As the US drawdown from Afghanistan speeds up, with 90% already complete according to CENTCOM, the Taliban continues to push Afghan government forces out of many districts. At the same time, Taliban representatives continue to negotiate with government representatives in Doha, Qatar. The languid pace of the peace talks underway provides a striking contrast to the war raging back home, along with a sliver of insight to the Taliban’s present strategy. As the talks go on, Taliban forces are making gains back home. The Doha Peace Process now gives the Taliban cover as it gobbles up additional districts controlled by Afghan government forces. When Kabul protests the increasingly aggressive Taliban military offensives currently taking place, the Taliban representatives in Doha can correctly state that their presence there represents a sincere effort to bring the fighting to a close. The question is, how many nations in the region and around the world are going to buy that argument? And in the process, provide the Taliban with a sheath of legitimacy it could not have dreamed of obtaining one year ago.
The deterioration of the situation on the ground is raising questions about the Biden Administration’s plan (or lack thereof, as the case may very well be) for the Afghan withdrawal. The administration has been insistent upon all US forces being removed from Afghanistan by 11 September, 2021, not coincidentally the twentieth anniversary of the event that initially brought US forces to Afghanistan. It seems that the pullout will be completed earlier than September, raising the possibility of the Taliban having complete control of the country by the end of the summer. This would be a foreign policy disaster for the administration and have a detrimental effect on US efforts in other parts of the world.
Images of helicopters evacuating the last Americans from the embassy rooftop in Saigon as the city fell in 1975 have been branded into the US foreign policy psyche. Now, as two US aircraft carriers move into position to support the evacuation from Afghanistan, those ghosts from the past are slipping back into the national conscience. The prospect of a similar exit from Kabul in the coming months is now quite real and the Biden administration has to take steps now to make certain to does not become reality.