by Alan Heil
There’s a seemingly endless crisis in that embattled strategically important South Asian country of nearly forty million people. What should the world be watching for in the critical summer of 2021?
The latest turn of events
As the Washington Post reports from Kabul on June 23: “A sweeping Taliban offensive across northern Afghanistan has triggered a sudden resurgence of anti-Taliban militias in half a dozen provinces. There are concerns that the country could plunge (once again) into a prolonged civil war.”
The decline in hopes that the Afghan unrest might soon end follows a Washington decision to withdraw its forces from that country within a few weeks and definitely by September 1. The overall U.S. effort in Afghanistan the last 20 years — its longest-ever overseas commitment— had been to try and help end two decades of civil conflict there.
The remaining barrier to achieving this is the Taliban, which seeks to erase promised reform efforts by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. Mr. Ghani has scheduled a visit to Washington on June 25 to seek Biden administration support for his team.
He’s clearly focused on the mass recent arrival of fresh Taliban forces in Afghanistan and concerns about Taliban conquests there, as its troops move swiftly into northern areas of the country where key cities and provinces are led by pro-government supporters.
Details of the latest Taliban offensive
As VOA correspondent Ayaz Gul reported from Islamabad on June 22: “Taliban insurgents have dramatically expanded their control since the foreign troop pullout began May 1, overrunning about 60 districts and inflicting heavy casualties on U.S.-trained Afghan security forces”.
President Ghani met on June 21 in Kabul with former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban militia leaders. According to the Post, he called on them to create a “united front” to strengthen what lately had been a relatively calm situation and “safeguard the republic system.”
The U.N. Security Council considers the latest Afghan crisis
Deborah Lyons, head of U.N. assistance in Afghanistan, was quoted by VOA as reporting to the Council June 22: “Most districts that the Taliban has taken in Afghanistan recently surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn.
“We must accept the reality,” Ms. Lyons added, “that increased conflict in Afghanistan means increased insecurity for many countries, near and far.”
U.S withdrawal plans appear to remain unchanged as of June 23, as fighting continues between defending Afghan forces under President Ghani and the Taliban
In Washington, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters: “We will complete the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan with the exception of those that will be left to protect our diplomatic presence. We expect this will be done before early September.”
As a nearly half-century observer of U.S.-Mideast ties, I would caution that making firm predictions about developments in that region carries risks, particularly more than two months in advance in a situation as volatile as this one appears to be. Watch this space.
(Note: In his 36 years at VOA, Mr. Heil was its Middle East Bureau chief (1970-1972) and the Voice’s Acting Director for six months in the late 1990s before retiring in January 1998.)
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More