Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 373, 5 May 2021

Afghanistan: The US troops begin final withdrawal amid enduring violence
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 30 April, a suicide truck bombing struck a guest house in Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province, leaving 26 people dead and over 100 injured. The Presidential Palace condemned the attack as a crime against humanity and a terrorist attack against the people of Afghanistan. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. However, the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for the blast.

On 2 May, General Austin S. Miller, the head of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, announced that the US military has begun its complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying: "We will conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that means transitioning bases and equipment to the Afghan security forces." Also on the same day, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hinted that there could be all possibilities following the exit of American troops from Afghanistan, including "really dramatic, bad possible results," adding, "there are a lot of variables to this, and it's not 100 per cent predictable." Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan's HCNR said: "because of the vacuum that the withdrawal leaves, it may be able to take advantage of that situation, that emboldens the position of the sides…And that's the concern, that the Taliban position might get further emboldened."

Issues at large
First, the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US troop saying that the main objective of ensuring that Afghanistan would not be a launching pad for terrorism had been achieved and that it was time for American troops to come home. Similarly, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also announced the withdrawal of NATO and allied forces, thus marking the formal end to the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Second, the continuation of violence. Violence has been raging unabated across the country. Both the UNAMA and SIGAR have reported an increase in violence. According to TOLOnews, 226 Afghan civilians and military personnel have been killed in alleged Taliban attacks following the announcement of the withdrawal of US troops on 15 April.

Third, the withdrawal in the absence of a ceasefire and stalled intra-Afghan negotiations. This withdrawal is taking place without any accountability measures, such as a ceasefire, in place. It is also taking place when the intra-Afghan negotiations and other diplomatic efforts are already in a deadlock despite being in their nascent stage.

Fourth, the Afghan government's readiness. Although the government claims that the Afghan commandos, special forces and air force have trained among the best and can defend the country, without the support of foreign troops, the government and its forces remain unprepared to counter any fallouts from the withdrawal.

In perspective
First, the end of American troops in Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years, the US has spent both money and blood in Afghanistan. Apart from the political investment, a substantial amount has been spent on counter-insurgency and civilian assistance to Afghanistan. Conversely, the US forces have suffered more than 2,300 deaths. However, the cost of this withdrawal looks to be on the path of being worse.

Second, the likelihood of spiralling violence. Although violence has continued, recent attacks have taken place closer to Afghan urban towns and cities. These attacks had ceased following the US-Taliban agreement and now Afghans fear that could again become the case once foreign forces withdraw.

Third, the Afghans prepare for further uncertainty. Given the violent nature of previous power transitions in the country, the Afghans have little assurance of a peaceful settlement. More importantly, Afghan women are preparing themselves for a difficult road ahead.

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