What’s going on in Afghanistan right now?

What’s going on in Afghanistan right now?
Afghan migrants demonstrate against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Elias Marcou
According to the United Nations refugee agency, a quarter-million people have been forced from their homes since May, with 80% being women and children.

What happened?

  • United States President Joe Biden, following through on moves made by former President Trump, is leading the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
  • The American withdrawal meant that Taliban forces were able to quickly overrun the Afghan government.
  • The Taliban essentially see themselves as a government-in-waiting, not a rebel group, and compete with the Afghan government in several regions of Afghanistan.
  • On Sunday, the Taliban took over the Afghan Presidential Palace, effectively declaring rule over the nation’s capital city, Kabul.
  • The result of this takeover has been chaos, with people swarming airports and clinging to planes in an attempt to flee the country. Some graphic videos even show individuals falling hundreds of feet through the air after holding onto the body of military planes as they took off.

What exactly does that evacuation effort look like?

  • On Saturday, Biden authorized the deployment of 4,000 new troops to Afghanistan to accompany the 1,000 troops that were still there. But, their main goal is only to help evacuate Americans and Afghans who helped American troops during their time in Afghanistan.
  • The first group is American personnel. This includes members of the military, but it also includes people like diplomats, embassy officials and civilians working for US news agencies.
  • Some of the people in this group might stay behind to facilitate things like negotiations or peace talks in the future. But, how many has not been decided.
  • The second group is Afghans who helped the US during the two decades of occupation in the country. Some of these members acted as translators or as cultural liaisons, while others simply helped the US in the hopes of a more peaceful country.
  • The third group includes volunteers for nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. This marks a big expansion to the original special immigrant visa designation, which originally only covered the second group.

Why did Biden decide to withdraw American troops?

  • Biden addressed the nation on Monday and explained that the reason the US pulled out of the country was that it had spent years occupying Afghanistan without any goals that were beneficial to America’s national security interests.
  • “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized Democracy,” said Biden, “our only vital national security interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”
  • “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden added
  • Biden also said that further occupation in Afghanistan would not lead to any better results in a future withdrawal. Ultimately, he said, he refused to repeat the “mistakes of the past” in staying in Afghanistan if doing so didn’t provide any real future benefit.
  • “I am the President of the United States, and the buck stops with me.”

What have others said?

  • Criticism of the President has been heavy and bipartisan.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime critic of pulling out of Afghanistan, called the situation “an unmitigated disaster,” saying that, “The Biden Administration’s retreat will leave a stain on the reputation of the United States.”
  • Democrats also expressed their frustration particularly with the seemingly unavoidable humanitarian crisis in the country, with women and members of NGOs that work for things like female education at high risk in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
  • “There’s no way to hide it,” wrote Representative Vicente Gonzalez, a congressman from Texas with a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House. “Withdrawal was never going to be easy but it didn’t need to come to this.”
  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton simply retweeted a post from Malala Yousafzai, a women’s rights activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, which read, “I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates.”
  • Speaking to Reuters, Elena, a 21-year-old Afghan asylum seeker who lives in a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, called it a “disaster.” Elena, who declined to give her last name, added, “What will happen now in Afghanistan for (the) young generation? For children? For women’s rights? Everything is destroyed by the Taliban."

What’s next?

  • The main thing now is that the new US troops in Afghanistan will work as rapidly as possible to get the groups their visas issued and out of the country.
  • But other than that, it isn’t entirely clear what comes next for people who can’t leave the country, which includes millions of civilians on the ground.
  • But, what’s clear is that the Taliban takeover represents a massive humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations refugee agency, a quarter-million people have been forced from their homes since May, with 80% being women and children.
  • And, activists in the country have fears as well, especially women’s rights activists who have said that they are afraid the Taliban will kill them.
  • No one is saying this isn’t a disaster. The question is if it was an unavoidable one.

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