Special Editorial: Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

Matthew Wilken

It has been difficult to see the way things have unfolded in Afghanistan recently. The United States withdrew, and the Taliban took over the entire nation in a matter of days. It has also been difficult to see all the social media posts that accompany this horrible chain of events. A big problem with social media is that it offers a platform for millions of people to talk about something that they know absolutely nothing about. Unfortunately, it appears that many of our elected officials are lacking knowledge and foresight in this area as well. If somebody is to speak on a topic, they should have some rudimentary understanding and awareness about what is actually happening, and what the potential consequences are. The aim here is to provide a basic understanding of the Taliban, and provide some insight on the consequences of a US exit from Afghanistan.

    It is an arduous endeavor compiling enough information to fill in the blanks in regards to the situation in Afghanistan, while at the same time, not overloading and causing more confusion. We begin with a simple enough question, who is the Taliban? Following the war with the Soviets, and after years of warlords and power grabs in Afghanistan, many Afghans found themselves fleeing to Pakistan. An Afghan government barely existed, which created a large void in protection. Every day occurrences included violence, kidnappings, seizures of homes and businesses, and many unthinkable acts committed against both boys and girls. The Mujaheddin (Islamic Holy Warriors) that fought against the Soviets, and had U.S. support, mostly found themselves in madrassas (Muslim schools) at the time. They wanted to act on the current state of affairs in Afghanistan but needed an organized group, and a leader. The organized group became known as the Taliban. The Arabic word, talib, means “student.” The plural of talib, is Taliban. A group built from the Islamic schools, simply named themselves based on who they were - a bunch of students. By using this title, the uneducated and easily persuaded youth latch onto the cause, as they identify with the group’s personnel and name. Somalia created a similar group that is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, called Al-Shabaab (meaning, “the youth”). In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s there were more than 8,000 registered, and 25,000 unregistered madrassas, that were educating over half a million students between the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. Much of the area was of the Pashtun tribe so they elected a Pashtun leader, Mullah Omar. Mullah Omar, from Maiwand (where I served in Afghanistan), was of the Wahabbi, or Salafist, Islamic ideology. Wahabbis are opponents of other Islamic ideologies, and they use their code of Islam as a cover to exterminate other forms of non-Pashtuns.

    Mullah Omar was named the “Commander of the Faithful,” which, in Islam, basically gave him rule over not only Afghans, but all Muslims. The mission of the Islamic schools, and Mullah Omar, was to cleanse and purify the land using Sharia law. Their interpretation of Sharia law is much different than that of other factions, and they set out to purify the land using their interpretation. The madrassas, which became extremist schools in most cases, taught kids how to fight while also indoctrinating them with a reason to fight. The students (Taliban) would be sent in to fight in the name of Islam, and take over their rightful land, ridding it of “corrupt, and evil Muslims.”

    The Taliban targeted the Hazara people (Afghans with Mongolian ancestry) along with other Shia Muslims when they first captured Kabul in 1996. They continued by rolling into cities, blocking off roads, and commencing to slaughter the people. They drove through villages shooting at almost anyone and anything. Within two months, July and August, 1998, it is estimated that the Taliban killed around 6,000 civilians while taking hundreds of Hazara women as concubines. Meanwhile, a man by the name of Osama Bin-Laden, who had training camps in Afghanistan, executed attacks on two US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. President Clinton launched his own attack toward the known Bin-Laden training camps in Afghanistan, which angered the Taliban. Mullah Omar responded by saying Clinton only attacked his Afghanistan guest to distract the US people from his shameful affairs while in office (taking a jab at his affair with Monica Lewinsky).

    At this point, women and girls were not allowed to be educated, and since women made up the majority of teachers, boys were diverted to madrassas. Within three months after capturing Kabul in 1996, the Taliban closed 63 schools. This alone affected more than 250,000 students and teachers. A humanitarian crisis, an extermination of people, and a real fascist group had taken over Afghanistan. When they call for peace, they truly mean it, although it is their definition of peace. In their eyes, they will only achieve peace after getting rid of all the tribes they do not want in Afghanistan, after establishing Sharia law, and controlling the populace. If they capture all of Afghanistan, which they seemingly have already accomplished, it can be expected that they will continue their momentum and go after more Kuffar, or condemned non-believers. Less than 25 years ago, indoctrinated students took over Afghan minorities through brutal violence, sexual slavery, bribery, and almost any means necessary. Now, sadly in 2021, from a land so focused on diversity and inclusion, we’ve opened the door for this to happen again.

    Colin Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst with the Soufan Group, was asked if the Taliban could be trusted with the promises they made. He stated, “Absolutely not. This is a bloodthirsty, fundamentalist organization…It subjugates women, it slaughters civilians. So, that’s a clear and unequivocal, no.”

