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Tom Clonan: The Taliban's impending victory in Afghanistan is bad news for humanity

The security analyst says the Taliban brings its violent misogyny with it, meaning women and girls will suffer most.

Tom Clonan Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

Updated Aug 13th 2021, 1:00 PM

FOLLOWING THE 9/11 Twin Tower attacks in New York in September 2001, President George Bush committed the United States to what he termed a ‘Global War on Terror’.

Osama Bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda figures had sought refuge in Afghanistan, then under a brutal Taliban regime. On 7 October 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan.

In a lightning campaign, a relatively small US ground force, consisting of fewer than 2,000 troops – with massive US air support – crushed Taliban resistance and took control of Kabul by mid-December.

Aided by tens of thousands of Afghan militia fighters, known as the ‘Northern Alliance’, the US and its allies took military control of Afghanistan.

Thus began the longest war in US military history and NATO’s first war in the 21st Century.

The long war

The US-led NATO alliance in Afghanistan – including troops from Ireland’s Defence Forces – never gained civil, political or popular control of all of Afghanistan.

After their initial defeat, the Taliban immediately re-grouped in neighbouring Pakistan and began an insurgency that has spanned two decades. This long war of attrition has cost the US government over one Trillion dollars in combat and reconstruction costs.

The insurgency also cost the NATO alliance over 3,500 troops killed in action. However, the Afghan people have suffered the most in this period with over 40 thousand civilians murdered in the conflict and over 60 thousand Afghan military and police killed in the fighting.

Almost exactly 20 years after the US invasion, President Biden has announced the total withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan before the anniversary of the September 11th attacks of 2001.

This is a hugely symbolic act and marks the end of a deeply unpopular war in America. Like the Soviets before them, the US is leaving Afghanistan with their political and strategic aims unfulfilled. And since, in a lightning campaign – eerily similar to the United States’ initial military successes in Afghanistan – the Taliban has turned the tables on the US and President Ashraf Ghani’s government forces in the Afghan Armed Forces.

In the last few months, a heavily armed and highly mobile force of approximately 85 thousand Taliban fighters have rapidly seized control of a large number of provincial capitals throughout the country.

A fragile capital

In tactics almost identical to Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban have exploited the country’s main highways to rapidly encircle and approach the capital city of Kabul.

Ironically, much of this road network was re-built and re-surfaced with funding from the US government. The Taliban controls most of the territory of northern Afghanistan and fighters have seized the strategically important towns of Faizabad, Taliqan, Kunduz, Aybak and Sar-i-Pul.

They have also seized major towns in the provinces to the south and east of Kabul, controlling vast swathes of territory – effectively enveloping Kabul and cutting off its supply routes. This is stunning progress for the Taliban. They are poised to take Kabul and will likely seize control of the country within a very short time period.

The Afghan National Army (ANA) has effectively collapsed in most parts of the country and their arsenal of US weapons and equipment – including hundreds of M117 Armoured Fighting Vehicles and over 8000 Humvees – is being captured and used by Taliban fighters.

Many of the US airstrikes in recent days have targeted US-manufactured weapons and equipment seized by Taliban fighters. The Afghan Air Force is equipped with less than 10 Sikorsky UH60 ‘Blackhawk’ helicopters and just 20 or so Super Tucano light attack aircraft. This tiny air capability is insufficient to meet the dynamic and all-encompassing assault of the Taliban.

The Taliban are targeting multiple cities and towns in simultaneous attacks. In short, the country is in the process of being overwhelmed. The US Embassy in Kabul has advised all of its citizens to leave the country immediately.

Questions will be asked in the coming months about the capacity of the Taliban to launch their current ground operations. The Taliban are well organised, well equipped and well funded.

Their leadership, under Haibatullah Akhundzada, is based in Pakistan. Their leading council is often referred to as the ‘Quetta Shura’ – after the Pakistan border city of Quetta where they are based.

Pakistan’s intelligence services, the Inter Service Intelligence Agency (ISIA) has long been involved in providing assistance and support for the Taliban and other Islamist extremist groups. It is also believed that the Taliban have support from Russia and Iran.

As was the case in Iraq and Syria, Iran and Russia could benefit from this sudden reversal of US influence in Afghanistan. The imminent collapse of Afghanistan to the Taliban will come as a bitter pill for all of the US, British and Irish troops who have served in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

A familiar cruelty

However, the principal victims of the resurgence of the Taliban are Afghan women and girls. At present, 87% of Afghan women are illiterate, with fewer than a third of women and girls attending school.

A staggering 90% of Afghan women experience domestic abuse and violence. Approximately 70% of Afghan women – many of whom are children – are subject to ‘forced marriage’, a euphemism for rape and imprisonment. 80% of Afghanistan’s suicide victims are women.

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As was the case with Islamic State in their so-called Caliphate, women and girls are primary targets for Taliban violence. In areas controlled by the Taliban, women and girls are humiliated, beaten and subjected to systematic sexual assault, rape and murder. This is particularly so for Hazara women and girls. This Shia minority has long been oppressed by the Sunni Pashtun majority who predominantly form the Taliban.

The extreme and toxic ideology of the Taliban is violently misogynistic. The rape of women and girls is considered ‘Halal’ or religiously acceptable. Teenage girls are routinely raped and murdered by Taliban fighters. There are hundreds of reports of girls tried by Taliban Sharia courts and punished in the most appalling ways – beaten to death, stoned to death, having their ears and noses cut off – for the most trivial of ‘offences’ such as wearing nail varnish.

The Taliban also target members of the LGBTQI community for summary torture and murder. In some of the coverage of the recent Taliban offensive, I have heard many journalists and ‘experts’ refer to the systematic abduction, rape and killing of Afghan women and girls as ‘forced marriages’ to fighters or ‘sex slaves’ even ‘war booty’. During the Balkan conflict in Bosnia, where the targets of such violence were in the main, European, Caucasian women, girls and young boys – these bestial acts were correctly referred to as systematic mass rape and ethnic cleansing.

As this appalling chapter in Afghanistan’s tragic history comes to a conclusion, we owe it to the men, women and children of that country to at least use the correct language to describe their suffering.

We also need to call out the violent and misogynistic nature of Islamist extremism in all of its forms of expression – from the Taliban, to Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Shebaab – and all such groups across Asia and Africa. The Taliban’s victory is a catastrophe for humanity – for women and girls in particular.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. You can follow him on Twitter

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About the author:

Tom Clonan  / Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

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