Why Afghanistan’s Taliban proved unstoppable after all

Taliban fighters are pictured in a vehicle of Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) on a street in Kandahar on August 13, 2021. (AFP)
Taliban fighters are pictured in a vehicle of Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) on a street in Kandahar on August 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 16 August 2021

Why Afghanistan’s Taliban proved unstoppable after all

Taliban fighters are pictured in a vehicle of Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) on a street in Kandahar on August 13, 2021. (AFP)
  • As the fighting shows, the Kabul government has been unable to match the Taliban’s staying power
  • The Taliban claims the upper hand militarily now that it has captured more than half of Afghanistan

PESHAWAR: The Taliban has reportedly seized control of the Afghan cities of Herat, Kandahar and Ghazni after weeks of military gains across the country, prompting fears the Afghan government in Kabul could collapse.

Acknowledging the rapid deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, the US and UK governments both plan to send troops to help evacuate embassy staff.

Taliban fighters have taken charge of the southern Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan and several crossing points with Iran to the west and Central Asian countries to the north.

Since May 2021, when the US and NATO powers began their final drawdown some 20 years after their arrival in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the fragility of the Afghan government has been revealed by a string of battlefield losses.

Just how lopsided the victories of the Taliban have been is evident from the fact that, in many cases, government forces have surrendered without fighting. Even Afghan elite commandos, so highly praised by their US military patrons, have failed to make a stand.

The Taliban has seized 10 provincial capitals in less than a week, with fighting ongoing in Lashkar Gah in the south. Government forces have effectively lost control of the north and west — traditional anti-Taliban strongholds.

Taking full control of Kandahar, a vital southern city of 600,000 people, would be a major boost for the insurgents. Not only is it an important trade hub, but the militant group’s birthplace and stronghold after it seized power in 1996.

According to several reports emerging late on Thursday, the Afghan government’s negotiating team in Doha has approached the Taliban leadership with a proposal for a power-sharing deal in return for a ceasefire.




US army soldier with the 101st Airborne Division Alpha Battery 1-320th fires an AT-4 as Combat Outpost Nolen on the outskirts of the village of Jellawar in the Arghandab Valley came under Taliban attack in 2010. (AFP/File Photo) 

The intra-Afghan peace talks have been an agonizing, drawn-out affair, with few concrete achievements to show for President Ashraf Ghani and his backers.

The lighting advances by the Taliban in multiple provinces on Thursday may well be a make-or-break moment for the negotiations.

Granted, nobody expected the peace process to be smooth, but the talks, beginning on Sept. 12, 2020, have proved particularly slow and unproductive.

After almost nine months, the only achievement the two sides have made is an agreement on the code of conduct for the negotiations themselves.




A US Marine is given a hand using barbed wire to secure the walls the US embassy in Kabul on January 11, 2002. (AFP/File Photo)

Disagreements persisted over the precise agenda of the talks, despite mounting pressure on both negotiating parties by major stakeholders, including the US, Pakistan, Qatar and China. Yet it was obvious that any negotiations concerning substantive issues could only proceed once the agenda had been finalized.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the name favored by Ghani’s internationally recognized government, has long insisted on placing the matter of a ceasefire at the very top of the agenda.

For the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, what mattered most was the question of what system of government the country ought to adopt — its preference being Shariah, or Islamic, law.

Analysts were largely correct when they predicted that intra-Afghan negotiations would be far more challenging once the Taliban-US peace agreement was signed.




Undated handout photo received from the Public Relation Office of the 215 Maiwand Corps on August 11, 2021, shows Sami Sadat, commander of the 215 Maiwand Afghan Army Corps, talking on the radio in Helmand province. (AFP)

The conflict in Afghanistan, a country of some 38 million people of multiple ethnic backgrounds, has ground on for more than four decades, drawing in state and non-state actors and creating a fertile ground for both terrorism and opium cultivation — quite the opposite of what American and British forces set out to achieve then they launched a bombing campaign in October 2001.

Back then, the administration of President George W. Bush was responding to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, in which nearly 3,000 people perished. Accusing fingers were pointed at the terrorist group Al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden, who was once a mujahideen fighter in the Soviet-Afghan war.

