In the past week, Taliban forces have moved swiftly to conquer major parts of Afghanistan, including a few major cities in the north like Kunduz, Sar-e-Pul and Taloqan, along with the souther city of Zaranj. Scores of children have reportedly been killed, along with major civilian casualties across the country, as one of the longest standing conflicts in recent times has been seen escalating yet once again.
This year, in April, United States' President Joe Biden declared the withdrawal of all American troops by September 11, 20 years after it invaded the country. The withdrawal deadline was later shifted to August 31.
This has been seen as an opportune moment for the Taliban, who quickly started a campaign to take over territories from the Afghan government with brute force. By the first week of August, the Taliban had taken over nearly 65% of the country's territory, resulting from widespread surrenders and retreats by the Afghan forces.
While Biden had initially assured that the Ashraf Ghani-led government would not be toppled, US Intelligence warned in June that Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, could fall in the hands of Taliban within six months of the departure of US troops.
No Time For Peace
Since the late 1970s, Afghanistan has been in a constant state of conflict, with strong involvement of the US and the Soviet Union engaging in proxy war by supporting opposing entities in the region. Most Afghans living today have not known any 'peace time' in the country.
After the Communist Saur Revolution in 1978, the country saw a 10-year-long Soviet-Afghan War, followed by three civil wars, during which the newly formed group of Islamic fundamentalists, calling themselves the Taliban, took over the country, and established an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The year 2001 saw a turning point in the geopolitics in the region, after the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, following the latter's refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the twin towers and Pentagon building in the US.
Fighting alongside Afghan Armed Forces, US troops were successfully able to drive the Taliban from power. This started a period of insurgency by the Taliban militia (followed by ISIS militants), often aided by Al-Qaeda, fighting against the Afghan forces, and troops of the International Security Assistance Force (succeeded by the Resolute Support Mission), which mostly consisted of US troops along with soldiers from other NATO countries.
The conflicts have been named by the US as Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-2015) and Operation Freedom's Sentinel (2015-present).
The Return Of Taliban
Over a year before Biden's declaration of withdrawal of troops, an agreement of peace was signed between the US and the Taliban, in Doha, Qatar.
The deal included the removal of all US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, along with a prisoner exchange - the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government, in return for 1,000 government soldiers held by the Taliban.
The Afghan government, who was not party to the peace agreement, protested against the prisoner exchange, and noted that it will led to many Taliban military experts going back into the field to strengthen the Taliban.
In 2021, the Taliban launched its offensive military campaign in May, just weeks after Biden reassured the withdrawal of US troops, and swiftly took over 15 districts from Afghan forces.
The campaign picked up in June, with the Taliban taking control over 60 more districts of the country, included some northern regions. Major cities such as Mazar-i-Sharif, and Sher Khan Bandar, which borders Tajikistan, also fell in Taliban's hands.
By the end of June, the Taliban controlled nearly 157 districts of the country - doubling its hold in the country from the beginning of May.
In June, as most NATO troops withdrew entirely from the region (with the exception of US, UK and Turkish troops), the militant group further intensified its military offensive, and took 64 more districts under its control.
In a major blow to the Afghan government, Taliban militants entered Kandahar and Herat - the second and third largest cities of the country, respectively, towards the end of July.
As we entered August, the conflict showed no signs of abating, with the Taliban swiftly increasing its territorial hold around the country.
Kunduz and Sar-e Pol were two major cities which the Taliban captured last weekend, with Puli Khumri, the capital of Baghlan Province, and Fayzaba, the capital of Badakhshan Province, falling in the Taliban's hands just days later.
While the US continues to provide air support to Afghan forces, the fierce momentum with which the Taliban has taken over Afghan territories foreshadows a fully-Taliban controlled Afghanistan, especially with US air strikes expected to further reduce after the removal of its troops by the end of August.
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