Fall Of Kabul: Nigeria On Red-Alert!

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Fall Of Kabul: Nigeria On Red-Alert!
  • Why Talibans took the country by storm
  • Nigerian insurgents getting further boost

Ameh George

The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan has taken the world by surprise.

In Africa, it compounds the worries and fear in countries struggling to crush Islamist insurgencies.

For over a decade now, there have been surges in the activities of extremist groups in East and West Africa, the Sahel and parts of southern Africa.

Many are Islamist militant groups with some form of affiliation to al-Qaeda, an organisation the United Nations (UN) has said shares links with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

AljazirahNigria scoop reports that Somalia-based media affiliated with the homegrown al-Shabab group hailed the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan in what could be seen as a show of support.

According to a political analyst who spoke with the media, “We are not so sure of the link between the Taliban and al-Shabab, whether these links are opportunistic on the part of al-Shabab or whether they are indeed organic links between the two movements”.

He says it’s still too early to judge, but the Taliban could even read meaning into such messages from Africa’s extremists to solidify their influence.

Already, anxiety is building up locally with concerns that the insurgency ravaging the country could escalate given the so-called exploit of the Taliban. It is feared the groups fighting different causes would now be more reinforced to continue in their causes.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of an “alarming” expansion of affiliates of the so-called “Islamic State” throughout Africa on the back of the situation in Afghanistan.

That position is shared by Kwesi Aning, the director of the faculty of academic affairs and research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana.

The developments in Afghanistan “Can potentially put all of us in Africa and the Sahel at risk,” Aning said on Accra-based Citi FM radio which was monitored by AljazirahNigeria.

Al-Shabab has for many years been fighting to topple Somalia’s UN-backed government and impose strict Sharia law in the country. The group has been behind deadly attacks in Somalia and the East Africa region.

In Nigeria’s case in particular, the Boko Haram group has been behind the killing of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of millions in West Africa.

Islamist militants are also active in the Sahel region and parts of the West African sub-region.

In Mozambique Islamist militants have caused havoc after seizing much of the far-north province of Cabo Delgado. More than 2,500 people have been killed and some 700,000 have fled their homes since the insurgency began in 2017, according to the UN.

Islamist extremists also operate in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Political analyst Kwesi Aning stressed the need for measures to guard Africa against any new threats that may arise as a result of the current Afghan crisis.

The executive director of the West Africa Centre for Counter-Extremism (WACCE), Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar, told AljazirahNigeria those extremists groups in Africa will only become emboldened by the happenings in Afghanistan.

There is the tendency to “Offer not only hope but some sense of legitimacy, a false sense of legitimacy for groups hoping to topple governments in the regions they operate”, he said.

France has announced that by 2022 it will reduce its military presence in the Sahel region with the process for closure of its bases in northern Mali earmarked to start by the end of 2021.

France, as the former colonial power in the Sahel region, has had troops in Mali since 2013. They aided local forces to oust Islamist extremists who had seized towns in Mali’s North.

The Taliban takeover in the wake of the US withdrawal has raised fears that the Sahel region could suffer a similar fate after the French mission ends.

Security analyst and researcher for Signal Risk in South Africa, Ryan Cummings, told AljazirahNigeria that France will have to reconsider its decision but said there could be other political considerations since “the French presence in the Sahel has not necessarily lead to either a decrease in operational capacity of extremists groups in this region, nor has it stemmed the degree of violence”.

The Nigerian government must as a case of urgency and necessity up her game on the fight against terrorism albeit the ideology of Boko Haram, ISWAP, al-Shabab and other extremist groups operating in parts of Africa may not be on one level with the Taliban, but for many experts, the Taliban triumph could spur them on. Experts say African governments must pay attention for that reason.

Cummings says African governments need to learn from the Afghan context and provide citizens with a better deal than what the extremists can provide.

“In many of cases, if we go into terrorism-afflicted states across the African continent, we see that these militant groups are actually surrogating the services of the state,” he said.

Extremists often provide the judicial and social services that have collapsed in many African countries and then exploit that to win support.

The WACCE executive director, Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar, wants to see African governments focus on “comprehensively dealing with the drivers of terrorism, not just terrorists, because terrorists are killed on the battlefield and terrorism is killed in the local community.”

Aning from the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre said what is happening in Afghanistan presents very useful lessons for Africa.

Western countries cannot “just come from somewhere…. superimpose their culture, values and army in a country, and think that will work”.

However, many congressional Republicans are blasting President Joe Biden’s handling of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan amid desperate scenes of Afghans scrambling to get out on airplanes.

Yet the decision to leave the country was originally negotiated under former President Donald Trump which allowed the Taliban to strengthen its position against the US-backed government, a circumstance most Republicans skirted around in their criticism.

After Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul over last weekend, GOP lawmakers effectively claimed that the Biden administration is solely to blame for the collapse of the Afghan government.

