Rapidly Gaining as US Silently Evacuates Its Most Strategic Base in Afghanistan
The US drawdown could lead to disastrous consequences, and the world will pay the price, expert says.
[Islamabad] US troops hastily left the largest operating military base in Afghanistan, and the stage seems to be set for the Afghan Taliban to take over Kabul.
Bagram Airfield was shut down and emptied overnight on July 2.
Bagram, located some 45 miles north of the capital, has been a key to the security of Kabul.
The silent and rapid evacuation of Bagram by the US troops means that the withdrawal will likely be completed well ahead of the symbolic September 11 deadline set by US President Joe Biden. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that the withdrawal is expected to be completed by the end of August.
For the last 20 years, Bagram Airfield has been the hub for counter-violence operations across Afghanistan, particularly in the rugged north.
Bagram was built by the Soviets in 1950 during the Cold War, as the Soviet Union and the United States worked to spread their influence throughout Afghanistan.
After the US invasion in 2001, it was renovated and extended by the US, and was used as a leading airfield for 20 years to combat hostilities.
Gen. Mir Asad Ullah Kohistani of the Afghan National Army, after taking charge of Bagram told reporters on Monday that: “We did not know of their timeline for departure. They did not tell us when they left.”
“They turned off the base electricity and left in dark without informing us. It was discovered several hours later,” he said.
The Pentagon’s Kirby told reporters that there was coordination with Afghan leaders both in the government, and in the Afghan Security Forces about the Bagram turnover, including a walkthrough 48 hours before the exit.
Kohistani told reporters that, “according to intelligence reports, Taliban movements are increasing in the areas adjacent to the base.” He stressed that “the Afghan forces are capable of defending the base despite the Taliban’s recent successes.”
The airbase also houses a prison for 5,000 inmates, most of them reported to be Taliban.
US forces have silently evacuated the most important base makes it clear that the United States has no clear strategy for contending with the consequences of its withdrawal
The Taliban is edging faster toward Kabul after taking about a quarter of the country’s districts as the US-led forces began a drawdown from the country on May 1.
Kabul-based media reported on Tuesday that at least 11 districts have fallen to the Taliban in the last 24 hours – seven districts in Badakhshan, two districts in Kandahar, one in Parwan, and one in Helmand.
Meanwhile, over the last four days, the Taliban has significantly increased its presence in the northern areas of the country, which border Pakistan and China as well.
The Afghan Taliban also has captured several districts of the northern province of Badakhshan without any resistance or fighting.
Badakhshan, which shares a 56-mile border with China, is located in the northeastern part of the country, between Tajikistan and Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region.
According to some media reports, after heavy clashes between Taliban and Afghan security forces, at least 300 Afghan soldiers fled to Tajikistan from Badakhshan.
Tajikistan’s National Security Committee also confirmed the border infiltration, according to reports.
Sangeen Kakar, a Kandahar-based senior security official, confirmed to the Media Line that: “During the last 24 hours, security forces have retreated from several districts in the northern provinces of Parwan and Badakhshan.”
Kakar also confirmed that the northern “Nesh District has fallen to the Taliban without any confrontation, as government forces have already evacuated the city.”
According to the Taliban’s media cell: “On Wednesday, about 200 Afghan troops along with district security head Khawaja Murad have laid down their arms and surrendered to the Taliban in Badghis.”
On the other side, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security adviser, on Tuesday assured the Afghan people that the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces will retake all the districts that have fallen to the Taliban.
Suhail Shaheen, a Doha-based Taliban spokesperson for English-language media, told The Media Line that, “not even a single foreign troop including any military contractors should stay in the country after the completion of US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
“If the Doha Peace Agreement is violated in any way, it will be retaliated with a full and practical response,” the Taliban spokesperson warned.
Shaheen also emphasized that “our fighters will never target diplomats or foreign aid workers. In the light of Islamic guidelines, it is our primary duty to protect embassies and diplomats.”
Shaheen told The Media Line that “anti-peace elements are trying to prolong violence in Afghanistan so they are propagating false news about the Taliban.”
He also said that “No media offices and women are banned in the Taliban-controlled areas.”
