Taliban Makes Quick Gains After US Withdrawal, Tensions Mount In The Region

SRINAGAR: The rapid reversals and retrieval of territory by the Taliban has stunned the world especially after the most powerful army on earth left its major station, the Bagram airbase, by switching off the garrison lights in the dead of the night. It even avoided telling the host army that they are leaving and instead rang them up only after they reached Kabul airport.

Taliban In Zurmat (Paktia), where they took over the US-supplied vehicles and war infrastructure from the Afghan forces who surrendered after a protracted siege ending early July 2021. Photo: Twitter

Key Base Deserted

“The lights at the base went off suddenly and then a big aircraft took off, carrying the last troops, “Afghan news gathering agency Tolo News reported. “Hours after that, the Afghan army entered the base. They succeeded in preventing some locals who wanted to enter the base to loot it.” The base is barely 63-km, almost an hour-long drive from Kabul.

A top Taliban leader shaking hands with the former US Secretary of State Mike Pampeo during his special visit to Qatar an intra-Afghan dialogue is in progress for over a year but without any visible outcome.

“We (heard) some rumour that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s new commander was quoted saying by the Associated Press (AP). The Afghans commander got the information of the departure almost two hours after the Americans had gone.

Withdrawal Syndrome

“Before the Afghan army could take control of the airfield about an hour’s drive from the Afghan capital Kabul, it was invaded by a small army of looters, who ransacked barrack after barrack and rummaged through giant storage tents before being evicted,” the news gatherer said.

Bagram is a vast facility that Russians built and was later expanded by the Americans after the latter occupied Afghanistan.  An imposing facility and literally a small city, the base has a prison for 5000 people, a world-class 50-bedded hospital and a huge airport besides the capacity to manage more than 100 thousand people. “There are two runways and over 100 parking spots for fighter jets known as revetments because of the blast walls that protect each aircraft. One of the two runways is 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) long and was built in 2006,” AP added.

Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov meets with Afghan and Taliban representatives in Moscow ahead of a conference for the centennial anniversary.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan’s incumbent President., Ashraf Ghani

Tolo News, an Afghan news gatherer reported that the American troops have scrapped a lot of equipment or taken it with them. But they have left almost 1000 vehicles including 50 armoured (many of them without keys to start them) and hundreds of small and big installations. A day after Americans left Afghan forces reactivated the base’s radar and VSAT communication systems. “Since the US forces left their biggest base in Afghanistan–Bagram Airfield–Afghan forces are looking into ways to effectively use the facility,” Tolo News reported. “Another key component that has been left by US forces is the hospital. The hospital was famous during the last two decades for the treatment of patients, including civilians and officials. Some equipment at the hospital is worth millions of dollars.”

Post-US Afghanistan

90% Complete

Turkish news agency Anadolu reported from Washington that the process to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan by September is more than 90 per cent complete, according to US Central Command (CENTCOM) said Tuesday.

“CENTCOM said 984 C-17 loads of material have departed Afghanistan while 17,074 pieces of equipment have been marked for destruction,” the news agency reported. “The US officially has handed over seven facilities to the Afghan defense ministry… The White House said Friday that full withdrawal will be completed by the end of August.”

Consulates Closed

The Taliban victories, mostly in northern Afghanistan have led to the closure of various foreign missions in the belt. These wins have pushed around a 1037-strong Afghan army to flee to neighbouring Tajikistan forcing the tiny central Asian country to deploy 20,000 additional troops on its 910-km border with Afghanistan, reports in the media said.

The “military exodus” was the outcome of the Taliban overrunning the north-eastern district of Badakhshan province. In most cases, the official Afghan forces surrender or the surrender is negotiated through the local clergy.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad with and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s chief negotiator, after the two signed the peace agreement at Qatar in Doha on February 29, 2020. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the signing.

Media reports said Turkey and Russia have closed their missions in Mazar-e-Sharif, the desert country’s fourth-largest city. “Iran said it has restricted activities at its consulate in the city,” AP reported. “The consulates of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India and Pakistan have reduced their services.” Turkey is still in discussions with the US about securing the Kabul airport.

A Tense Pakistan

Pakistan has closed a key crossing point at the Torkham border, citing the Covid19 spread. The two countries share 18 crossing points and Torkham is one of the most used points.

A Taliban leader shaking hands with a Taliban leader. Though a general impression is that the Taliban are a creation of Islamabad but both Taliban and Pakistan have rejected it. Pakistan, however, has helped the Taliban talk to the US.

Imran Khan, off late, is vocal on the Afghanistan future and is apprehensive that a civil war should not take over the US withdrawal. “We are in contact with regional countries for a political settlement in Afghanistan. We will also contact the Taliban (to persuade them) for that,” Imran Khan said on Monday at the strategic Gwadar port. “All neighbouring countries should play their role to save Afghanistan from civil war.” He insisted that the conflict would “destroy” Pakistan’s trade with Central Asian states.

Not Closed, Says Delhi

On Tuesday, the Indian embassy had to formally deny the reports appearing in the media that India plans to fly its citizen’s home.    “Media reports on #India closing its Embassy & Consulates in Afghanistan are incorrect. @IndianEmbKabul, Consulates in Kandahar & Mazar are open, functioning. We DO HOWEVER continue to closely monitor the evolving security situation particularly around Kandahar & Mazar cities,” the embassy tweeted.

The denial coincided with the Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay briefed Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on the fast-evolving situation.

India’s other Consulates in Herat and Jalalabad, The Hindu reported were suspended in April 2020, “when all Indian personnel were brought back to Delhi due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ahead of a full security review.”

Hijacked IC 814 being surrounded by cadres of Taliban in Afghanistan in 1999.

Why Afghanistan Is A Bigger Problem For India Than What Is Made Out To Be?

“The Indian embassy last week asked all Indians visiting, staying and working in Afghanistan to exercise the utmost caution with regard to their security and avoid all types of non-essential travel in view of rising incidents of violence in various parts of the country,” Press Trust of India reported. “In an advisory, the embassy said the security situation in Afghanistan remains “dangerous” and that terror groups have carried out a series of complex attacks including targeting civilians, adding Indian nationals additionally face a “serious threat” of kidnapping.”

But the media continues reporting that Delhi has “prepared a contingency plan to bring back its officials and citizens as the situation deteriorates” in Afghanistan. India, it may be recalled here, has invested nearly US $ 3 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the desert country.

India has issued two security advisories in 2021 so far, the latest one on June 29, which has 13 points insisting on “utmost vigilance and caution” with regard to security at the workplace, place of residence and also during movement to their places of work. They have been asked to avoid “all types of nonessential movements”.

A few Taliban leaders in Qatar where they run a proper office for a few years now.

The Trust Deficit

Off late, Delhi has flown some security officials to open a window with the Taliban in Qatar. Initially, the report was denied by the Taliban but very recently a Qatari top official confirmed that a meeting did take place. However, Delhi continues to be apprehensive because it has a trust deficit with the Taliban.

Even the Taliban seem to be having the same feeling. “As far as the ground realities in Afghanistan are concerned, the Indians are living almost in a vacuum,” Taliban spokesman told TV News18 in an interview recently. “Furthermore, they look at us from their angle of discrimination, bias and hostility. This is their origin of perception about us but it has not served them in the long run. They are siding with a foreign-installed government in Kabul which is killing its own people to stay in power. India should remain at least impartial in the Afghan issue, rather than supporting an occupation-born government.”

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