The below is a dot-point chronological overview of developments in Afghanistan. I began this research after an inkling a friend and I had that the very recent collapse of the Afghan government and the rise of the Taliban to power may not be all it seems.
It was little time before we began finding information that seemed to indicate that the Taliban were no longer the same Taliban from prior to America’s invasion, but now were a changed and compliant Taliban that was intent to quietly assist American interests. Rather than write an extra extensive article, I have compiled the below chronology of important events alongside some connections worthy of highlighting.
The situation is rapidly changing in Afghanistan now, and even within the time of me bringing this together, the Taliban have announced that they intended to respect human rights, that they would not seek revenge upon those who worked with Americans and have offered amnesty to their opponents, that they are more moderate and more measured compared to their historical positions, and now the media has subtly begun a campaign to bolster the public view of the Taliban. There is more that could be said, but I only have so much time and I wished to publish this sooner rather than later.
Lastly, I’ve been asked several questions after presenting my theory, primarily questions about why the coalition’s retreat in Afghanistan has appeared so rushed and desperate if the Taliban were “friendly”. The foremost reason is that the Taliban, as far as the public is concerned, are evil terrorists. It is not possible for NATO, particularly the US, to behave as though they were a legitimate state, even if they signed a treaty with them in 2020.
The public still know the Taliban as an oppressive, bloodthirsty, and backward group of Islamic extremists who are comically vile in their hatred of non-Muslims, women, and the West. Whether this is true or not (and most likely it is extremely exaggerated) is irrelevant to the fact that western powers need to behave as if they were dealing with these same intolerable enemies.
It is notable that now, in very recent news, it has been reported the Taliban are controlling traffic into the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul. America’s Major General Hank Taylor said, “The Taliban have informed us they are prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport, and we intend to hold them to that commitment. […] We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban.”
Along with this, the US diplomatic mission has expressed they may remain longer than they expected at Hamid Karzai Airport. The desperation that was projected by media mere days prior has now suddenly calmed into an orderly withdrawal. The Taliban are enabling those with foreign citizenship to leave and are helping western forces locate and move them to the airport.
Though the Taliban are preventing Afghan nationals from leaving, it is a situation that is of no concern to western leaders, allowing them to feign their desire to bring Afghans back to their respective nations, but to then say they are simply incapable due to Taliban refusal to allow them to leave, thus saving face with those who oppose accepting any Afghan nationals as refugees.
- Karzai presidency begins on good terms, made interim chairman in 2001, interim president in 2002, and elected president in 2004 with significant but largely ignored electoral fraud.
- Relations between Karzai and US gradually deteriorate by the time of Afghanistan’s 2009 election.
- Obama administration introduces overhaul of policy towards Afghanistan, appoints Bush administration Afghan policy critic and former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel to head policy review.
- “The President stressed that the US’s overarching goal should be to protect the Afghan population and help the Afghan government to earn its trust rather than search and combat the Taliban concentrations.” (jstor.org/stable/23266718 p17)
- US quietly green lights Abdullah and Ghani to run against Karzai in 2009.
- Karzai wins first round just below an absolute majority with Abdullah coming second, initially doesn’t plan to have 2nd round runoff election. Election is again subject to much electoral fraud and corruption.
- US pressures Karzai into having a runoff, but Abdullah withdraws citing electoral fraud. Likely directed by the US to withdraw due to concerns about causing further civil unrest and discouraging Afghanis from viewing the democratic process as illegitimate.
- President Karzai serves his second term and relations with US continues to decline. Karzai becomes uncooperative behind closed doors with the US. US attempts to pressure Karzai to split executive power by creating a ‘chief executive’ position, but Karzai refuses.
THE GITMO FIVE
- Famously in 2014, Obama releases the ‘Gitmo Five’: prisoners who were Taliban commanders held in Guantanamo Bay. Most senior was Khairullah Khairkhwa. Gitmo Five are the only ‘innocent but dangerous’ indefinite prisoners to ever be released without being cleared by a review.
