The Afghan government forces the US had trained are quickly losing the fight against the Taliban. The US has promised a complete retreat from Afghanistan. But it has now a plan to keep a foot in the door by staying in control of Kabul’s international airport. That plan is likely to fail.
When the Soviet troops left Afghanistan the government forces, they had supported held out for three more years. Then the Soviets cut off all while the US continued to support the various Pashtun warlords and Mujahedin. Without Soviet resupply the government forces had to give up. Now the US occupation forces are leaving the country. But the government and the forces they are leaving behind are much less prepared to survive than the ones the Soviets had backed. The speed at which the Taliban are now taking over lets me assume that it will take only a few months until the Afghan government forces collapsed completely.
Afghanistan has about 400 districts. The Taliban already controlled for some time more than 50% of the countryside but had usually refrained from taking the district centers. That has now changed. Between May 1 and June 14 this year the Taliban took control of 34 districts in Afghanistan. During the last week they added a dozen more, 4 of those on Sunday alone.
Remarkably a lot of the districts the Taliban took were not in primarily Pashtun regions but in the north where the population is often Uzbek, Tajik or from other ethnic minorities. Before the US invasion those populations were often anti-Taliban.
The tactics the Taliban are using shows little variance. They first attack checkpoints and small strongholds around the district center to then besiege the main strongholds of the government military and police. Tribal elders are then sent in to communicate Taliban requests to surrender. The Taliban do promise not to harm anyone who does so. They are only asking the soldiers to disarm and to register their names with them. They provide them with enough money to travel back home.
The government is no longer able to resupply and reinforce besieged positions. Its meager air force lacks the helicopters to do so. The few old Soviet made MI-19 are still flying. The Afghans can maintain those mostly themselves. Years ago, Afghanistan wanted to buy more of these from Russia. But the US Congress intervened. The weapon lobby demanded that the Afghan air force should buy, and fly US made aircraft. UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter and other US made aircraft were delivered. These were less capable and more complicate and expensive that the Russian stuff. The Afghans had no capabilities to maintain them. US contractors were hired to do that. But now those contractors are leaving together with the US troops. The Blackhawks get grounded one by one and soon none will be none left to fly.
With no chance of getting relieved the holdouts in the various district centers now tend to give up instead of fighting to the end. Each day hundreds of soldiers surrender and are welcome by the Taliban. They leave behind an enormous amount of weapons, trucks and ammunition for the Taliban to use in their next operations.
Attempts by the government forces to regain control of Taliban held districts have failed. Last week a US trained commando unit of some 50 soldiers tried to recover the Dawlat Abad district center in Faryab Province. The plan was for some 50 commandos to go in first with some 170 soldiers and police ready to follow them. Air support was supposed to be available. The commandos went in, got cut off and within an hour half of them were dead. Those who were supposed to follow and support them had feared an ambush and had never left their bases. The promised air support never arrived.
The Afghan army is demoralized and does not have the support it needs to hold its positions. It will soon fall apart. China has recognized this and it urges its citizens to leave the country.
A week ago the Turkish President Erdogan floated the idea that Turkish troops could be used to ‘secure’ the international airport of Kabul. The idea seemed to have originated in Washington DC. After Erdogan’s announcement the Taliban immediately rejected it:
Turkey should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under the 2020 deal for the pullout of US forces, a Taliban spokesman said on Thursday, effectively rejecting Ankara’s proposal to guard and run Kabul’s airport after US-led NATO forces depart.
The development raises serious questions for the United States, other countries and international organizations with missions in Kabul about how to securely evacuate their personnel from landlocked Afghanistan should fighting threaten the capital.
Asked in a text message whether the Taliban rejected Turkey’s proposal to keep forces in Kabul to guard and run the international airport after other foreign troops leave, the Taliban spokesman in Doha responded that they should go as well.
During the last week President Biden visited NATO and had a meeting with Erdogan. He gave the plan a go:
US President Joe Biden agreed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s requests to support Ankara’s forces as they retain control of Kabul International Airport after American and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan this summer, a senior US official said Thursday.
“President Biden committed that that support would be forthcoming” during their meeting in Brussels on Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on a briefing call today.
“President Erdogan expressed satisfaction with that, and the two of them tasked their teams just to work out the final details,” Sullivan said.
US officials “are putting together a detailed and effective security plan” to assist the Turkish security plan, which Western officials see as vital to protecting diplomatic missions to the Afghan government as the Taliban makes gains in various parts of the country.
One does not protect diplomatic missions by holding the main airport of a foreign country. There must be other reasons why this was put on the table.
The CIA has tried to get drone-bases in countries neighboring Afghanistan to continue its
drug smuggling business fight against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Negotiations were held with Pakistan, but Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan publicly rejected the plan:
In an interview with Axios HBO, Imran Khan categorically stated that he would not allow the US to use Pakistan as a base for its Afghan operations.
Mr Khan told the interviewer, Jonathan Swan, that he would “absolutely not” allow the US to have the CIA in Pakistan to conduct cross border counter-terrorism missions against al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group, and the Taliban.
Pakistan’s cooperation is seen as critical to US President Joe Biden’s plans to completely withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September.
Mr Khan has always been opposed to the US using Pakistan as a base from which to launch operations, and his comments follow similar remarks made by Pakistani government officials.
This stance won a lot of praise in Pakistan with the term #AbsolutelyNot trending in the country.
Pakistan was under pressure to accept a CIA base as it is in need of a loan from the IMF which the US controls. China though does not want more CIA meddling in or around Afghanistan. Last year the US took the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) off its terrorist list. China fears that the CIA will, to stir up trouble in Xinjiang by training and equipping radical Uighur ETIM forces in or near Afghanistan. It now seems to have provided Pakistan with sufficient support to avoid further US pressure.
With no other country around Afghanistan willing to support the CIA it needed to find a way to stay in Afghanistan. Turkish control of the airport of Kabul would allow it to keep drones within the country and to stay in contact with its networks on the ground.
A country that has its main international airport controlled by foreign forces is not sovereign. Such a position can thus only be temporary. When the Taliban take Kabul, and there is little that lets me believe that they will have trouble to do so, the airport will come under fire. The Taliban have by now captured enough long-range artillery to put it under siege and to bomb it to smithereens. US air support for the Turkish forces would have to come from the wider Middle East and would have to cross through Pakistani airspace. A long-term defense of the airport is therefore not possible.
So what is the real plan behind the attempt to keep a US or NATO foot in the door of Afghanistan? Would the US or NATO consider an attack on Turkish and possible Hungarian forces at the airport in Kabul as a trigger to eventually re-invade the country? Does that make any sense?