It has been fourteen years since United States forces invaded Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks in New York.
The ostensible reason for the invasion and subsequent toppling from power of the Taliban-controlled government was due to their links with Al-Qaeda and jihadist networks. Since then, though it is undeniable that large parts of Afghanistan have much improved, the country is still plagued by many problems such as corruption, and all the while the Taliban have shown recently that they are far from a spent force in the country.
Last month, the Taliban managed to claim what was perhaps their greatest victory since 2001, in which they managed to take brief control of Afghanistan’s fifth largest city, the northern provincial town of Kunduz. The embarrassing loss of this city by the Afghan central government was followed by an even more problems when in the ensuing re-taking of the city, US forces bombed a Medecins Sans Frontières hospital, apparently on the orders of the Afghan government.
But how much of a threat do the Taliban currently pose? Though the minimum figure often given for the number of districts effectively controlled by the group is 35 (out of Afghanistan’s 398), many say that their true influence could well be in one-fifth of the country.
The Taliban have been responsible for around three-quarters of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan and so their recent successes are a worrying sign. Many of the Afghans currently fleeing into Europe have left areas under Taliban control or of ongoing fighting.
Most Afghans, and indeed the Afghan government from time to time, accuse Pakistani intelligence services of providing support for the Islamic fundamentalist group and it’s hard not to take this accusation seriously when looking at their continued and unrelenting insurgency, as well as comments from senior figures in the Pakistani ISI.
And of course ISIS/Daesh’s continued growth has not been ignored in Afghanistan, where the establishment of an ISIS branch in “Khorasan” has seen them compete with the Taliban, as well as other smaller splinter jihadist groups, for growth and influence.
Continuing US military operations in Afghanistan seemed to have done little to stop the Taliban from being a huge force in the country and it is difficult to see how continued military engagement will end the threat that for fourteen years has seen no end to its growth and support. The brunt of military action is felt by the poorest people in the country who happen to be unlucky enough to live in districts run by the Taliban.
It seems that Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan isn’t going to be finished any time soon and, while military operations still continue from Kabul, as always it’s the ordinary Afghans who are stuck in the middle.