But the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, who was then living in Afghanistan under the group’s protection. Bin Laden and his closest aides had fled Afghanistan by the time a US-led coalition intervened and toppled the Taliban in December 2001, setting the stage for America’s longest war.

AFGHAN WAR COST TO USA

* $2,261bn - Total cost from 2001 to 2021.

* $933bn - Defense of Defense (DoD) allocation.

* $59bn - State Department budget allocation.

* $530bn - Interest on DoD & State Dept. borrowing.

* $296bn - US veterans’ care.

* $443bn - Additions to DoD base budget.

After Joe Biden took office in January, he set a symbolic date of Sept. 11, 2021, for full troop withdrawal, pushing back the May 1 deadline set in an accord struck with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump last year.

It had taken 18 months of exhaustive talks between the Taliban and the US to reach their deal, signed in Doha on Feb. 29, 2020, after repeated suspensions and acute differences over the exchange of Afghan prisoners.

Five and a half months were spent on an agreement to exchange 5,000 Taliban prisoners for more than 1,000 Afghan servicemen, and only after seeking approval from a specially convened loya jirga — a legal assembly in Pashtunwali culture.




Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit at a gas station at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul on August 11, 2021. (AFP)

Momentum was quickly lost, however, and mutual mistrust again crept in, to the extent that, even after several weeks of talks, neither side could agree on something as simple as whether to call the Kabul government an Islamic republic or an Islamic emirate.

As the Taliban offensive intensified in recent weeks, the Afghan government, through its Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, asked Pakistan for help in containing the Taliban, arguing that the militants posed a threat to neighboring countries and regional security.

The statement was unprecedented. No Afghan government had ever asked for Islamabad’s help fighting its enemies, instead choosing to accuse it of taking sides in the Afghan civil war.

Atmar also accused the Taliban leadership of cheating the Afghan government by holding peace talks in Doha on the one hand and preparing for a military offensive on the other.




Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle along the roadside in Herat, Afghanistan's third biggest city, after government forces pulled out the day before following weeks of being under siege. (AFP)

During a recent visit to Russia, Shahabuddin Delawar, a senior member of the Taliban negotiating team in Doha, held the door open to further Taliban offensives by arguing the group had made no such promises to withhold attacks or refrain from seizing provincial capitals.

With the Taliban capturing more than half of the country in less than two months, it is now justifiably claiming the upper hand militarily.

There are several possible reasons for the Taliban’s rapid gains in northern Afghanistan, one being that many non-Pashtuns, including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen, have joined the Taliban’s ranks after graduating from madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Another possible reason is the long history of disunity in the ranks of non-Taliban factions, which has fostered splits and undermined their collective strength.

Short of allowing the country to sink into a protracted, bloody stalemate and a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale not seen in decades, a negotiated solution involving some measure of power-sharing appears to remain the only viable option for the warring sides.




The American flag flies on a flag pole after it was raised at the opening ceremony of the US embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul on December 17, 2001. (AFP/File Photo)

Although the two negotiating teams reiterated their commitment to the peace process in the latest round of talks on July 16, the Taliban has flatly refused to give up its demand for “a genuine Islamic system.”

Ghani has insisted his forces may lose battles, but will ultimately win the war, and made it clear his government is in the war for the long haul. His predecessor, Hamid Karzai, also warned the Taliban they would lose if they refused to reach a political settlement.

The government began mobilizing and equipping the arbaki (militia) as early as 2019, providing tribal fighters with resources to resist the Taliban. The former mujahideen, made up mostly of non-Pashtuns, was also mobilized, particularly in its northern strongholds, but soon began to collapse in the face of the Taliban onslaught.

Three giant portraits of Ghani, Karzai and the late mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Masood that hang outside Hamid Karzai International Airport are symbols of the grit that government forces were expected to show in the face of the Taliban.

But as the fighting has shown over the past two months, the Kabul regime has been unable to match the Taliban’s strength, to say nothing of determination.

