Taliban Take Control in Afghanistan

Chaos and consternation as citizens and allies flee

Over the summer, President Biden pledged to end America’s longest war in Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, marking 20 years since President Bush declared the War on Terror following the 9/11 attacks. On July 8th, Biden announced the deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops had been moved up to August 31. Around the time of the announcement, the Taliban, a terrorist group in Afghanistan triyng to spread their interpretation of Islam, appeared to be gaining strength, conquering more of the country. On August 15th, they approached the capital city of Kabul, forcing the U.S.-backed Afghan government to collapse. The transfer of power between the Afghani government and the Taliban was peaceful, with the Taliban claiming that they no longer wish to rule as they did in 1996, when women and children were discriminated against. Back then, women were forced to wear burqas, Muslim religious head coverings, girls over the age of six were not allowed to go to school, and child marriages were common. Now with the Taliban back in control, Afghans are fearful for their lives and futures.

The handling of the withdrawal has come under intense bipartisan scrutiny, with both Democrats and Republicans claiming that the operation was rushed. Biden says that the chaos that ensued in Afghanistan is just a sign that “there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.” He doubled down on his decision during a recent interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopolous, claiming he didn’t see a way out of Afghanistan without “chaos ensuing.” The White House has pointed fingers at the Afghan government, claiming that the U.S. gave the Afghan military training and equipment, but couldn’t instill in them the will to fight for their country.

On August 24th, the Taliban announced that it was not allowing any more Afghans to travel to the Kabul airport to leave the country. They have requested that all skilled Afghans remain in the country, and are only allowing foreign nationals to go to the airport. Biden says the U.S. is in the conversation with the Taliban to provide safe passage to all who need to get to the airport. G7 leaders met on Tuesday, asking Biden to extend the withdrawal deadline past the end of August so more people can be evacuated. Biden’s advisors have begun to create contingency plans if it becomes impossible to evacuate all U.S. military and Afghan allies by August 31, but they hope to stick to the president’s original timeline. Between Monday and Tuesday morning, the U.S. military evacuated 12,700 people from Afghanistan, along with an additional 8,900 people on other flights. The U.S. has now evacuated around 104,000 people since August 14. The vast majority of evacuees are Afghans applying for residency in the U.S. through special immigrant visas (SIVs), given to those who worked on behalf of the U.S. and would be in danger if they remain in Afghanistan. The refugees’ visas are being processed before they are eventually brought to air bases around the United States. The Defense Department authorized the Civil Reserve Air Fleet over the weekend, which mandates some U.S. airlines to assist in evacuation efforts. The majority of Afghan refugees travel on foot towards neighboring Pakistan or Iran. The U.S. and Europe do not accept many refugees, in part due to their lengthy vetting processes. Many civilians who supported the U.S. as foreign interpreters and other personnel still have not been airlifted out of the country.

On August 26th, ISIS-K, an affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS) and enemy of the Taliban, attacked Kabul’s airport, where many are waiting to be evacuated out of the country. The attack included two suicide bombers and two armed men opening fire. 60 people were killed and 140 injured, with 13 U.S. service members among the dead. Speaking about the attack on Thursday, Biden pledged to continue with the evacuation effort, and said the U.S. would “hunt down” those who attacked, saying he would “never forgive” and “never forget” the events of the day. He also claimed responsibility for the events of the last two weeks amidst some Republicans calling for his resignation over his handling of the situation in Afghanistan. The attack at the airport was the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in ten years.

The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly evolving, and many are afraid and worried about what tomorrow will bring. Those who are leaving are thankful, and are hopeful to begin a new life in the United States. It remains to be seen what will happen to those who remain in the country.