What’s Happening in Afghanistan: What You Need to Know

Afghanistan is again under the control of the Taliban, a fundamentalist group that ruled the nation for five years before U.S.-led forces ousted them in 2001. Refugees fleeing the group’s ultraconservative brand of Islam have swelled the population of Kabul, and worries are spreading that the Taliban’s return might encourage Islamist movements elsewhere in Central Asia more than two decades after Osama bin Laden first sought refuge under their protection.

What is the Taliban?

The Taliban was originally formed by anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters opposed to the presence of the Soviet Union’s military and its socialist economy. It sought to establish an Islamic theocracy after the Soviets withdrew in 1989 and is still led by its founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who has resided in Pakistan and has disputed the authority of the Afghan government. How is the Taliban different from the Islamic State? Unlike the Islamic State, which is a jihadist group that uses violence as a means of establishing a global Islamic caliphate, the Taliban aims to overthrow Afghanistan’

What’s Happening in Afghanistan: What You Need to Know

 

Afghanistan is again under the control of the Taliban, a fundamentalist group that ruled the nation for five years before U.S.-led forces ousted them in 2001. Refugees fleeing the group’s ultraconservative brand of Islam have swelled the population of Kabul, and worries are spreading that the Taliban’s return might encourage Islamist movements elsewhere in Central Asia more than two decades after Osama bin Laden first sought refuge under their protection.

 

What is the Taliban?

The movement, whose name derives from the Arabic word for “panther,” initially fought the Soviet occupation and received refuge in neighboring Pakistan after the Soviet withdrawal. It waged an insurgency against the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai from 1996 to 2001 and later made common cause with al-Qaeda in an effort to topple the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani. The group now controls or contests more territory than at any time since 2001, and its fighting capacity has grown thanks to foreign funding, an influx of foreign fighters, and support from the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other radical groups.

 

Afghanistan in the Wake of War

Abdul Hamid Yusufzai, 45, is an independent journalist in the Kabul neighborhood of Shahr-e-Naw. He has worked for the BBC and several Afghan media outlets. Afghanistan has experienced a radical transformation in the 10 years since the U.S. and its allies toppled the Taliban regime in Kabul. A man we call "The Captain," a former Taliban official, is now its interior minister and is seeking to restore the conservative Muslim country to the intolerant brand of Islam its mullahs favored during the rule of the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official and an educated progressive, signed a peace agreement with the Taliban during an October ceremony at the presidential palace.

 

Life for Women Under the Taliban

Afghanistan's future looks less than bright under the Taliban's brief, but historic rule of the country. The group started making inroads in the 1990s, and the Taliban controlled the northern half of the country for five years before being ousted in 2001. The Taliban governed in strict accordance with the Sharia law it had declared in 1994, according to Human Rights Watch, prohibiting women from education and employment, enforcing a strict dress code for women, prohibiting them from leaving home without a male escort, and arresting women who tried to go outside the house without a male guardian, such as a husband, brother, or father. Women were even banned from most sports, and not allowed to leave their home without the permission of a male guardian, such as a husband, brother, or father.

 

Residents Fleeing to Kabul

Afghan civilians have increasingly become caught up in the war as they flee their homes or take up arms against militants — increasingly targeting foreigners in the wake of a recent NATO bombing that killed nearly 150 people. The attacks have sparked tensions between the government and its Western allies. The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has insisted that he would not seek another term in office after a scheduled vote in April. Kabul Attack A series of explosions and mortar attacks targeting government buildings and diplomatic districts in Kabul, including the NATO headquarters, have killed more than 100 people in recent weeks. The Afghan defense minister was killed on Saturday when a roadside bomb near the airport wounded two other top security officials.

 

The Taliban's Return and Regional Risks

In late July, Taliban fighters surged across northern Afghanistan, routing security forces from strongholds in Kunduz and Baghlan and threatening another provincial capital, Puli Khumri. Attacks in July and August claimed more than 150 lives, with the Islamic State targeting Shiites in both cities. And in October, insurgents launched a bombing campaign of unprecedented size and brutality targeting security forces, government officials, and foreign officials in Kabul. Though U.S. and Afghan forces have struck militant positions, the group is still finding ways to carry out attacks in the capital. At the start of November, a series of bombings in the Afghan capital left more than 150 people dead and more than 400 wounded, bringing the year's death toll to a record high.

 

Conclusion

The conventional wisdom is that NATO forces will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. What the recent debate about U.S. troop withdrawals reveals, however, is that that assumption is not sustainable and that the final strategy for ending the war will likely be tailored to the actual conditions on the ground. Military planners have not updated their understanding of the conflict since 2014, and they have not invested much in new initiatives to win it, such as preventing the Taliban from recruiting new members. To increase the chances of turning around the conflict and reducing civilian casualties, U.S. officials will need to embrace a variety of measures, including funding the government, cutting the high cost of the war, and incentivizing the Taliban to negotiate peace.

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