The next few weeks will be pivotal for the future of Afghanistan with ominous implications for its people who face a looming humanitarian disaster, but also for the prestige, power and influence of the West.
The Taliban has advanced faster than many had expected, seizing swathes of territory, key border crossings and now threatening three provincial capitals.
Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said all eyes are now on Herat in the west and Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south.
“If these provincial capitals fall then the Afghan government is in a very difficult position,” he said.
“If most or all of these provincial capitals hold then the chances are the Afghan government itself can continue to hold and the longer the Afghan government holds, then the weaker is the negotiating position of the Taliban.”
The immediate fear is of an impending humanitarian disaster. Terror of the Taliban and a looming civil war is forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Former UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto has years of experience in the country. He told Sky News the situation is deeply alarming, with so many people on the move and far worse than anything he witnessed there until now.
More from World
- Storm Ida: Joe Biden warns ‘climate crisis is here’ after 25 killed in flooding
US weather news – Storm Ida latest: New York wakes up to destruction as urgent climate change warnings issued after deadly flooding road collapses
- Ida: Pictures show aftermath of storm that has killed at least 25 people
- Storm Ida: New York flooding and other extreme weather shows our world is increasingly vulnerable – and our leaders are now quick to admit it
- Spain: Intense flooding sees cars swept into Mediterranean Sea and buildings filled with mud in Alcanar
- Afghanistan: Raab says evacuations from Kabul airport could resume ‘in the near future’ following discussions with Qatar
“It’s very serious, very very serious,” he said.
“It is an extremely large number, much much larger than acceptable. And I think the international community has to step up its commitment to aid. The international community has to speak out with unequivocal voice together.”
Two decades after the invasion of Afghanistan and the toppling of the Taliban, US president Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of forces . Talks between the Taliban and Afghan government are continuing in Qatar. Those talks are stalled while the fighting intensifies.
Tadimichi Yamamoto urged international powers to put their weight behind reinvigorating the diplomatic process: “We are seeing a real tragic situation where civilians and others are going to be sacrificed and that is totally unnecessary because the talks would bring the political forces to compromise and create a new future for Afghanistan.”
This week former US commander in the country, General David Petraeus, criticised the decision to withdraw saying America had abandoned Afghanistan to a “bloody and brutal civil war”.
He condemned the decision to announce withdrawal before talks were complete.
Britain lost more than 450 lives in two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, America more than two thousand, tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have died. More than two-and-a-quarter trillion dollars was spent there.
If the Taliban prevails and is able to wind the clock back to 2001, those sacrifices will have been in vain.
The next few weeks will test the Taliban’s ability to mount a sustained military campaign. In the past it has suffered severe losses in attempts to take provincial capitals. But the Afghan forces holding them now have less access to US airpower and US advisers are no longer able to deploy on the ground.
Either way, the failure of America and its allies to win the war in Afghanistan has long-lasting implications for the West.
The history of the country and the military failures of Britain and Russia there may have made the recent debacle seem inevitable but there was a chance, say observers, to succeed there – an opportunity squandered by the temptation to invade Iraq.
Mr Barry told Sky News the decision to attack Iraq “was as disastrous as Napoleon’s decision to attack Russia, or Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union. And that’s the biggest single reason why the war in Afghanistan sailed into so much difficulty”.
Resources, attention and diplomatic bandwidth were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq. And the occupation and its abuses undermined the credibility and legitimacy of the US.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
The decision to launch, then lose, two wars at such cost will surely be seen by historians as monumental hubris.
In the nemesis that’s followed, the West’s rivals – Russia, China and Iran – have watched and learned, Mr Barry said: “They will be saying to themselves we’ve seen the weaknesses of the West and the western way of war and we’re more confident in our own military capabilities than they are in theirs.”
Russia and Iran have applied those lessons already to the war in Syria. China has adjusted its tactics and hardware as it has modernised its military over the past twenty years. And other countries looking on will have drawn their own conclusions about the West’s ability to prevail and protect its interests and those of its allies.
“There will be countries who are allies of the US and UK who will wonder if they are threatened, will the US and UK come to their aid or will they be scared off by the prospect of casualties,” said Mr Barry.
$2.26 trillion later, the West has seen the strategic confidence of allies undermined by its record in Afghanistan, and the confidence of rivals grow.
And the country where so much blood and treasure was spilled is heading back towards civil war, chaos and the possible supremacy of an ultraconservative Islamist theocracy.
- Exclusive: Haiti's president warns of humanitarian crisis, calls for support
- Donald Trump threatens Afghanistan that he could wipe it 'off the face of the Earth'
- At a glance: Key factors in Afghanistan’s tense election
- Who is the Saudi crown prince who has been arresting cousins and consolidating power?
- Afghanistan's president rejects foreign interference
- The fight for Kurdistan - the Guardian briefing
- Filmmakers Band Together To Renew Focus On U.S. War In Afghanistan, Now In Its 10th Year
- 'Here there is a chance': Venezuela crisis triggers exodus to Colombia
- Fighting in Ukraine threatens water supply for 3.2 million
- £20 billion cost to UK if India-Pakistan fight on Kashmir
- Black Lightning Meets The Flash, Pariah, and More in "Crisis on Infinite Earths" Teaser
- ‘Power’ Creator Courtney Kemp On Who Shot Ghost In Tonight’s Midseason Finale, Spinoffs & Final Episodes
- ‘Power’ Creator Courtney Kemp On Tonight’s Big Death In Final Season Debut, How Starz Drama Ends & Fear Of Failure
- WFP says port city fighting threatens millions of Yemenis
- Trump Administration Restricts Congressional Travel to Afghanistan, Prompting Some Democrats to Cry Foul
- Batwoman Learns About the Multiverse in Exclusive "Crisis on Infinite Earths" TV Spot
- Russia Willing to Help Donald Trump Get U.S. Troops Out of Afghanistan
- Tillerson on Rohingya Crisis: 'It's Clearly Ethnic Cleansing'
- When Ted Koppel's wife was given a few years left to live, the couple dedicated themselves to fighting COPD
- Ayiri to E.K. Clark on Edo crisis: You cannot undermine NASS powers
Afghanistan: Next few weeks pivotal as humanitarian crisis and fight for power looms have 1240 words, post on news.sky.com at August 3, 2021. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.