Afghanistan: “A real possibility of seeing the Taliban in power in the coming months”

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After a meteoric breakthrough in northeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban continue to conquer new territory in the country, as the withdrawal of US troops is nearing completion. They hope to bring about the collapse of the Afghan government.

They are now present in almost all Afghan provinces and encircle several large cities, as they did in the 1990s to take over almost the entire country. Faced with the multiplication of the Taliban’s military victories in Afghanistan, the hypothesis of seeing the insurgent group take power in the coming months is no longer excluded.

Appreciating the danger, the Afghan Interior Ministry said on Tuesday (June 29th) that it had created a “rapid reaction force” of 4,000 men which will be led by retired generals and will fight the Taliban alongside the forces. regular.

At the same time, the peace talks in Qatar have not yet led to any significant progress. On the ground, the fighting has been raging since the start, in May, of the withdrawal of American troops. The Taliban, which already largely controlled the south with the exception of the big cities, made a breakthrough in the northeast to the border with Tajikistan.

On the American side, all the troops must have left Afghanistan by September 11, a deadline set by US President Joe Biden. But the finalization of this withdrawal already seems to be a matter of days, according to US officials familiar with the matter, interviewed on Tuesday by Reuters.

Germany also announced on Tuesday that it had finalized the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. As for Italy, one of the Western powers most committed to the country, it said Wednesday it had repatriated its last soldiers as part of the accelerated withdrawal of NATO contingents.

For Gilles Dorronsoro, professor of political science at Paris I Sorbonne and author of the book “The transnational government of Afghanistan, such a foreseeable defeat” (ed. Karthala), the collapse of the Afghan regime is only a question of time.

France 24: What is the Taliban’s strategy in Afghanistan?

Gilles Dorronsoro: The Taliban are testing the defenses of the Kabul regime. Their goal is to take as many districts as possible to encircle the cities. So far, it has worked well since they control about 75% of the territory. Since the start of the year, they have taken over 70 districts [sur les 370 districts que compte l’Afghanistan].

Obviously, they will try to take the provincial capitals. The scenario is quite clear: they will isolate these cities by taking the lines of communication that connect them and these capitals will be out of government control. If the Taliban take over these medium-sized cities, it can cause a collapse effect.

What can happen then is that the Afghan government collapses, or that the Taliban decide to negotiate with the governmental political forces to move towards a peaceful transition, which would allow them to take the big cities and the capital in avoiding a battle that would be very violent in Kabul, because taking this city is technically complicated.

How to explain the meteoric progress of the Taliban in recent months?

They are based on a fairly rustic military apparatus, but benefit from “shock troops”, specialized in lightning attacks, able to climb to the front and take positions quickly. They have a major advantage, which is that they are present throughout Afghan territory, which allows them to mount simultaneous operations, in the face of which the Afghan army finds itself overwhelmed.

In the face of them, the Afghan government is divided, weakened, and not very legitimate. But that’s not so much what the Taliban rely on. They mainly benefit from an Afghan army in very poor condition. It is very weak, it takes few initiatives on the ground and it suffers from corruption – as with the resale of weapons by soldiers. Above all, the Afghan army finds itself deprived of the air support that was provided by American troops. There was a drone strike recently, but it is very marginal, for a simple reason, which is that there are no longer any American bases in Afghanistan. There are only a few hundred soldiers left [essentiellement affectés à la protection de l’ambassade des États-Unis et de l’aéroport de Kaboul].

Is the Taliban’s victory only a matter of time?

Everything happened very quickly and the Taliban themselves seem surprised at the speed of the collapse of the regime in place. There is a real possibility that the Taliban will be in power in Afghanistan in the coming months.

The regime may resist, and this would lead to a civil war, but the Afghan power of Ashraf Ghani is politically finished and he only enjoys facade international support.

Does the risk of seeing the Taliban come to power call into question the US military disengagement?

The American disengagement is already done. There is no reason the Americans should give it up. Sending troops back to Afghanistan seems politically suicidal to Joe Biden. By announcing their withdrawal, the Americans knew very well that the Afghan regime was going to collapse, it is a political choice they made.

Are today’s Taliban the same as yesterday? Should we fear the establishment of an authoritarian Islamic regime as they had done between 1996 and 2001?

If they come to power, there will be a regression of human rights in general, but it is likely that they will not violate certain red lines so as not to incur the wrath of the international community as was the case. in the 1990s. However, Westerners do not have much leverage on them and for the moment, they enjoy strong international recognition.

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