The US Supreme Commander in Afghanistan officially resigned in a simple ceremony in Kabul yesterday to mark the end of the two decades of occupation.
Just days after Joe Biden announced that US military operations in the war-ravaged country would cease by August 31, General Austin “Scott” Miller officially transferred control. Other NATO allies, including Great Britain, are also withdrawing almost all armed forces before the president’s deadline.
But when Miller tacitly gave up his duties, a very different scene unfolded in northern Afghanistan, a “traditional stronghold of the US-allied warlords and an area dominated by the country’s ethnic minorities,” says the Associated Press (AP).
In the past 15 days alone, attacks by Islamist insurgents have “driven more than 5,600 families from their homes” while the country’s security forces collapse, the news agency reports.
Miller has turned control over to two U.S. generals, one of whom will oversee U.S. military action from headquarters in Florida, while the other will command the few troops that remain in Afghanistan.
As the retreat progresses, civilians in the north are fleeing their homes “for fear of living under insurgent rule,” says AP. In Camp Istiqlal, a “makeshift camp on a rocky patch of land” near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, “family for family” tell of “Taliban commanders who overran their cities and villages with clumsy tactics,” the agency said continues.
Despite “persistent promises during the negotiations that they will not repeat their harsh rule of the past”, the insurgents have also “levied their own fees and taxes” in the areas controlled by the Taliban.
“Anyone who can leaves,” writes the Sunday Times’ senior foreign correspondent Christina Lamb, describing the Kabul markets “full of carpets, kitchenware and gilded birdcages” while families “sell their worldly goods to get money for escape collect”.
“Panic set in” after the Taliban “swept through western Herat province and north, the part of the country they never controlled,” says Lamb.
Many Afghan soldiers have “surrendered to the militants and surrendered their equipment and weapons,” reports The Guardian, while others have fled to neighboring countries.
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon mobilized 20,000 military reservists to guard his country’s border last week after 1,000 Afghan security forces fled across the border instead of opposing Taliban forces.
“It is important to say goodbye”
After the final departure from Bagram Airfield – the main US base in Afghanistan – earlier this month, “there may only be one thing on which the entire political spectrum can agree: no one has foreseen the extent or the speed of the collapse of the Afghan security forces “. in the past few weeks, ”says The Guardian.
“Instead of cuts, there was a collapse, and intelligence services have turned their assessments of the strength of the Afghan military on their heads,” the paper goes on to say.
The US “now fears that Kabul could fall within months,” with control of the capital being turned over to the insurgents warned 20 years ago by then-President George W. Bush that after the US-led invasion, ” nothing to negotiate ”.
Meanwhile, “the Afghan government has remained silent and seems to have no plan, as if it somehow thought the US was going to change its mind about the exit,” Lamb writes in the Sunday Times.
The Taliban “recently claimed that their fighters had recaptured 85% of the territory in Afghanistan,” reports the BBC. Although this figure “cannot be independently verified and disputed by the government,” analysts assume that the group controls at least “a third of the 400 districts in Afghanistan,” the broadcaster says.
General Miller told the guests at the ceremony on Monday in Kabul that “it is important to me to say goodbye” and added: “Our task now is not to forget.”
The extent of the Afghan surrender could make that second promise easier than Miller had hoped.
Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib told reporters at yesterday’s ceremony that “there will be no takeover.”
But despite its defiant tone, the Afghan government has “conjured up one of the darker ghosts of the country’s recent past” to “contain the casualties,” says The Guardian. Afghanistan’s “warlords and regional strongmen” are being urged to “summon militias that the Taliban fought against – but also among themselves – during the total civil war of the 1990s,” the newspaper says.
The Financial Times (FT) says the warlords are leading a “second resistance” to the “Islamist onslaught” while the Taliban are launching “attacks on strategic cities and towns” including Kandahar and Qala-e-Naw.
Some of the mercenaries previously fought alongside the US as part of the “Northern Alliance”, supported by local volunteers who were recruited as part of a “National Mobilization” initiated by Kabul to join the militias to fight the insurgents .
Still, for many Afghans “it is not reassuring to see the warlords of the old rearmament adopt them,” wrote the Sunday Times’ Lamb. “Many blame them for the fact that the country is sinking into war and paving the way for the Taliban to take power” before the US occupation.
Talks are currently underway between the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban after the Islamist group and the Donald Trump administration reached an agreement on the withdrawal of troops. But hopes that the Taliban “lay down their arms and instead participate in a newly designed political system” are rapidly disappearing, says Lamb.
“We see no urgency with the Taliban,” said chief negotiator Nader Nadery. “Meetings that are now supposed to take place every other day often don’t take place for days and then they refuse to talk about real topics. They just want to kill time and keep this process half-alive as a lever for gaining international legitimacy, but they are not serious. “
When footage of Afghan troops “hugging their enemies” and “being sent home with travel money,” says The Guardian, “surrendering to a militant advance” looks “far more attractive”.
“The extent of the losses in man, equipment and morale is so profound that an experienced officer, who was hardened to death by individual comrades for a long time, spoke about the disintegration of the armed forces,” the newspaper said.
Many Afghans “fear a repeat of what happened after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, when the country fell into civil war,” says Lamb, with “various factions backed by neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China splitting have interfered for a long time “. .
However, if the Taliban regain control quickly, many more civilians are likely to die in a country where the road to peace is so difficult.