On September 20th 2001, in the wake of the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush declared America’s war on terror, beginning with the fight against Al Qaeda- the perpetrators of the September attacks. The Taliban, which ran the Afghan government at the time, had provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda’s terrorist operations and their refusal to hand over Al Qaeda, prompted the US to respond with military intervention. The US began its first airstrikes in October aiming to defeat both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and establish a democratic government which would not enable domestic or global terrorism.
The Taliban soon fell out of power, but the US and its NATO allies continued combat operations till late 2014, as they dismantled Al Qaeda and aimed to establish peace within the country. The remaining troops focused on building the capacity of the Afghan army to maintain peace and order in a future without US military presence. However, as NATO stepped away, the Taliban regrouped and resurged, causing a wave of assaults that would continue till their recent rise to power
On 29th February 2019, the US and the Taliban reached a peace agreement which would see a complete withdrawal of US and NATO troops within 14 months. Eventually, as the US and its allies began their withdrawal, the Taliban began its return to power. They rapidly gained control, city by city, highlighting that the US had overestimated the Afghan government, its army’s capacity, and to an extent its will to fight for control of Afghanistan.
On Sunday August the 15th, the USA’s two-decade nation-building campaign finally came to an end as the Taliban seized control of Kabul. With more than $2 trillion spent by the US in this war, the collapse of the Western-backed Afghanistan government and military to the lightning-fast takeover from the Taliban was met with shock and horror from the Western world. Indeed, the chaos that now engulfs the Kabul airport reveals the inherent instabilities and weaknesses within the former Afghanistan government, but also suggests at the difficulties the Taliban will face in reuniting a fractured nation.
The fleeing of deposed president Ashraf Ghani on the day of the Taliban’s takeover is perhaps indicative of the weak government that has plagued the Afghanistan people since US interference. Indeed, the ease of which the Taliban had traversed across cities and provinces with little to no altercation not only demonstrates a demoralized nation, but also the corruption within the Afghan elite. According to Jonathan Schroden, a director at the Center for Naval Analyses in the US, the people of Afghanistan are “subjected to a Sophie’s choice of a repressive Taliban regime or a government that extracts far more than it provides”. The inability of Ghani’s government to meet the aspirations of the people was reflected in the stretched Afghan forces, with many being “underpaid, underfed, and undercompensated” by Kabul’s leaders. This made it easier for the Taliban to strike deals with a military that not only believed that they had been abandoned by US forces, but also by their own government.
As the Taliban consolidates their control over Afghanistan, the question now turns to how effectively they will be able to unite and lead the nation. With the US freezing $9.5 billion of Afghan central bank’s assets, and an already weak economy due to continual corruption, cuts in foreign aid, and a bank run in the days prior to Kabul’s fall, the Taliban is faced with a potential financial crisis. Furthermore, the presence of opposing factions and the Taliban’s lack of technocratic understanding of certain functions of government suggests that they will only continue to face increasing challenges. However, the acceptance of Taliban rule from politicians, including key figures such as Ashraf Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, demonstrates a willingness to cooperate in order to avoid ongoing conflict. Despite this, Afghanistan continues to face threats of political instability as the Taliban comes under pressure from conflicting demands in both domestic and foreign spheres.
On July 9, 2021, US President Joe Biden announced that US forces would evacuate Afghanistan by August 31, 2021. As the initial deadline was of September 11, Mr. Biden had brought the deadline 11 days forward, citing that the reason for early evacuation was for the safety of US nationals and their Afghan partners. With the August 31 deadline fast approaching, most major nations have already concluded their evacuation missions and the rest are in the process of finalising the last few flights. However, the recent attacks conducted by the ISIS-K group have thrown a major curveball to the evacuation mission, as far as safety is concerned. At the time of writing, 72 civilians and 13 US soldiers lost their lives, and a lot more have been seriously injured. Consequently, Mr. Ben Wallace, UK defence secretary, confirmed the threat of attacks around the Kabul airport would increase as the foreign forces depart. General Frank Mckenzie, the U.S. general overseeing the evacuation mission confirmed these attacks would not stop them from completing their evacuation mission.
Over the course of the war, the U.S. has invested nearly $100 billion towards the Afghanistan army, including providing them with the latest high-quality weapons. As the Afghanistan army has collapsed, it is expected that the Taliban would take possession of these weapons and start reaping their benefits. However, it is worth noting that usage of such superior weapons without the supervision of the U.S. troops could turn out to be very dangerous. Indeed, most Afghans are trying to flee the country because they are worried that the Taliban would attack those who worked with the Americans or the government. Moreover, they fear the Taliban reimposing harsh interpretation of Islamic Law which they relied on, the last time they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. This includes barring women from attending school or working outside their home, as well as banning music. On the contrary, the Taliban have pledged to enforce the Islamic rule whilst confirming they intend to form an “inclusive, Islamic government”, reiterating the fact that they would encourage women to join the government as well. While it is not straightforward to predict what would happen in the coming weeks and months, it is hoped that the Taliban does keep its promise of providing a secure environment for the return of normal life for those who reside in Afghanistan.
The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.
I am a first year Bachelor of Commerce student majoring in Economics and Finance. On a macro-level, I passionate about following and analysing economic policies on both a domestic and international level, but you can also often find me poring over empirical research regarding behavioural economics and strategic decision-making among individuals.
I am a first-year Bachelor of Commerce student with interests in Economics, Finance and international relations. I enjoy reading up about new research and trends and hope to improve my analytical skills as a writer at Cainz. I'm looking forward to collaborating with others and writing some insightful articles.
Vickram is a third year Bachelor of Commerce student majoring in Accounting and Management. In his spare time, Vickram can be found in the gym, trying his hand in the kitchen or watching football (soccer).