The departure of the US military from Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan on Thursday evening effectively brings an end to US operations in that country. For almost two decades Bagram was the centerpiece of the US presence in Afghanistan. Now, with the last US troops having quietly departed the base, the matter of Afghanistan’s future comes into focus. Right now, there are growing doubts about the ability of Afghan security forces to check advances made by Taliban forces around the country, as well as the future of the US commitment to Afghanistan’s government. This commitment seems to be coming to an end given in the midst of a Taliban offensive that threatens to eventually topple the government and bring about a civil war. In fact, the US is updating plans for an emergency evacuation of its embassy in Kabul should the deteriorating security situation threaten remaining US personnel.
Independent central governments have not had a permanent place in contemporary Afghanistan. Following the departure of Soviet forces in 1989, it was not long before the coalition government collapsed, dragging the country into a civil war that saw the rise of the Taliban. Following the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001, a new Afghan government came into being with Hamid Karzai at the helm. This government had significant US and international support, enabling it to begin the rebuilding process. Afghanistan’s economy, healthcare, education, transport, and agriculture were improved, largely with outside help. US and NATO forces trained Afghan security forces to combat the growing Taliban insurgency.
Now the international support is largely removed and it will be up to the Afghan government and its security forces to hold the line. As the situation stands at the moment, there are few observers or analysts expecting them to succeed. Afghanistan has been historically driven by a tribal mentality. The responsibility that citizens have to ensure the continued security and function of a central government run second to the responsibility and devotion to their local tribal rulers. The people running the government in Kabul at any given time are regarded warily. This is the case right now, despite the continued US and Western efforts over the past two decades to change this mindset.
In the coming days and weeks, expect to see the Taliban continue to make gains as the Kabul government struggles to find its footing. Conditions appear to be ripe for a potential government collapse by early September if events continue progressing as they have been recently.