After President Joe Biden announcement that troops will be pulled from Afghanistan by September 11, daily clashes have intensified since the withdrawal began on May 1. Despite unresolved issues such as of how to remotely handle threats in the region, the redeployment of troops is rapidly accelerating. In fact, analysts are now indicating that U.S. troops and NATO allies are expected to be fully out of Afghanistan by mid-July. This acceleration of plans is causing ripple effects across several geopolitical boundaries.
Taliban Perception: Assistance, Sympathy or Fear?
With the inevitable vacuum created after troop departures, those loyal to the U.S. left behind will be endangered. The fact that an increase in Taliban activity and associated clashes are on the rise is not surprising. What is surprising is the rate at which the Taliban is growing in strength, numbers, and influence. It is not clear whether perceived assistance, sympathy or fear of the Taliban is causing the local populace to reconnect.
Fueling the problems is the rise in violence in Afghanistan due to a spike in clashes between the Afghan military and the Taliban in the past month. There have been several bombings, killing dozens of people, including a girl’s school near Kabul.
Bases are Falling
The Hill reported over the Memorial Day Weekend that at least 26 Afghan military bases and outposts have surrendered to Taliban, since withdrawals began in early May. The bases located across four provinces — Laghman, Baghlan, Wardak and Ghazni — conceded after Taliban “surrender or be killed” threats were issued to the outposts. The territory grab is effectively removing hundreds of government fighting forces and allowing the Taliban to gain weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and greater wins to their propaganda campaign. Sunday, Afghan forces fought with the Taliban near Mihtarlam, the capital of Laghman province. Perhaps more concerning is the closing in on a collapse point of the Afghan government’s ability to hold back the Taliban expansion.
Pakistan Convinced Donations and Recruiting Rising
During the 1990s, Pakistan was among the three countries recognizing the Taliban-governed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It is expected that the departure of foreign troops will have a severe impact on the northwestern and western provinces of Pakistan. Both regions are home to tens of thousands of Afghan Taliban supporters.
Officially, the Afghan Taliban is outlawed inside Pakistan, but some clerics or Islamist groups sympathetic to the militant group recruit on their behalf. According to Deutsche Welle (DW), over the weekend, Islamic groups and some radical clerics sympathetic to the Taliban are intensifying their efforts to solicit support for militant groups. In May, videos emerged on Pakistani social media platforms showing clerics soliciting Afghan Taliban calling for support and donations.
A former senator and leader of the nationalist Pukhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party told DW over the weekend, “Come to Balochistan, and I will show the villages and areas where clerics are openly attending the funerals of those Pakistanis killed in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban.” The senator added that recruitment will pick up pace once foreign troops have completely departed from the war-torn country.
Internal problems continue to plague Pakistan senior leadership. In 2003, Pakistani Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed, was convicted of an attack on former Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf. In 2012, the Pakistani Taliban stormed and freed Rasheed and other militants from prison. Still, a Pakistan power broker, Rasheed is now reported to have joined the Afghan Taliban.
Afghanistan has asked Pakistan to take “practical steps” to close Pakistani Taliban bases and end support for the Taliban as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan. Dawa Khan Menapal, director of Afghanistan’s Government Media and Information Center stated, “We all believe that the terrorists have bases and support in Pakistan.” Pakistan has officially stated that Afghanistan accusations regarding terrorist bases are unfounded.
On top of the numerous challenges associated with redeployment, there are now urgent calls to evacuate Afghans loyal to the U.S. who are at risk of being killed by the Taliban. The military is currently drafting plans for such an evacuation, should President Biden order one. With the acceleration of withdrawal, many are pressing for more definition as time is running out and the Taliban influence is rising.