The government of US President Joe Biden has decided not to return Afghanistan’s foreign reserves and suspended talks with Taliban officials over the issue. “We do not see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option,” US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West told the Wall Street Journal on 15 August, exactly one year after the Taliban took control of Kabul. “We do not have confidence that that institution has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly,” the US official added. The decision is allegedly related to the US drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul last month. “Needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups,” West told the Journal.
As the United States withdrew militarily from Afghanistan in August, US TV news interest in the plight of the country’s citizens spiked, often focusing on “the horror awaiting women and girls” (CNN Situation Room, 8/16/21) to argue against withdrawal (FAIR.org, 8/23/21). Four months later, as those same citizens have been plunged into a humanitarian crisis due in no small part to US sanctions, where is the outrage? Experts warned of an impending humanitarian crisis in the wake of the US withdrawal (IRC, 8/20/21). In recent months, the messages have become more urgent. A UN report (10/25/21) warned that “combined shocks of drought, conflict, Covid-19 and an economic crisis in Afghanistan have left more than half the population facing a record level of acute hunger.”
US White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified on Tuesday, December 14 said that the government has no plan to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets. Psaki was responding to a public call by Afghanistan’s foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made a day earlier to unfreeze the assets. The US government had announced a freeze of nearly USD 10 billion worth of Afghanistan’s assets days after the Taliban took over power in the country on August 15, claiming the possibility of misuse of the funds. It also severed all diplomatic relations with Afghanistan after the complete withdrawal of its troops on August 30. The Taliban government in Afghanistan, the UN, and several other governments, including China, have demanded that the US release the funds to facilitate necessary public expenditure in Afghanistan.
War and conflict rarely benefit the lives of ordinary people. Indeed, the very nature of war is destructive. In the case of Afghanistan, once the US war and occupation ended, any delusive stability or vitality in the nation’s economy collapsed too.
Since the Taliban took control of Kabul and Afghanistan’s central government on August 15, efforts to support Afghan women have become extremely challenging. According to some prominent US feminists with strong ties to Afghan women, the Taliban “has no legitimacy beyond the brutal force it commands,” and governments, the United Nations, and regional actors should not recognize or work with it. For some, this means isolating the Taliban by continuing to freeze Afghan funds held overseas and suspending any assistance that is coordinated with a government agency. But does that position actually help Afghan women? There’s little question that gains made by Afghan women over the past twenty years, particularly urban women, have been rolled back since the Taliban returned to power.
US and Taliban delegations met in Qatar’s capital Doha on October 9-10, the first such meeting since the political developments of August when the latter took over the country. Following the meeting, the US has reportedly agreed to provide “humanitarian assistance” to Afghanistan. However, the foreign ministry in Afghanistan said that such assistance “should not be linked to political issues.” The delegates included officials from the US intelligence and state department. According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, the agenda included talks for containing extremist groups, easing the evacuation of foreigners from Afghanistan, and allowing access to humanitarian agencies.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was among a small group of U.S. citizens who sat on milk crates or stood holding signs across from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Manhattan. We had been fasting from solid foods for a month, calling for an end to brutal economic warfare waged against Iraq through the imposition of U.N. sanctions. Each Friday of our fast, we approached the entrance to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations carrying lentils and rice, asking the U.S. officials to break our fast with us, asking them to hear our reports, gathered after visiting destitute Iraqi hospitals and homes. On four successive Friday afternoons, New York police handcuffed us and took us to jail.
Now that U.S. forces have finally exited Afghanistan, some American hawks are already agitating for the government to stoke internal conflict by backing a new insurgency and wage economic warfare on the country. Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Mike Waltz publicly called for US recognition of anti-Taliban forces in the Panjshir Valley as the Afghan government, and they urged the Biden administration to add the Taliban to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO). Sanctions advocates from the hardline Foundation for Defense of Democracies recently made the case for piling on sanctions on Afghanistan by adding the Taliban to both the FTO list and the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The headless flight of NATO troops from Afghanistan and the havoc they leave behind are only the last chapter in a devastating story that began in October 2001. At that time, the US government, supported by allies including the German administration, announced that the terror attacks of September 11 should be answered by a war in Afghanistan. None of the assassins were Afghan. And the Taliban government at the time even offered the US to extradite Osama bin Laden—an offer the US did not even respond to. Virtually no word was said about the country of origin of 15 of the 19 terrorists—Saudi Arabia. On the contrary: members of the Bin Laden family were flown out of the USA in a night-and-fog operation so that they could not be interrogated.
