Why didn’t they fight? The speed of the Afghan collapse surprised even the Taliban

The rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban was the result not only of their strength on the battlefield and a strategy that began in the rural provinces, but also of the collapse of morale among a neglected Afghan army.

Why didn’t the Afghan army fight?

Despite the $ 83 billion and two decades that the United States spent equipping and training the Afghan army, in many provinces the army seemed to evaporate before the Taliban insurgents.

With more than 300,000 troops and equipment more advanced than the Taliban arsenal, the Afghan army forces were formidable, on paper. In reality, they had been plagued with corruption, rewards, poor leadership, lack of training, and plummeting morale for years.

Defections were common, and US government inspectors had long warned that the situation was untenable.

The government outpost in Imam Sahib, a district of Kunduz province, held out for two months against the Taliban. But resources and supplies were soon reduced. “In the last few days, there was no food, water or weapons,” police officer Taj Mohammad, 38, told the Wall Street Journal. The remaining troops eventually fled to the provincial capital, which collapsed weeks later.

Troops on the front lines in Afghanistan’s second-largest city, Kandahar, received “a cardboard box full of slimy potatoes” for the daily rations of an entire police unit last week, the New York Times reported.

Kandahar police said they hadn’t been paid in six or nine months before the city’s fall, according to the Washington Post, making the Taliban’s offers all the more tempting.

Taliban insurgents mixed threats and bribery, along with propaganda and psychological warfare, as they took city after city, some with just one shot, and eventually captured the capital.

Beginning last year, Taliban leaders began offering desperate troops money in exchange for weapons, according to the Washington Post, in meetings and deals dubbed “ceasefire” by Afghan officials. “Over the next year and a half, the meetings progressed to the district level and then rapidly to the provincial capitals, culminating in an impressive series of surrenders negotiated by government forces,” the Post wrote.

And yet, when foreign troops began their final withdrawal based on a Trump administration deadline set for May 1, Washington and Kabul were confident that the Afghan military would fight the Taliban.

Afghan forces put up strong resistance in some areas such as Lashkar Gah in the south, but they were facing the Taliban without US airstrikes or military support. Faced with smaller but highly motivated groups of Taliban insurgents, many soldiers and even entire units simply deserted or surrendered, leaving the Islamists to take city after city.

Meanwhile, US intelligence assessments were woefully optimistic. The Taliban could seize Kabul in 90 days, US officials estimated last week. Some 72 hours later, Kabul had fallen.

Even the Taliban were reportedly surprised at how quickly they were able to seize control of some provinces.

How did the United States promote a Taliban victory?

For some, Afghanistan’s collapse lasted 20 years, as mistake after mistake was made in the Western nation-building project. But the last nail in the Afghan government’s coffin came last year when former US President Donald Trump signed an agreement with insurgents to withdraw US troops by May 1.

For the Taliban, it was a sign that their victory was imminent after nearly two decades of war. For the Afghans, it was a betrayal and meant their abandonment by the international community.

The Taliban continued to attack government forces, but began to combine them with targeted killings of journalists and rights activists, increasing the atmosphere of fear.

They also promoted a narrative of the inevitable victory of the Taliban in their propaganda and psychological operations. Soldiers and local officials were reportedly bombarded with text messages in some areas, urging them to surrender or cooperate with the Taliban to avoid worse luck.

Many were offered safe passage if they laid down their weapons and did not resist, while others were reached through tribal and village elders.

What happened to the anti-Taliban warlords?

With the Afghan forces unable to stop the Taliban’s advances, many of Afghanistan’s notorious warlords rallied their militias and vowed to fight the Taliban if they attacked their cities. But with confidence sunk in the Afghan government’s ability to survive, the writing was on the wall for the warlords too.

Their cities fell without a fight.

The former warlord Ismail Khan, known as the “Lion of Herat” and regarded as his city’s last hope, was captured by the Taliban when Herat fell.

Uzbek commander and former vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, as well as his partner, warlord Atta Mohammad Noor, briefly joined the battle for Mazar-i-Sharif before fleeing to Uzbekistan when his militias abandoned their vehicles, weapons and even their uniforms.

What was the strategy of the Taliban?

The Taliban had been quietly following what has been called an “outside-in” strategy, slowly strengthening their hold over rural provincial areas before taking control of regional capitals.

Insurgents also reportedly began negotiating surrender deals and agreements, with everyone from individual soldiers and low-level government officials to provincial governors and government ministers, long before the launch of their final bombardment in May.

The strategies were immensely effective.

Images of the final Taliban march to Kabul were not of bloody battles, but of government officials and Taliban sitting comfortably as they formalized the handover of cities and provinces that were largely taken without a fight.

By Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country, reportedly to Tajikistan, putting a shocking end to the 20-year international campaign to transform Afghanistan into a modern state with a central government whose power extended to various provinces across the world. country.

As a tense calm gripped Kabul, with many people hiding in their homes according to Taliban orders, fears of a return to the brutal rule that the Taliban imposed the last time they were in power led others to crowd the roads leading to Hamid Karzai International Airport. , where chaotic scenes unfolded as Afghans and foreigners made one last mad dash to escape.

( Jowharwith AFP and AP)

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