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Twitter: @rahimyusufzai1


Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police
Updated 11 min 51 sec ago

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police
  • A police spokeswoman said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related

PARIS: A man dressed like a ninja attacked and wounded two policewomen with a sword in Cherbourg in northwestern France on Thursday before being shot and captured, a police spokeswoman said.
She said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related.
She said the attacker had stolen a vehicle and caused an accident, after which he assaulted two policewomen who had been called to the scene, wounding one in the face and the other in the chin.
The assailant — dressed in black in the style of traditional Japanese ninja fighters — was shot three times by the officers and was flown to hospital by helicopter in serious condition.
The attack happened around 3:45 p.m. (1445 GMT) near a gas station of the Leclerc supermarket chain.
The name and nationality of the attacker were not immediately known.


UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man
Updated 26 sec ago

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man
  • "The UN headquarters is closed, there is police activity," a UN spokesman told AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The United Nations headquarters in New York was cordoned off on Thursday during a police stand-off with a lone man apparently holding a gun outside the venue, officials said.
“The UN headquarters is closed, there is police activity,” a UN spokesman told AFP.
Images showed armed police surrounding the man standing on a sidewalk while holding what appeared to be a gun.
According to an official speaking on condition of anonymity, the man threatened to kill himself in front of one of the building’s entrances.
The avenue along the UN headquarters was closed to traffic, but meetings inside were not immediately affected.
“Due to a police investigation, avoid the area of 42 Street and 1st Avenue. Expect emergency vehicles in the surrounding area,” the New York police department said on Twitter.


Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
Updated 02 December 2021

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
  • Measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded
  • “The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues.
And parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity.”
She said officials also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year — an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.
Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.
About 68.7 percent of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, though opinion polls show most Germans are in favor.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, has also backed a general vaccine mandate, but favors letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,”he said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure — with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations — and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals over the festive period, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off during New Year’s in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries because of mishandled fireworks.
The new measures will take effect once Germany’s 16 states incorporate them into existing rules, likely in the coming days.


Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
Updated 02 December 2021

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
  • “More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” said Oslo Municipality
  • The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group

COPENHAGEN: At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant and the cases are connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials said Thursday.
“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected live in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection.”
The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group, adding that overall “more than 50 cases” have been recorded in Norway. The country’s first two cases were announced Monday.
On Wednesday the city of Oslo urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One reportedly was where the Christmas party was held.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.
It is customary in Scandinavia for companies, associations and individuals to hold Christmas parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas eve.


Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
Updated 02 December 2021

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
  • On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an 'ecumenical prayer' with migrants at a Catholic Church
  • Francis has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week

LARNACA, Cyprus: Pope Francis arrived on Cyprus on Thursday with a focus on inter-faith dialogue and lending his support to a country on one of the frontlines of Europe’s migration crisis.
Francis, who will travel on to Greece on Dec. 4, was to meet with Cyprus’s president on Thursday as well as with the Maronite Church. On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an ‘ecumenical prayer’ with migrants at a Catholic Church in the divided capital.
“It will be a beautiful trip but we will touch some wounds. I hope that we all will be able to gather up the messages given to us,” Pope Francis told journalists on the aircraft.
Young children waving flags of Cyprus and the Vatican welcomed Francis at Larnaca airport, and three young girls in Cypriot traditional dress gave him bouquets of flowers.
Cyprus says it is struggling to cope with an influx of undocumented migrants, either through a dividing line splitting the island, or by boats from the neighboring Middle East.
Francis, who has made defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week.
Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, visited Cyprus in 2010. Cyprus’s Orthodox Church, the dominant Christian communion, traces its lineage back to some of Christ’s earliest followers.
According to the Book of Acts in Christian scripture, St. Paul visited the island with Barnabas, the founder of Cyprus’s Church, and Mark the Evangelist.
The Pope will be staying at a Franciscan monastery in the capital Nicosia, one of the last divided capitals of the world. The Roman Catholic Holy Cross Church, in the same compound, still bears scars from the crossfire of ethnic strife and from a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup in 1974.