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US Marines keep watch as unseen Afghan National Army soldiers participate in an IED (improvised explosive device) training exercise at the Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand. Image Credit: AFP

America’s involvement in Afghanistan has been a failure of mega proportions. Lest we forget the Bush administration’s military intervention was premised on driving Al Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden out of his cave. That much was achieved except that he evaded capture and fled with his retinue to Pakistan where he went into hiding until he was killed by US Navy Seals ten years later in 2011. Intelligence led to his capture not a neocon-driven devastating war.

The Taliban, which were not a party to 9/11 but rather Bin Laden’s hosts, were warned ‘give him up or face the consequences’. Afghans who had suffered under the brutal rule of the Taliban were promised freedom and democracy. What they got was 18 years of terror, destruction and bloodshed caught between US-led military coalition air strikes and terrorist bombings. A UN report asserts that almost 1,400 Afghan civilians were killed during the first six months of this year alone with just over half attributed to air strikes carried out by the Afghan Air Force and its allies.

How naive were Laura Bush and Cherie Blair who got together in 2001 to promote the war so that women could at last bin the burqa and wear nail polish without fear of having their fingernails torn out! While Afghan women do have rights on paper, including the right to an education, according to the United Nations only 15 per cent are literate, 60 per cent are forced into marriage and the country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates on the planet.

Afghanistan has been victimised by the Soviets, the Taliban, Western military intervention and its people, still paying the price, worry there may be worse to come.

- Linda S. Heard, British political columnist

Jamila Afghani, a champion of women’s rights, told Medica Mondiale how her hopes had been dashed. “Eighteen years and almost two trillion dollars later, the country is still deep in chaos and the Taliban have more influence than ever before,” she says.

She is correct. As of October last year, “almost half of Afghan districts are contested or under insurgent control” as opposed to less than 30 per cent in 2015 reads a US military report published last April.

Today Al Qaida is “closely allied with and embedded within the Taliban,” which “provide operating space for about 20 terrorist groups with thousands of fighters” was a UN Security Council summing-up last year.

However, the Trump administration’s thrust to bill its efforts to reach an agreement with the Taliban on the promise of a US troop drawdown as preliminary to a troop withdrawal can be viewed as nothing more than an admission of failure. Many Afghans have expressed fears of being thrown to the wolves.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy charged with negotiations taking place in Doha, says he is pleased with the Taliban’s pledge to prevent foreign terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base to plot attacks on the international community.

Taliban’s condition for talks

For its part, the Taliban is being asked to sign a ceasefire agreement before attending face-to-face meetings with Afghan government officials. That, however, is one of the sticking points. A week ago, a spokesman for the Taliban’s office in Qatar turned down an invitation to hold direct talks with Ashraf Ghani’s government until the US commits to pulling out all coalition forces.

So everything is hunky dory. The White House wants out of the mess created by George W. Bush and the Taliban wants in. The problem is that this is not 2001 when the Taliban were defeated and scattered. They are no longer the underdogs but a force with which to be reckoned. Can they be relied upon to abide by agreements made with the US once the last coalition soldier has shipped out? Only a fool would fall for that.

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Trump is no fool. He’s had enough of investing in a lost cause and believes that bringing troops home is an election-winning move. So he is basically throwing up his hands and leaving Afghans to sort out their own affairs.

The Taliban are ruthless extremists who share the ideology of Al Qaida and Daesh. The have murdered untold numbers of their own people including women and children with bombs placed in heavily populated areas such as markets. Even as peace talks were ongoing last month, Taliban fighters detonated a car bomb in Kabul incurring multiple fatalities and over 100 injuries.

By every definition the Taliban have evolved into a terrorist organisation. Of course their goal is to win back control of the country they once governed with an iron fist and if a window is opened sufficiently wide, they might well succeed.

Afghanistan has been victimised by the Soviets, the Taliban, Western military intervention and its people, still paying the price, worry there may be worse to come. It seems to me that their concerns are sadly well founded.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.