The United States-led political experiment in Afghanistan is unraveling by the day. On Saturday, a crowded hospital in the embattled city of Kunduz came under attack by US-led forces. The American military acknowledged in a press statement that it may have killed 19 patients, staff members, and others at the facility while launching strikes on Taliban insurgents. The incident has caused massive outrage within the international community, especially after the American military referred to the deaths as “collateral damage”. Ever since its invasion in 2001, the US-led forces have caused mass civilian casualties in the region. Such casualties have only further alienated the Afghan public and undermined America’s relationship with its puppet government there.
The recent spate of US-led attacks has come after the Taliban had captured the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city and home to about 300,000 people. Kunduz is the provincial capital of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan. It is first provincial capital the Taliban has managed to take in 14 years. It’s not clear how long the Taliban can hold on to the city, but this is a bad sign. The city’s fall is further testament to some fundamental weaknesses in US policy, which was instrumental in the formation of the Afghan military and government. These problems will only get accentuated in the wake of NATO’s withdrawal. It is no secret that for several years now, the Taliban has been getting stronger in Afghanistan’s north.
According to Thomas Ruttig, the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, in Kunduz province, they’re (Taliban) “well-entrenched and have so far resisted all attempts to push them out for good”. In both September 2014 and April 2015, the Taliban launched major offensives in the province. Therefore, the most recent offensive, which went all the way to the city of Kunduz, was no surprise. Strategic experts have attributed three major reasons for the rise of Taliban in the north: a weak central government, corrupt and violent militia and ethnic rivalries between different tribes. The Afghan Local Police (ALP), formed in 2010, was a US-sponsored experiment that sought to establish locally-run police and military forces loyal to the ruling central dispensation in Kabul. Like most experiments, however, the American have failed to see it through, leaving it stuck in the midst of corruption, poor leadership, and rank incompetence. Moreover, the ALP has been known to indulge in acts of abuse against the local populace.
The sexual abuse of young children by members of the ALP, for example, has been well documented. Moreover, according to AFP, an international news agency, the ALP is “often outgunned by the Taliban and are estimated to be losing men at three to six times the rate of regular security forces”. Among other reasons, the shortage of weapons is down to outright corruption and dire mismanagement. In addition to the ALP, however, Kunduz was also defended by members of pro-government militias that operate outside of any official legal structure. These militia groups are, if anything, more brutal and less effective than the ALP. Kabul relies on these militias is because the puppet central government is weak. Its military forces, the Afghan National Army, and the National Police, are poorly organised and overstretched. Add these problems to the already existing tribal divisions and rivalries, and it is amply clear that the US has left a right big mess in Afghanistan. How it follows up the in days ahead will be watched closely.