20 years of fierce fighting between the Taliban and US-led coalition forces have ravaged the country and exhausted the superpower into finally bidding adieu to Afghanistan
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert, told The Media Line that: “The US drawdown, as expected, could lead to disastrous consequences in Afghanistan and (it) seems that the world may pay dire penalties which could include a resurgence of international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida and ISIS.”
Tsukerman further told The Media Line that the fact that “US forces have silently evacuated the most important base makes it clear that the United States has no clear strategy for contending with the consequences of its withdrawal.”
She also noted that “scores of local districts in the north, east and south fell under Taliban control following the US closure of the Bagram military base.”
“Such a situation reveals that Afghan troops appear demoralized and in disarray, whereas the Taliban is energized and increasingly sees the backing and recognition of the international community,” she said.
Farzana Shah, a Peshawer-based leading Afghan expert, told The Media Line that the “power struggle will go on between warring Taliban and Kabul forces to grab maximum land and influence, before completion of the US withdrawal.”
She noted that “the pace is gradually kicking up in the Taliban’s favor.”
Shah claimed that “Afghan forces will soon collapse, likely by the end of 2021, before full winter sets in and the new set-up will be a repetition of the 90s, post-USSR withdrawal.”
Shah also said that “The troops’ swift withdrawal looks like the US desires that China inadvertently gets embroiled in this vacuum.”
Adeeb Uz Zaman Safvi, a Karachi-based seasoned defense and geopolitical analyst and retired officer in the Pakistan Navy, told The Media Line that,” during the last five years, the Taliban are gradually getting better at conducting guerrilla warfare.”
In the context of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Safvi said that: “Two aspects need to be highlighted. The date of vacating Afghanistan was linked with total compliance with the Doha agreement. Second, no attack was carried out on US/NATO troops during the evacuation.”
“While the Taliban hangs on calmly, the US new administration, which brought back Obama’s war managers to power, has set a new date for complete evacuation. This, keeping in line with their policies based on egotism, started sending out fabricated false flag operations on the pretext of violation of the accord by the Taliban,” he said.
Safvi added that “Post foreign troop withdrawal, the (Afghan President Ashraf) Ghani-led puppet regime will not be able to resist a Taliban takeover of Kabul.”
Safvi also claimed that “more than 70% of Afghan territory is controlled by the Taliban. Also, reports are coming that the majority of Afghan troops have joined the Taliban forces and they are being sent on leave with an appointment letter in the army after the Kabul take over.”
A peaceful Afghanistan is in the best interests of the entire region
Adil Farooque Raja, a Rawalpindi-based defense analyst, and former NATO coordinator, spoke to The Media Line in the context of the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan.
Responding to The Media Line’s question, Raja said that “As September 11 draws closer, there are concerns in Pakistan about how the situation will pan out post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Raja also said that “20 years of fierce fighting between the Taliban and US-led coalition forces have ravaged the country and exhausted the superpower into finally bidding adieu to Afghanistan.”
“It is an achievement of a humongous scale for the Pakistani intelligence establishment to bring various Taliban groups together for a deal with the US,” Raja said, adding that “in the post-US withdrawal the alliance of the various Taliban groups is a rare possibility. It also gives credence to the fear of a repeat of the bloody history in Afghanistan.”
Raja further said that “civil wars and resultant atrocities in Afghanistan are not in the national interest of Pakistan, which is in the process of building trade and energy corridors with central Asia and beyond, passing through Afghanistan. A peaceful Afghanistan is in the best interests of the entire region.”
Despite the ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan, behind-the-scenes contacts between the Taliban and Kabul officials are expected to resume.
Mohammad Naeem, a Doha-based Taliban political spokesperson, confirmed to The Media Line that “a Taliban high-level delegation led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai has arrived in Tehran and on Wednesday morning the Taliban’s delegation will meet Afghan politicians to discuss the country’s current situation.”
Kabul media also reported that former vice president Younus Qanooni will lead the Afghan delegation.
Meanwhile, Qatari Special Envoy to Afghanistan Mutlaq al-Qahtani also arrived in Kabul on Tuesday, where he met many senior political leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai, to discuss how to resume the stalled Doha peace talks.