Kabul could fall to Taliban before end of the year, say western analysts

WASHINGTON: Kabul could fall to the Taliban in less than a year, and possibly as early as three to six months after full withdrawal of US troops slated to be completed by September 11, 2021. That’s the alarming assessment from American and western intelligence analysts ahead of the meeting in the White House on Friday between US President Joe Biden and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Amid disconcerting reports from Afghanistan of towns and districts falling rapidly to Taliban, US agencies are quickly revising the dire prospects of the extremists overrunning Kabul, with scenarios recalling the fall of Saigon.
Alarmed by Taliban gains, White House officials considered slowing down the pace of withdrawal, which could include keeping Bagram Air Base to allow the US military to maintain evacuation exigencies for US and NATO personnel, other foreign citizens and the tens of thousands of Afghans who supported the US over the years, but they were reportedly overruled by President Biden, who decided this week to proceed with closing down the base.
The developments, first reported by the Wall Street Journal citing unnamed US officials, comes amid celebratory accounts, including photos and footage of Taliban overrunning key Afghan towns. In one such incident, a lone Taliban gunman with a red skull cap and a rifle is seen taking a selfie at the gates of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan’s fourth largest city, over which the Taliban relinquished control soon after 9/11 in what was its first major defeat.
The prospect of Taliban overrunning a disintegrating Afghanistan amid a US evacuation is evoking comparison to the fall of Saigon, which survived for two years after the US withdrawal from Vietnam before yielding the famous photos of people clambering aboard a helicopter parked on a rooftop.
Indeed, the initial US assessment was that Kabul too could withstand the Taliban for couple of years, and perhaps even longer with western support, but that outlook appears optimistic given reports from Afghanistan of government troops giving up without a fight and handing over US equipment to the Taliban.
According to UN’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyon, the Taliban is now in control of 50 out of the country’s 370 districts, but she warned UN Security Council earlier this week that worse was yet to come. “Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” Lyon said.
Recent Taliban videos from their latest offensive reveal that in some cases they are winning without firing a shot, CNN reported on Thursday, citing a cell phone recording showing the surrender of an Afghan army convoy of American-made armored Humvees. “The Afghan soldiers throw their guns in an untidy pile as another of their number takes down the national flag from one of the vehicles. The Taliban move in to claim their prize: Fast-moving, relatively safe firepower, the likes of which no country would sell them,” the network reported.
US officials say there is no plan to go back on President Biden’s pledge for American forces to leave Afghanistan by September 11, but left a small window open, indicating that the administration would be flexible, if nothing else to save the Afghan government, which is also backed by New Delhi.
“It is a dynamic situation. If there need to be changes made to the pace or to the scope and scale of the retrograde on any given day or in any given week, we want to maintain the flexibility to do that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said earlier this week.

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