Conflict Alerts # 429, 1 September 2021
In the news
On 30 August, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military's Central Command announced that the US has completed its military withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan. He said: "Tonight's withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after 11 September 2001."
On 26 August, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) carried out a deadly attack outside Kabul airport which killed at least 175 civilians and 13 US soldiers and several injured. The ISKP said that its suicide bombers singled out "translators and collaborators with the American army" in the attacks.
On 29 August, the US forces launched a drone strike in Kabul which killed a suicide car bomber suspected of preparing to attack the airport. The strike was the second carried out by US forces since the Islamic State suicide bomber struck the airport. In response to the attack, President Joe Biden said: "This strike was not the last," adding, "Those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay."
On 30 August, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan. The resolution demanded that Afghanistan not be used to threaten or attack any nation or shelter terrorists. The resolution was adopted after 13 Council members voted in favour, while permanent members Russia and China abstained from the voting.
Issues at large
First, end of the US's 20-year occupation. The US, along with the allied forces, have waged war for 20 years with the sole purpose of defeat terrorists in Afghanistan. The war has cost over USD two trillion and claimed more than 170,000 lives. Now, post the withdrawal, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has stated: "A new chapter of America's engagement with Afghanistan has begun," adding, "It's one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over."
Second, the reaction from the international community. The reactions and responses to the Afghan issue have been divided. While the western powers are critical of the situation, countries like China and Russia have stood behind the Taliban. Meanwhile, as most countries are moving out of Kabul, the evacuations have taken a disorderly path, unlike what was promised.
Third, the threat of ISKP. The group has been responsible for some of the worst attacks in Afghanistan in the recent past, carrying out attacks in mosques, public squares, educational centres and hospitals. In the first quarter of 2021, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 77 attacks that were claimed by or attributed to ISKP. The recent attack highlights the fact that the group continues to be a threat to Afghanistan and the region. Additionally, the bitter rivalry between the Taliban and ISKP and ISIS will be a major challenge to the stability and security the Taliban promise to provide for Afghans.
First, the threat of terrorism with the reactivation of sleeper cells. The attack carried out by the ISKP shows that the group's sleeper cells in the region have been reactivated and that the group has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul. Thus, contrary to the statements made by the Biden administration previously on the success of the 'War on Terror' and the main objective of ensuring that Afghanistan would not be a launching pad for terrorism had been achieved, the threats of terrorism continue.
Second, justifying the 20-year occupation by the US and allied forces. Twenty years later, Afghanistan is being handed over to who the US and allies saw as a threat. Although the occupation can be justified by giving Afghans a shot at democracy and freeing many women to pursue education and careers, however, has failed in the sole purpose of combating terrorism.
Third, the future of Afghanistan. This new era for Afghanistan will be different politically, economically and socially. Taliban has gained international legitimacy; however, the group does not enjoy absolute power in Afghanistan. Economically, Afghanistan will now need to fend for itself with international aid and assistance largely being cut. Socially, Afghanistan is going to witness challenges, no doubt; however, one hopes it would not be a repeat of the past.