...the crucial question that’s on everyone’s minds seems to be: how did this happen? How did the ostensibly – and somewhat self-styled – most powerful military in history fail against what, when interviewed in Kandahar in 2011, I only slightly satirically called “farm-boys with guns?” Of course, the question itself is partially problematic – denying the Taliban and average Afghans agency, and arrogantly placing America at the center of a Central Asian conflict. This should be a time for self-reflection and humility. Unfortunately, exceptionalist hegemons are hardly known for their humbleness, and I’m hardly hopeful we’ll see much of that virtue, or any accountability, in the coming days, weeks, months, or years. I fear Americans, and especially their elite leaders, aren’t exactly the lesson-learning sorts.
In recent years, the United States has failed to accomplish any of the objectives of its wars. The US entered Afghanistan with horrendous bombing and a lawless campaign of extraordinary rendition in October 2001 with the objective of ejecting the Taliban from the country; now, 20 years later, the Taliban is back. In 2003, two years after the US unleashed a war in Afghanistan, it opened an illegal war against Iraq, which ultimately resulted in an unconditional withdrawal of the United States in 2011 after the refusal by the Iraqi parliament to allow US troops extralegal protections. As the US withdrew from Iraq, it opened a terrible war against Libya in 2011, which resulted in the creation of chaos in the region.
“The Taliban regime is coming to an end,” announced President George W. Bush at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on December 12, 2001 — almost twenty years ago today. Five months later, Bush vowed: “In the United States of America, the terrorists have chosen a foe unlike they have faced before. . . . We will stay until the mission is done.” Four years after that, in August of 2006, Bush announced: “Al Qaeda and the Taliban lost a coveted base in Afghanistan and they know they will never reclaim it when democracy succeeds. . . . The days of the Taliban are over. The future of Afghanistan belongs to the people of Afghanistan.” For two decades, the message Americans heard from their political and military leaders about the country’s longest war was the same. America is winning.
Rarely has there been such an enthusiastic display of international unity as that which greeted the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Support for the war was universal in the chanceries of the West, even before its aims and parameters had been declared. nato governments rushed to assert themselves ‘all for one’. Blair jetted round the world, proselytizing the ‘doctrine of the international community’ and the opportunities for peace-keeping and nation-building in the Hindu Kush. Putin welcomed the extension of American bases along Russia’s southern borders. Every mainstream Western party endorsed the war; every media network—with bbc World and cnn in the lead—became its megaphone.
In recent weeks, the Taliban military rapidly advanced, taking provincial capitals in Afghanistan and then the capital city of Kabul on August 15. The US-backed former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country in a helicopter packed with cash, the US embassy took down the stars-and-stripes, and Western governments evacuated personnel. In the leadup to the debacle, the US bombed a country, which has minimal air defenses, in a war that has cost at least 171,000 to 174,000 lives. Along with Qatar-based long-range B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers and AC-130 Spectre gunships, MQ-9 Reaper drones were deployed. While claiming it would end the war, the US had intended to continue to bomb Afghanistan at will and to keep private military contractors (i.e., mercenaries) there, along with some uniformed US and allied NATO troops such as those from Turkey.
"It's long been obvious to anyone paying attention that the Taliban would regain control of the country when occupying western powers withdrew, but I don't think anyone would've put money on it happening this quickly. A few interesting questions have come up about this, like for example how hilarious would it be if after spending twenty years and trillions of dollars and thousands of human lives "fighting the Taliban", the Taliban suddenly resumed power as a US puppet regime?"