- Context of release was against peace negotiations between the US and Taliban. The US executed a widespread leaking campaign of the peace negotiations to emphasise release of the Gitmo Five were conditions of peace for Taliban.
- Shortly after release, the Gitmo Five made contact with the Taliban and expressed their intent to return to Afghanistan and re-join the Taliban. This went against their conditions that they wouldn’t return to fight and would remain in Qatar.
- Intelligence and the Obama administration were privy to this information, but organised no intervention.
- Khairkhwa becomes essential to reorganising the Taliban’s ‘government-in-exile’ and was behind the Taliban’s plan to recover power in Afghanistan. Reports in the media have credited him with masterminding the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.
THIRD AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
- Afghani constitution has a fixed presidential term limit of two 5-year terms, thus Karzai cannot be re-elected. Abdullah, Ghani, and other candidates run in the 2014 Afghan presidential election. Ghani and Abdullah win first and second respectively with no absolute majority, passing to a runoff.
- Ghani won the runoff; however, Abdullah contested the result and claims electoral fraud was widespread, which wasn’t inaccurate.
- US Secretary of State John Kerry mediates between Ghani and Abdullah and comes to an arrangement of sharing power 50-50. Ghani becomes President of Afghanistan while Abdullah receives the position long-desired to be established by the US: Chief Executive of Afghanistan.
- Despite the agreement, Ghani and Abdullah’s rivalry continues. Ghani believed the agreement awarded him full executive power while Abdullah stuck by the US arrangement of 50-50. The rivalry is very public and causes political divide within the government.
- Corruption within the government goes effectively unchallenged despite promises to implement measures against it during the 2014 election. No action is taken throughout the ’14-’19 term. Ghani and Abdullah both become unpopular with parliamentary MPs, with very slight favour towards Abdullah.
ISIS IN AFGHANISTAN
- Coinciding with the developments in Afghanistan was the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Though strong in the Levant, ISIS had no official presence in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
- It was reported ISIS opened talks with the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, not to be confused or associated with the Afghan Taliban), meeting with leadership and factions. Propaganda was distributed throughout Pakistani networks.
- Throughout 2014 and 2015, commanders and factional leaders from the TTP would declare their allegiance to ISIS, leaving Pakistan to establish the ISIS Khorasan Province, or ISK. ISK would continue to be dominated by Pakistanis, with 80% of the organisation reportedly to be from Pakistan despite operating in Afghanistan.
- Their ease of access and resources in Afghanistan can likely be attributed to help from the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. The NDS offered significant support to the Pakistani Taliban by way of finance, arms, and identity cards to enable movement inside Afghanistan.
- The NDS was established with help from the CIA in 2002, with whom they continued to have deep links. It was believed by Afghanis that the NDS was little more than a branch of the CIA, regularly following their direction and command.
- Former Afghani president Karzai and Russian intelligence would accuse the US of clandestinely cultivating the ISK, Karzai calling them a “tool” of the US in Afghanistan.
ISK FIGHT THE TALIBAN
- ISK commence war for territory in Afghanistan, fighting local Afghan warlords, the Taliban, and the Afghan government. Significant victim in the loss of territory is the Taliban, who become overextended in fighting both the US-supported government and the ISK.
- Internal factionalism within the Taliban was also another pressure with the death of its original founder and leader, Mohammed Omar, in 2013 (though the Taliban would not announce his death until 2015). Akhtar Mansour is unofficially leader from 2013 and was officially leader from 2015.
- Factions against Mansour’s leadership declared loyalty to ISK in 2015 as Akhtar Mansour attempts to consolidate the Taliban, leading to infighting between Mansour and the defecting Taliban. This causes further insecurity for the Taliban.
