5 Things That Have Happened In Afghanistan Since The U.S. And Its Allies Withdrew
The group’s takeover happened shortly after President Joe Biden’s administration ordered American troops within the war-torn nation to withdraw after 20 years of occupation. Its allies, including the U.K., followed suit.
The evacuation has been torn apart by critics for leaving a power vacuum in Afghanistan which allowed the militants to take hold, while thousands of civilians tried to escape.
The Taliban now mark August 15 as “independence day” — but the country is actually in dire condition.
Here’s everything you need to know about what has happened in Afghanistan since the West withdrew.
1. Al-Qaeda chief found and assassinated in Kabul
Ayman al-Zawahiri, believed to be the orchestrator of the 9/11 attacks in New York, was killed in a U.S. drone strike at the end of July.
He was found hiding out in the capital of Kabul, and U.S. officials believe he was staying at the home of a Taliban leader’s aide.
However, the Taliban claimed they had “no information about Ayman al-Zawahiri’s arrival and stay in Kabul.”
This claim has been heavily scrutinized, as it suggests that the Taliban were not aware who was in this heavily guarded area in the Afghan capital – even though it is visited by some of the highest members of the Taliban leadership.
It’s especially controversial because the U.S. withdrawal stemmed from Donald Trump’s 2020 agreement with the Taliban, where the terror group vowed not to host terror groups which threatened the West — such as Al Qaeda.
Shortly before Zawahiri’s assassination, the Taliban’s interior minister also promised that al-Qaeda was a “dead” organisation with no presence in Afghanistan.
While the Taliban have since vowed there is no threat to the U.S. coming out of Afghanistan and said it wanted to honor the Doha pact, it did condemn the White House for “invading” Afghanistan with the drone strike.
2. Devastating earthquake on Pakistan border
In June, an earthquake on the Afghan border with Pakistan left more than 1,000 people dead. An additional 1,500 suffered from injuries, making it the deadliest earthquake in Afghanistan for 20 years.
It accelerated the problems Taliban was already facing when it came to governing Afghanistan, such as ensuring its population could access basic needs.
The 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit the mountains in the Khost and Paktika provinces, in the southeast of the country.
The Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who rarely appears in public, even issued a rare plea for the international community to “help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort.”
The United Nations did confirm that it had deployed health teams, medical supplies and emergency shelter to the regions.
But, former Afghan state minister for disaster management Najib Aqa Fahim told HuffPost: “Disaster response is complex and challenging.
“The Taliban administration lacks experience in responding to disasters. There was an insufficient response to the seriousness of the occurrence.”
3. Humanitarian crisis worsens
The UN believe 95% of Afghans do not have enough to eat, while more than a million children under the age of 5 are suffering from acute and prolonged malnutrition.
Even before the Taliban invaded, around half of the population were living below the poverty line.
However, this has just worsened.
In January, the Taliban did meet with Western officials to talk about the crisis in Oslo, although protesters around Europe said this meant the Taliban were effectively being rewarded with meetings.
After decades of conflict, severe drought and other climate-related disasters — including June’s earthquake — Fahim warned HuffPost in June: “The scale of humanitarian needs will be massive.”
4. Afghan economy in tatters
The Afghan economy is undoubtedly struggling.
Around 75% of public spending used to come from foreign grants, but this has been cut off by the international sphere since the Taliban came to power.
Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, John Sifton, said: “Afghanistan’s intensifying hunger and health crisis is urgent and at its root a banking crisis.”
Humanitarian aid is still reaching the war-torn country, but £7 billion of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves have been frozen, and international sanctions against the Taliban mean there’s not much money flowing into the country right now. People can’t even withdraw cash from their banks.
According to the regional director of the NGO Action Against Hunger, Sami Guessabi, there is not a shortage of food, but Afghans just can’t afford it.
This was worsened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine too, which lead to an increase in the price of cooking oil, rice and flour.
Unemployment and food prices are rising too, but the value of the Afghan currency fell and banks set limits on cash withdrawals.
5. Gender inequality sparks international concern
Rights for women and girls in Afghanistan have been severely restricted since the Taliban takeover, even though it is trying to present itself as a more moderate force.
This is a becoming a growing concern for the international community, with the European Union calling for Afghanistan to follow international treaties and respect women’s rights.
Women protested in major cities over the policies in September last year, but this was quickly suppressed. Taliban fighters even fired into the air when women marched in a “bread, work and freedom” protest on Saturday.
Girls arriving on the first day of the school year in March this year were prevented from entering by armed Taliban guards, meaning any girl above sixth grade could not continue with their education. This came hours after the Taliban promised that girls could receive a fair education.
The International Labour Organisation also found in January that 16% fewer Afghan women were in work by the end of the third quarter of 2021. For comparison, it was just 6% fewer men – and this disparity is expected to worsen over time.
According to the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, women are even being told to give their jobs to their brothers in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
Women now have to be accompanied with a male guardian for journeys of any significant length too, and have to cover their faces.