Rajat Sharma

Taliban to Taliban after 20 years: How America failed ?

rajat-sir There were scenes of panic and chaos on the tarmac of Kabul airport on Monday, as several thousand Afghans tried to scramble to get a space inside aeroplanes. The entire world was shaken by the chilling images of two persons, who were clinging to a US Air Force transport plane, falling to their death from the sky in Kabul. These are images of mayhem which will remain etched in the memory of people for decades to come.

There was another image of hundreds of Afghans running on the tarmac as a plane prepared to go to the runway for take-off. These were scary scenes shared on social media.

On one hand, it is being claimed that the transfer of power to Taliban in Afghanistan is taking place smoothly, without firing a shot. More than 200 Afghan leaders were given a safe passage to leave, some of the MPs have come to India, most of the Afghan troops have surrendered their weapons and equipment to Taliban, thus getting a reprieve from brutal killings, several top Afghan army commanders fled to neighbouring countries, but on the other hand, the common Afghans are living a life of desperation. They do not know how to escape the retributions from Taliban.

There are hundreds of images and videos of common Afghans crying, parents hugging their children despondently, thousands living on the streets in the open waiting for food and assistance, and many desperate to seek an exit from their motherland. Their leaders have abandoned them, the US which had been providing them with protection and a good life has abandoned them, and they are now staring at an uncertain future.

As a US Air Force transport plane took off from Kabul airport, there were some persons clinging on to its wheels. There were scary images of two persons falling from the sky, while there were other images of people falling on rooftops of buildings in Kabul, dead. On the tarmac, there was chaos. More than a thousand people swarmed the aeroplanes, and many of them ran as one plane taxied towards the runway for take-off. US marines took position with their machine guns, warning people to go away from the tarmac. There was firing, and in all, seven people have reportedly died.

The US army is still in control of the military side of Kabul airport, from where France, Germany, US, UK, Italy and New Zealand air force planes evacuated their citizens during the night. US President Joe Biden, in an address to the nation, warned the Taliban that “the response will be swift, forceful if US interests are attacked”. He asked the Taliban not to disrupt or threaten the evacuation of thousands of American diplomats and Afghan translators from Kabul. “We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary”, Biden said.

India has sent two Globemaster IAF transport aircraft to bring back Indian personnel and equipment from Kabul. One of the aircraft returned to Delhi via Iran on Monday, and the other is expected to return on Tuesday. Many Afghan women who returned to Delhi after Taliban takeover told mediapersons about the scary situation that is prevailing in their country. Their parents have told them not to return. Many of these girls have not seen the days of brutal Taliban rule, because many of them were not born around that time.

The most surprising part was the sudden and swift surrender of the Afghan army that was raised by the US during the last two decades. Most of the commanders surrendered without firing a shot. On paper, the US army had trained nearly 3.5 lakh Afghan soldiers to take on the Taliban, who number around 70,000. They had US made fighter planes, helicopters, armoured vehicles, rifles and all other latest weapons with them. And yet they surrendered meekly. Why?

Experts say that this figure is bloated. There were several “ghost soldiers” only on paper. Corruption was rampant and these “ghost soldiers” were getting their salaries even though they were not on duty. Secondly, the Afghan and US intelligence agencies could not correctly assess the striking power of the Taliban. The Taliban worked to a strategy, they first won over the local commanders in bordering provinces to their side. They worked on these commanders citing their tribal links. On the other hand, the Afghan army was working disjointedly. Only the commandos were being given proper training, while the rest of the soldiers were only carrying rifles and did not know the techniques of fighting a battle. The morale of the troops was very low. They knew it would be difficult to defeat the Taliban without help from the US.

The Taliban has new friends now. China, Russia and Iran, apart from Pakistan, have decided to give it recognition. You may remember, during the Nineties, when the Taliban occupied Afghanistan, there were only three countries, Pakistan, UAE and Saudi Arabia had recognised their government. China may claim that the Taliban has changed since the Nineties, but the images that are coming from Afghanistan are scary. Taliban have asked all women employees not to report for work, wear ‘burqa’, girl children must not be sent to schools, and there must be no music and dance on radio and television. In one province, the Taliban set fire to a music and sports arena.

The United States was in Afghanistan for more than 20 years. It spent Rs 61 lakh crore, more than 2,300 American soldiers lost their lives, more than 75,000 Afghan soldiers and civilians were killed, and yet the world superpower could not put an end to the Taliban. The American government and its people had made up their mind to make an exit from Afghanistan, and end the longest war that the US army has fought. But the American people never wanted their government to leave the Afghans, who stood by them, high and dry. The common American is upset and angry over the sudden exit of their troops and the swift takeover by Taliban, giving no breathing space to common Afghans to decide their future.

On Monday night, the UN Security Council appealed to the Taliban to exercise restraint, but this appeal is infructuous and has no meaning. Some points are quite clear now: the Afghan army was not ready for an onslaught from all sides by the Taliban, only numbers do not count, an army needs logistics, artillery, armoured corps, engineering staff, intelligence inputs and air support to move forward and win battles. When Taliban attacked, the Afghan army had no strategy in place, no logistics and no supplies. With the American marines gone, the Afghan troops were completely demoralized.

Secondly, the American intelligence failed in assessing how much time it would take for the Taliban to reach Kabul. Their assessment was 30 days, but the Taliban reached the capital within three days. The Americans had to evacuate their embassy staff from their office compound by bringing in choppers.

Thirdly, Pakistan took full advantage of the weaknesses in the system. Pakistani personnel provided quick support to the Taliban after the American troops left. There are reports that many of the Taliban boys have false Pathan names, but are actually Pakistanis. That is the reason why Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed on Monday that the Taliban have broken the “chains of slavery”. It is an open secret how Pakistani personnel helped Taliban, with China’s benign support, in reaching Kabul. The rest is history.

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