13 September 2021

Trends for Research and Advisory has issued a new study entitled: “The Return of the Taliban: Current Situation and Future Scenarios”, which shows that the establishment of control by the Taliban Movement over Afghanistan after taking the capital Kabul without a fight constitutes a historic moment. It represents the end or failure of the US project in a country that was invaded nearly 20 years ago for several goals, the most important of which were eliminating the rule of the Movement, building a democratic state that preserved women’s rights and people’s dignity, and fighting al-Qaeda.

The study underlines that the entry of the Taliban Movement into the capital Kabul, 20 years after its expulsion by the US forces in December 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks, was widely expected, especially after the rapid advances made by the Movement in the previous weeks which led to most of the Afghan states and largest cities falling into its hands.

The study points out that according to the criterion of military capabilities and logistical potential, the Afghan government forces far outnumbered the Taliban forces: with a total of 300,000 personnel, they possessed equipment worth billions of dollars that was much more advanced than the Taliban arsenal. While the Afghan forces put up relatively strong resistance in some areas as the US withdrawal began, they faced the Taliban without regular US air cover or military support.

According to the study, the Taliban benefited from the low morale of the Afghan army after Washington signed an agreement with it before withdrawing its forces completely from Afghanistan. This agreement was the beginning of the Taliban’s victories after nearly two decades of war, while it was a betrayal for many frustrated Afghans.

The study states that the Taliban Movement continued to attack the Afghan government forces and used various methods, including killings and assassinations, which created an environment of fear. It incorporated the narrative of the inevitability of its victory in its propaganda and psychological operations. The study adds that the Movement would urge soldiers and local officials by text messages to surrender or collaborate to avoid a worse fate, offering many of them safe passage if they did not fight.

The study also explains that while the Afghan forces were unable to repel the advance of the Taliban Movement, many famous warlords in Afghanistan, who are hostile to the Taliban, mobilized their militias and threatened the Movement if it attacked their cities. However, surprisingly, their cities also fell without a fight. Indeed, some of their warlords were arrested, while others fled to neighboring countries, which paved the way for the Taliban to take over Kabul without bloodshed.

The study assumes a number of future scenarios for Afghanistan that range from optimism to pessimism. The optimistic scenario is based on the fact that the Taliban Movement today may be different from the one it was 20 years ago, as the messages of reassurance sent by the Taliban in several directions indicate an opportunity for a new start. The worst-case scenario, however, is that the current changes in Taliban’s behavior are merely a tactic for assuming power and securing full control.