The Taliban remains a threat to the stability and continual development of a democratic government in Afghanistan. A lack of an American military presence will likely encourage the Taliban to expand their power. Aggression against Afghans has increased dramatically since the start of this year. If the Taliban were to gain control, the country could become a renewed haven for terrorist groups and threats to the United States.
The United States expects to have almost all troops out of the country by the 4th of July. Over half of the soldiers stationed in Afghanistan have already left. Coalition forces expect to have finished their withdrawal by the September 11 deadline. A small number of troops will remain in locations to protect American interests, including the Kabul airport. The troops will stay there until Turkish troops establish a more official security operation. Whether turkey commits to provide that security is not sure. 650 Troops will also remain permanently to protect the American embassy and any diplomatic efforts within the country.
The Taliban has threatened violence against any American and NATO personnel remaining in the country after the September 11 deadline established by President Biden, though whether they intend to follow through on these threats remains unknown. Thus far, it seems as though the Taliban has held to its pledge as part of a peace deal with the US to cease attacks on American forces. They have not, however, hesitated to wage violence on their fellow Afghans. What is certain is that the current state of the Taliban is stronger than ever. Experts estimate that the Taliban leads as many as 85,000 full-time fighters. There is no doubt that they pose a threat to Afghan security forces. In recent weeks and months, the Taliban has already taken advantage of sparsely defended districts. Within June, the Taliban seized almost two dozen districts in the northern region of Afghanistan. About 30 other districts had been seized by the Taliban since May. As of right now, an estimated 1/5 of the country is under Taliban control. Though they do not control any of the country’s provincial capitals, they have reached the outskirts of several, including Kunduz and Lashkar Gah. Most of these districts, remote and sparsely populated, were seized without a fight, as the Afghan national security forces have focused their limited resources and troops on major population centers. Some districts were surrendered as the result of negotiations led by local leaders who figured if they made a deal early, they would be better off.
Many expect a Taliban take over to be inevitable. Some military leaders even predict a civil war before the end of the year. Afghan morale has declined rapidly with the departure of international military aid. Security forces are spread thin and now lack the vital resources provided by foreign military support. The Afghan national security forces were especially dependent upon the US for air support, and the Afghan air force was almost entirely dependent on contractors for maintenance of their aircraft. The intelligence community assesses that “the Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory.” Much of that confidence has arisen from the fact that the Afghans no longer have the air support of the United States. Though military leaders estimate that the Afghan national security forces, numbered at close to 200,000, are capable of defending key population centers, the scarcely protected rural and outskirt districts of Afghanistan are falling to the Taliban at an alarming rate. The Afghan security and civilian death tolls have risen dramatically just within the last 2 months, following a trend of increasing deaths since the start of the year. In April, 301 pro-government forces and 89 civilians were killed. In May, 405 pro-government forces and 260 civilians were killed. As of this June, as many as 653 security personnel and 186 civilians have been killed.
Despite the obvious aggression being demonstrated, the Taliban’s increased aggression may be more of a PR move than a legitimate push to establish governance in the regions they have captured. The current theory is that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition as a legitimate political entity will deter them from an attempt to seize governing control of the country, but the already apparent aggression may very well indicate otherwise. A deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban is possible, but without such, the country may indeed be headed towards civil war. Many locals are willing to take up arms to defend their land against Taliban aggression, but many others have willingly submitted to the group in exchange for money and safe passage. The Afghan national security forces will have to adapt the most effective strategies possible to defend themselves from the Taliban given their limited resources and now distant international support. Regardless, with the Taliban gaining momentum and influence in the country, new or reinvigorated threats are sure to emerge. While they deny any ties to the Islamic extremist group Al Qaeda, a recent United Nations report assessed that there are as many as 500 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan who maintain a close relationship with the Taliban. Counter-terrorism efforts will almost surely need to be made by the United States. Though these efforts will have to be from beyond the border of Afghanistan, and though that may prove extremely difficult, it will not be impossible. The United States will have to adapt its strategies alongside the Afghans to protect American interests and the wellbeing of the Afghan people.