    The Taliban also acted as the mafia did in its heyday. They would “offer” protection to farmers in order to skim taxes from their profits. Afghanistan’s opium production vastly increased and was marked up while distributed in Europe and in the US. It was estimated that one million Afghan farmers were making around $100 million (US) dollars annually. The Taliban cut of this brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, ironically through the buying and selling done here in the western world. Now, with marijuana legal in many places, will we begin funding the Taliban indirectly again? Have we been doing so all along? How about the opium crisis in America happening right now? It was reported that nearly 70,000 people in the United States died of opium related overdoses in 2020 – The most recorded in history. For reference, about 90% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan. The Taliban mentioned they vow to ban heroin, but in the 90s, they denied their role in trafficking. I’m not sure taking their word for it is the most prudent approach, given you know…everything they’ve ever done. While I was in Kandahar, it was difficult to get farmers to work with us and provide intelligence. If they were seen speaking with us, the Taliban would act on them. One farmer said to me, “if we work with you, and you leave, we will have to deal with the Taliban.”  It’s amazing to understand how policy here can affect a Taliban controlled, Afghan farmer on the other side of the world. How about that as a form of covert terrorism! The Taliban makes money off Americans and kills them with the product they paid for – all the while, these funds go to the oppressive, murderous, unchecked, want-to-be government that hates America and others associated with them.

    Remember when we pulled out of Iraq, in 2011? There was this group that spawned from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, called ISIS. They were (and still are) of the same Salafist (Wahabbi) ideology. They took over Iraq, Syria, parts of Kurdistan, and did it with similar brutal tactics used by the Taliban (See earlier article on Syria to breakdown that convoluted mess). When that happened, they released thousands of prisoners with terrorist motives and connections. It was also reported recently that the Taliban just released thousands of prisoners, including some with affiliations to ISIS and Al-Qaeda. This will surely strengthen their resolve and beliefs. It would also not be surprising if Afghanistan found itself harboring terrorists again in the near future.

    In fact, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, in 2020, indicated that Al-Qaeda was maintaining close ties with the Taliban. The same report stated that Al-Qaeda was gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban. This report, again, from last year, revealed that “the Taliban is very likely preparing for large-scale offensives against population centers and Afghan government installations.” These reports have already proven to be correct, and it’s a matter of time before we see Al-Qaeda and the Taliban openly working together. Actually, Al-Qaeda has already openly celebrated the Taliban victory as proof that Jihad is the only correct methodology.  Furthermore, the Taliban has put the Haqqani Network in place as its security in Kabul. The Haqqani Network originated with Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was an Afghan commander and warlord. He was also a close mentor of Osama Bin-Laden. The Haqqani Network operates and controls much of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan (North Waziristan area). After the Taliban’s rise, they pledged allegiance to them, and worked closely with Al-Qaeda. Additionally, they are one of the most lethal insurgent groups and are listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). 

    It’s worth noting that the before-mentioned Hazaras, who were fortunate enough to escape Afghanistan, found safe haven in Iran. Those Hazaras were then seen fighting in Syria on behalf of Iran. The Taliban’s “peace,” in ridding the Hazaras in Afghanistan, only increased the war effort in other countries. Additionally, China has already indicated they are willing to work with the Taliban as well, which would combine two countries that do not have the best relations with us. If I’m China, I’m more than happy to fund the Taliban. They have made us look stupid and weak by taking Afghanistan over within a matter of days. Afghanistan also contains rich elements that China would love to get their hands on. This would enrich them, continue to make us look incompetent, and offer legitimacy to the Taliban. As a quick side note, Iowa’s exports to China are around $1 billion per year. 

    So, one can see that letting the Taliban take Afghanistan back is not a good move. The United States used to have the most powerful and strategic government (including the military) in the world. It’s almost embarrassing the way we have been executing on a strategic level lately. Maybe it’s a trap? Maybe we’re Muhammed Ali lying against the ropes, waiting to unleash as the enemy tires itself out? Well, that wouldn’t make sense because the enemy is continually building instead of getting fatigued. To me, it seems more like we’re throwing in the towel and focusing more on petty issues and pandering to our bases.

    So, what could we have done? Afghanistan was broken when we arrived there, and we certainly did not make it worse. Although, we did bail and now things seemingly will go back to the way they were. Some have said, “who knew the Afghan Security Forces would have given in so easily?” My answer to that would be, everybody - or anybody that has ever worked with them. The Taliban has resources, a consistent funnel of fighters, and no rules. Why would somebody risk their life and the lives of their family against a thriving terrorist group that fancies themselves as the legitimate authority? A strategic, incremental exit would have been a much better solution. Also, not broadcasting our plans to the entire world would be preferred. You cannot give the other team your playbook and not expect them to know what you’re doing. This allowed them to wait, prepare, and execute immediately after our exit. Our minds here in the United States perceive things so much differently than people in other countries. Afghanistan is not America, we cannot play by our rules – the Taliban and any other terrorist groups certainly will not. 

    I don’t have the answer to what we absolutely should have done. But if our goal is to prevent another 9/11, if we want to better the overall perception of America, if we want to help save lives, and if we want to keep a handle on interests abroad…abruptly leaving Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban is only going to do the opposite of accomplishing those goals. We have to be dedicated and committed to what we intend on achieving. With no real offensive in Afghanistan for the past eight years or so, the Taliban has been able to replenish, regroup, and rebuild, just waiting for us to bow out.

            As one Taliban commander, referring to the US said, “You have the watches, but we have the time.” 


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