Sept. 8, 2021
In August, just two weeks before the United States was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a twenty-year war, the Taliban again seized power over Afghanistan—marking the first time the group has controlled the country since the early 2000s.
The collapse began on Friday, August 6. As the country fell, White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki spoke in support of the Afghan government, “Now is the moment for the leadership and the will in the face of the Taliban’s aggression and violence.”
But in just 11 days, the country of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, with the group taking over provincial capitals and the key city of Kundez before seizing control of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul.
As major cities fell to the Taliban, the U.S.-trained Afghan military units gave up without a fight. By August 12, Ghazni was under Taliban power.
The next day, Taliban leaders informed U.S. officials they did not intend to seize Kabul, but rather to surround it. Officials did not believe the city was under imminent threat.
On Saturday, August 14, Gen. McKenzie, Central Command chief, met face-to-face with Taliban leaders, with the intention of warning the Taliban to stay out of Kabul. By Sunday, August 15, the Taliban entered the city.
Following the events in Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Shortly after this, members of the Taliban could be seen taking “selfies” in the presidential palace.
John Sopko has worked as the special inspector general for Afghanistan since 2012. Sopko was surprised by the speed of the government’s downfall.
“I did not think it would collapse this quickly,” Sopko said, “Although once it happened, we realized that all the preconditions for failure were there.”
Although the rapid overtaking of the country was surprising, conflict between Afghanistan and the Taliban is not new. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban ran the country under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Many Afghan people fear not only the current chaos and violence, but the reinstatement of the harsh laws put in place in the late 1990s. Afghan girls and women are concerned that they will again lose their rights to employment and education.
For Alma student Kaitlyn Stymiest (’23), hearing about the events in Afghanistan has been upsetting, but she is committed to learning more about the issue.
“My reaction to the ongoing events has been nothing short of heartbreaking,” Stymiest said, “Although, it’s been hard to decipher where my opinions lie right now, I can tell you that it has undoubtedly been saddening to watch unfold.”
Stymiest believes steps could have been taken years ago to prevent the Taliban from taking control of Afghanistan again and thinks it is important for the U.S. to take serious action now.
“We should have never been in Afghanistan to begin with and if not now, when?” Stymiest said. “There will never be a good time to pull out from the countries that we have severely destabilized.”
Benjamin Schall (’24) worries about the impact the Taliban’s rule will have on the lives of the Afghan people.
“I mainly feel scared for the people who are being uprooted from their lives by the Taliban’s control and women whose rights are being threatened by [the Taliban’s] enforced ideologies,” Schall said.
Like Stymiest, Schall feels that, had action been taken earlier, the current issue could have been prevented.
“I heard that [the U.S. was] starting to pull out even before defeat was assured,” Schall said. “So it might have turned out differently if they kept up defenses just as strong.”
Schall believes the U.S. is responsible for aiding the Afghan people. “As a world power with the resources to do so, it definitely bears most of the responsibility to help refugees,” Schall said.
“That is the most important thing they can do – provide evacuation efforts for any civilians who want to leave, and do not stop at American soldiers, as important as that is.”