- With the Taliban on the backfoot, Mansour becomes increasingly desperate. Taliban become more cooperative in peace talks, and on grounds of the Taliban fighting a ‘common enemy’, the US provides “limited support” to the Taliban in the form of finance, arms, vehicles, and aerial support against ISK.
BILATERAL PEACE NEGOTIATIONS
- Though negotiations between the US and the Taliban was not new, with the announcement of Akhtar Mansour as leader in 2015 and his greater openness to cooperation with the US, secret bilateral peace negotiations between the US and Taliban began.
- Details of the peace negotiations are unknown, but were ongoing for some time. However, as negotiations went sour, a US drone strike would kill Akhtar Mansour in Pakistan in 2016. Obama first stated Mansour ws planning attacks against US targets in Kabul, but then later reasoned killing Mansour was “necessary” due to his unwillingness to engage in peace negotiations – this is in spite of the secret peace negotiations he was having with the US.
- Following Mansour’s death, Hibatullah Akhundzada became leader of the Taliban in May 2016.
- Bilateral peace negotiations continued with the Taliban under Akhundzada, with significantly greater progress.
RISE OF TALIBAN POWER
- After the 2016 presidential election which saw the election of Donald Trump, Trump’s foreign policy aims did not substantially differ significantly from Obama, but Trump expanded the war on terror by loosening rules of engagement and broadening the aerial drone campaign.
- Trump’s strategy purportedly intended to focus on assaulting the Taliban’s leadership; however, the consequence of the US’ systematic targeting of Taliban leadership led to significant consolidation of the Taliban, which had hitherto been a devolved organisation of factional and tribal alliances.
- Foremost focus was turned to eliminating ISK. Though support was given to Afghan government forces, uprooting ISK forces in Afghanistan enabled the Taliban to rebuild their powerbase.
- With ISK in retreat, the Taliban re-upped their advance and enjoyed a series of successes against ISK, leading ultimately to the destruction of ISK’s stronghold in the east with the US-aided Taliban victory in the Battle of Darzab against ISK in June 2018. Without US assistance in destroying ISK networks in the area to prepare for the Taliban assault, it is unlikely the Taliban would have been victorious.
FROM PUBLIC ENEMY
- Despite Trump’s rhetoric and America’s expanded droning campaign, the Taliban only grew stronger and the US gave no special effort towards helping the Afghan government recover territory lost to the ISK.
- The Afghan National Army (ANA), the Afghan government’s official fighting force, was proving to be completely incompetent, suffering significant casualties and lacking skills to coordinate their own logistics and administration. As western public sentiment soured towards continued presence in Afghanistan, it was clear that withdrawal in compliance with this sentiment any time soon would lead to the certain collapse of the Afghan government.
- Negotiations between the US and Taliban was now at a constant. Despite Trump’s public hostile rhetoric, the US recommenced secret bilateral negotiations with the Taliban in 2018.
- President Ghani had also begun negotiations with the Taliban after a string of Afghani security failures, offering that they begin unconditional peace talks that recognised them as legitimate equals, complemented with the release of Taliban forces and a ceasefire. Ghani was unaware that the US was engaged in simultaneous secret bilateral negotiations.
- in September 2018, Trump appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy and adviser on Afghanistan for the express purpose of facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan, effectively formalising US-Taliban peace discussions.
- A month later in October 2018, Abdul Ghani Baradar was released from Pakistan at the request of the US. Baradar’s release played an instrumental part in facilitating US-Taliban negotiations, being appointed head of the Taliban’s diplomatic office in Doha, Qatar.
- Notably, when Baradar was arrested in 2010, then Afghan President Karzai was reportedly “very angry”. It’s understood that President Karzai was in “secret talks” with the Taliban via Baradar, and that the CIA-ISI arrest of Baradar ruined these negotiations. His later release in 2018 and his essential role in organising US-Taliban bilateral talks speaks to the US’s interest in keeping the Afghan government both in the dark and without control.
