A mistake to underestimate the Taliban

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

It is impossible to underestimate the impact of the miscalculations made by the US and NATO allies when it comes to the disastrous exit of troops from Afghanistan. To state that “the Taliban advanced quicker than expected” demonstrates the lack of understanding of the capabilities of this very powerful terrorist organisation. Most worrying, is that the previously ill equipped Islamic extremists now have access to an arsenal of weaponry and military hardware. For the men, women and children, soldiers and Afghan civilians, who have been brutally murdered through this horrific war in which the US and NATO, including the European Union, promised a new Afghanistan, there can be no apologies, only an admission that the war in Afghanistan has been a significant failure. 

Afghanistan is amongst one of the poorest countries in the world, with poverty widespread across the land. The country has faced generations of conflict and previous Taliban rule which has resulted in economic and social deprivation despite billions of euros in aid from global donors. With troops on the ground, there was some hope for future generations as basic health and education conditions improved and through a progression of women’s rights, females had more opportunities.

The people of Afghanistan had hope and, in part, the European Union played its role in these changes by implementing a series of measures towards peace, security and prosperity. 

Since 2002, the EU has provided more than €4 billion in development aid to Afghanistan, which makes Afghanistan the largest beneficiary of EU development assistance in the world. The cooperation priorities were aligned with the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework, the government’s five-year strategic development plan targeted at achieving an overarching goal of self-reliance, and to the the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, strengthening Afghan institutions. 

All that has gone now – Left in its place, a fully equipped, internationally designated terrorist group with whom the US and, through the US, its global allies are now negotiating in order to vacate the country and secure the exit of those who want to leave. 

As the Taliban advanced across Afghanistan they have collected the weapons and assets left by the fleeing troops and the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces which have surrendered – Military hardware such as Black Hawk helicopters, military planes, unmanned drones, rifles, machine guns, vehicles and combat gear. According to the last report by the US-based Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), the Afghan Air Force was operating 167 aircraft, including attack helicopters and planes.

There is no clear analysis of how much of the military hardware has now fallen into the hands of the Taliban and other possible terrorist groups. According to the US Government Accountability Report, between 2003 and 2016, the US gave Afghan forces 358,530 rifles of different makes, more than 64,000 machine guns, 25,327 grenade launchers and 22,174 Humvees, all-terrain vehicles. In 2017, 20,000 M16 rifles were provided to Afghan forces and between 2017-2021 this was topped up by at least 3,598 M4 rifles and 3,012 Humvees.

To assume that this extremist Islamic group cannot operate these modern days weapons would be false, and if they cannot at the moment, then there are no doubts that they will find out how to operate them within a short period of time, or find a way to sell them, transferring them to other terrorist organisations and benefitting from the sale. Identifying the movements of the Afghan weaponry will now be of global interest but the main question should be, who will these weapons now be used against? Such military hardwares are no longer defence tools!

The politicians of the European Union and its Member States must determine the new, and true, potential of the enriched Taliban and must ensure that the European Union, as per its own rules, do not negotiate, nor fund, the Taliban. It is essential the decision makers in the EU ask the pointed questions and receive the relevant answers which ensure that any third parties or geopolitical partners who may be supporting the new regime in Afghanistan are prevented from doing so with European funds or endorsements. The European Union cannot afford to make any more mistakes with Afghanistan.

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