- BBC News World
The Taliban continue to capture territory in Afghanistan as NATO forces, led by the United States, leave the country where they have had a military presence for the past 20 years.
Sources from the Islamic fundamentalist group claim to have seized more than ten districts in the last 24 hours.
The advance of the Taliban has occurred in several provinces of the country in the last two months, but the most forceful offensive is taking place in the north of the country.
The situation has created a crisis for the Afghan government’s defense forces, which are no longer supported by US aerial bombardments to contain the insurgents.
Although authorities deployed hundreds of troops and pro-government militiamen to the area on Tuesday, more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers are reported to have fled to neighboring Tajikistan on Monday.
A central factor in the recent Taliban onslaught was the withdrawal of the US Army from Bagram Air Base – a key military installation – that happened in the early hours of Friday.
The new Afghan commander of the base, General Asadullah Kohistani, told the BBC, the Americans left the facility without warning at 3:00 am (local time) and only came to report hours later.
The US announced later that Friday that it had vacated Bagram, effectively closing its military campaign in Afghanistan before the official 9/11 deadline announced by President Joe Biden earlier in the year.
Bagram’s night out passes control of the base to a far less gifted and trained Afghan force that it might have a hard time defending it from the Taliban attack.
General Kohistani has some 3,000 servicemen under his command, significantly fewer than the tens of thousands of US troops and its allies who previously occupied the base.
During statements made to the press on Monday, Kohistani said his forces are expecting an attack from the Taliban, noting that he had already received reports that the group was making “inroads into rural areas” nearby.
“If you compare us with the Americans, there is a big difference,” declared the general. “But to the best of our abilities … we are doing the best we can to secure and serve all the people.”
Bagram Air Base History
- The base was built by the United States in the mid-1950s as an airport for Afghanistan and as a vanguard point against the Soviet Union, in the middle of the Cold War.
- A runway more than 3 kilometers long was built in 1976 and maintained by the Afghan Air Force, with the assistance of the United States.
- In 1979 it fell under Soviet control after the invasion of the Red Army in 1979, which used it as a foothold for their operations at the beginning of the conflict.
- In subsequent years it passed from hand to hand. First occupied by the pro-Moscow Afghan government, then by Mujahideen forces after the Soviet withdrawal, until the Taliban seized the facility in the mid-1990s.
- The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 (triggered by the S-11 attacks), overthrowing the Taliban and retaking the air base that it transformed into a huge complex from which it conducted its war against the Islamist group.
The withdrawal of troops by the United States and its allies from Afghanistan was agreed upon following a treaty in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020, signed by the US and the Taliban.
According to the agreement, in exchange for a military withdrawal, the Taliban pledged not to allow al–Qaeda or any other extremist group will operate within the areas under its control.
The deadline that President Joe Biden gave to completely withdraw his troops was September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – although that has indeed already happened with the abandonment of the Bagram base.
On Monday, the Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, described the US departure from the air base as a “historic moment“.
For his part, Afghan government spokesman Razwan Murad told the BBC that they were ready for dialogue and a ceasefire and that the Taliban should now show that it was committed to peace.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani insists that his country’s security forces are perfectly trained to keep insurgents out, yet many fear that the capital Kabul falls to the fundamentalist militiamen.
Suhail Shaheen assured that the military takeover of Kabul “is not the policy of the Taliban.” However, there has been a clear advance of the Taliban through the northern territories that they managed to retake without violence and through mediation after the Afghan soldiers refused to fight, according to Shaheen.
The Taliban spokesperson also described the current government as “dying” and referred to the country as the “Islamic Emirate,” an indication that the group envisions a theocratic basis for ruling the country and that they would likely not participate in the government-mandated elections.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.