TO PRIVATE FRIEND
- Secret bilateral talks continued between the US and Taliban in Qatar.
- For over half a decade now, Russia was increasingly involved in courting the Taliban, and this escalated as news of US negotiations with the Taliban was advancing. Russia launched their own peace negotiations and invited the Taliban as well as the Afghan ‘High Peace Council’ (which oversaw the peace process but formally didn’t represent the Afghan government) to Moscow.
- This spurred on further talks between the US and the Taliban, though at this point the Afghan government was officially excluded from the process. The Taliban declared they would not permit the government’s inclusion due to them being a “US puppet”, stating they would only negotiate directly with the US. The US complied.
- The Afghani government, now sensing they were being abandoned by their American allies, became increasingly desperate to organise their own peace deal with the Taliban without US involvement.
- Though Ghani’s prior peace deal met some success with a ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr in 2018, the ceasefire was discontinued following the celebrations and the Taliban resumed hostilities.
- President Ghani made another attempt, announcing a “loya jirga” (grand assembly) to negotiate peace in Afghanistan and invited the Taliban to attend. The Taliban ignored the invitation.
- With Ghani’s authority slipping away, the US were now in their eighth round of negotiations with the Taliban and Khalilzad stated in September 2019 that they were nearing peace.
- However, after an autonomous Taliban attack in Kabul that killed a US soldier, Trump abruptly ended all talks and vowed revenge. Ghani quickly welcomed Trump’s response and said how talks were “meaningless” with the Taliban. President Ghani’s response betrayed his desperation and anxiety regarding the security of his position in Afghanistan, hoping the rift would move America back to solely supporting the Afghan government.
- With the failure of talks with the US, the Taliban became desperate and immediately moved towards Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan to seek a new deal.
- Discussions with Russia et al. proved largely fruitless, and despite Trump’s initial outrage, talks would resume in December 2019.
THE US-TALIBAN DEAL 2020
- Lauded as historic by Trump, the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” was formally signed between the US and the Taliban, with Zalmay Khalizad and Abdul Ghani Baradar signing the deal in Doha, Qatar.
- Despite the Afghan government not being a party of the deal, the US promised that the Afghan government would make several concessions, most significantly being the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons in return for 1,000 Afghan government soldiers.
- The US also promised it would reduce forces and remove economic sanctions against the Taliban, and in return would prevent Al-Qaeda activity and commence talks with the Afghan government.
- Though not a condition, it is worth noting the Taliban announced, insisted upon, and also signed an agreement with relevant nations that they would support the trans-Afghan natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan. This is significant, given that the Taliban were opposed to the pipeline pre-2001 and is almost certainly a significant reason for why the US had intention to invade Afghanistan owing to its strategic importance. The Taliban justified its support of the pipeline on the grounds of it prospering Afghanistan.
- Ultimately, the US had put President Ghani into an unfeasible position by promising, with no consultation, that the government would release 5,000 Taliban fighters – a move that would significantly detriment the Afghan government’s security – with effectively little in return.
- Consequently, President Ghani refused to release the 5,000 fighters, stating no peace negotiations will take place with the release of the 5,000 as a requisite. The Taliban responded stating they will not engage in any peace talks without the release of those prisoners, and so recommenced warfare against the Afghan government after the agreed ceasefire ended.
- Notably, warfare against US and coalition forces by the Taliban ceased, the Taliban focusing instead upon Afghan government forces. The significantly reduced coalition aerial and ground support for Afghan forces defending from Taliban attacks resulted in significant ANA casualties.
END OF THE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT
- The Afghan government by this point were in complete desperation. The ANA were incapable of maintaining a meaningful front against the Taliban and the US were offering extremely tokenistic support at best.
- President Ghani was on the outs with the US, being practically entirely excluded from all diplomacy and treated with great indifference.
- The third (and last) presidential election of Afghanistan was held on 28 September 2019. Voter turnout was abysmal, with less than 20% of legible Afghani voters voting, and given the tenuous control the government had over Afghanistan, many polling stations simply did not open due to being under the control of the Taliban. On top of all this, electoral fraud yet again was significant.
- The primary candidates was the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. There were significant delays, but eventually Ghani was announced winner with an absolute majority of the votes.
- Abdullah rejected the legitimacy of the election and organised a parallel presidential inauguration and claimed himself to be President of Afghanistan, with his own parallel government and cabinet. However, after significant talks organised by the US (along with the US withdrawing $1bn in aid and threatening to withdraw more if an agreement wasn’t reached), Ghani and Abdullah agreed to a deal where Ghani would remain president and Abdullah would become the head of peace talks with the US.
- Though in 2014 Ghani was the US preference, Abdullah by this time became their preferred partner. He was made chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation in May 2020 and he would come to assist the US in seeing the Afghan government’s compliance with their own deal with the Taliban.
- President Ghani, yet again seeing power beginning to slip from the government, announced another peace conference between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
- Despite Abdullah chairing the government’s official body for negotiating peace with the Taliban, Abdullah was not consulted regarding the peace talks, and he initially announced he would not attend Ghani’s peace conference with the Taliban.
- Abdullah would later recant this declaration, likely because of influence from the US, and he would attend Ghani’s conference.
- For Ghani, the conference was a disaster. With Abdullah chairing the conference, the Afghan government agreed to follow the US-Taliban deal and release the 5,000 Taliban fighters in exchange for the 1,000 government soldiers, gaining effectively nothing in return.
- Following agreements, the US began to withdraw despite protest from the Afghan government who insisted that coalition withdrawal would result in their collapse.
- US analysts admitted to the likelihood of this outcome, though they predicted the Afghan government would last for another two years yet.
- Despite Trump’s defeat at the presidential election, no course was changed. The policy that was established was maintained, and the US continued to withdraw from Afghanistan.
- The Afghan government became practically helpless in the face of the advancing Taliban forces, the ANA proving itself utterly inept in conducting warfare without US support. Into 2021, the Taliban’s campaign would increasingly accelerate as it took more and more of the nation.
- Despite much media alarm, coalition forces by this point offered no support to the ANA. The Taliban was given free ability to conquer the ailing, weak, unpopular, corrupt, and incapable Afghan government, and all attempts by President Ghani to organise peace talks were fruitless.
- With the significant releases of Taliban leaders and fighters of the years, all of which were on the behest of the United States, the Taliban became a formidable force that was centralised and organised.
Thus, with the latest events we’ve witnessed the past week, we see the culmination of very gradual but eventual efforts by the US government to both undermine the Afghan government and ensure the Taliban’s loyalty to US interests.
By putting pressure on the Taliban through the propagation of ISK and the elimination of leadership unwilling to cooperate with the USA, America cultivated a Taliban intent upon supporting US interests within Afghanistan to the total expense of the Afghan government they themselves had created.
As media has now reported, it is no doubt that the Gitmo Five, and most particularly Khairullah Khairkhwa, were an integral part of this effort. Khairkhwa, who is now tipped to be a key part of the future Taliban Afghani government, alongside Abdul Ghani Baradar, believed to be the future Afghani interim president, were essential to facilitating the observance of US interests within the Taliban.
Now as more and more news comes out that paints the Taliban as moderate, as the Taliban proclaim they are reformed and interested in peace and amnesty and wish to support women in their ranks, no doubt we must compare this “new Taliban” to the Taliban that existed prior to invasion.
Take note of the Trump administration’s extermination of senior leadership in the Taliban – most importantly, figures who were hard line and heads of significant factions within the Taliban. In the end, the leadership now comprises of people who have been for over half a decade now seriously engaged with the US and supportive of negotiations.
I cannot say I have found irrefutable proof that the US has orchestrated the current affairs in Afghanistan, but it sure does look convenient.