“The Biden Administration’s botched exit from Afghanistan including the frantic evacuation of Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul is a shameful failure of American leadership,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

While the highest-ranked Republican senator pointed out that both Republican and Democratic administrations over the past several years had overseen foreign policy failures in Afghanistan, he placed the brunt of the current situation on Biden.

“I have never hesitated to express myself candidly when leaders of either party threatened to put politics ahead of reality on the ground,” McConnell said. “But as the monumental collapse our own experts predicted unfolds in Kabul today (not Monday), responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of our current Commander-in-Chief.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has long opposed a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan, also faulted Biden over the ongoing crisis in the country.

“It is only a matter of time until al-Qaeda reemerges in Afghanistan and presents a threat to the American homeland and western world,” Graham said in a tweet. “President Biden seems oblivious to the terrorist threats that will come from a Taliban-run Afghanistan”.

Similarly, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, condemned the president and argued that he did not carry out Trump’s strategy.

“President Biden owns this mess – the blood is on his hands,” Inhofe said in a statement. “President Biden did not inherit the current withdrawal from President Trump, in fact, he has deviated from the previous administration’s plan and set his own disastrous course”.

“Biden needs to admit he made a strategic mistake leading to tragic consequences for U.S. national security and the Afghan people”, he added.

Some GOP lawmakers also criticised Biden, who had been on planned vacation at the presidential retreat Camp David, for staying silent on the issue as the Taliban seized control of Kabul.

“The American people deserve to hear immediately from their commander-in-chief and to know who’s in charge,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote on Twitter.

As the backlash mounts, Biden defended his decision to pull out during a speech at the White House.

Though the Biden administration executed the US withdrawal, it was the Trump administration that brokered a deal with the Taliban to pull out US troops. The agreement, signed in February 2020, stipulated that US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan within 14 months; the deal was much criticised for acceding to the Taliban demand of not including the Afghan government. At the time, the Taliban already controlled nearly half of the country.

Biden largely upheld the Trump-era deal, though he didn’t follow that exact timeline. Many observers argued the US’s agreement in principle to depart cost it leverage it could have used to compel the Taliban to adhere to the peace deal and the possibility of a cessation of hostilities.

After the negotiations, Trump began slimming down the US’ presence. By mid-January, there were only about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. To put this into perspective, there were more US troops deployed to Washington, DC, as a result of the January 6 insurrection than the number deployed in Afghanistan.

An Afghan Special Forces officer told the media that Trump’s withdrawal deal demoralised Afghan troops and made them feel as though a Taliban takeover was inevitable. “The day the deal was signed we saw the change. Everyone was just looking out for himself,” the officer said.

Trump had also criticised Biden over the Afghanistan withdrawal, contending that the president didn’t follow the plan he crafted. But outside of the original timeline, which would have seen US troops fully pulled out in May, Biden hardly diverged from Trump’s peace agreement.

Biden in a statement however placed the blame on Trump for the chaos in Afghanistan, arguing that he’d inherited a deal that “left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001.”

From Bush to Biden, US presidents failed in Afghanistan.

There is ample evidence that the US withdrawal has been rushed and sloppy, particularly when it comes to helping vulnerable Afghans who assisted the US during the conflict. However, the US’ ultimate failure in Afghanistan cannot be laid at the feet of a single president or administration.

The war in Afghanistan has been chaotic from start to finish, with US troops often unsure of their mission as multiple administrations – both Republican and Democratic – simultaneously misled the public about the state of the conflict.

Over the years, Americans were repeatedly told that the US was turning a corner in Afghanistan, but there was rarely evidence to back that up. The US invested $83 billion toward training and equipping Afghan forces, with little to show for it. The Afghan military consistently struggled with endemic corruption and discipline issues, exhibiting few signs that they could defeat the Taliban without US assistance.

Every president who has overseen this war made decisions that exacerbated the conflict in various ways.

The war in Afghanistan began in October 2001 under President George W. Bush, who within the first month of the conflict rejected an offer from the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden in exchange for the US to stop bombing the country. In May 2003, the Bush administration declared that “major combat” was over in Afghanistan. As time would show, this was exceptionally premature.

President Obama unveiled a timeline to bring US troops home by 2016. He declared an end to the US combat mission in the country in December 2014, but the war was nowhere near being finished – and US troops remained in Afghanistan when he left office.

There was no clear cut plan about what would transpire in Afghanistan, but recent events are a product of years of poor decision-making by the US. Like other empires before it, the US has learned the hard way that no amount of military might and money can fundamentally change a complex country like Afghanistan.

Consequently, it is at this point that the prompt intervention of Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari becomes relevant. In an article published in the Financial Times of London, the same day Kabul fell to the Taliban, Buhari placed his fingers rightly on the threat that the fall of Kabul poses to Africa. He referred to Africa as “the new frontline of global militancy” and called for global action to fight terrorism. He says: “We must not complacently assume that military means alone can defeat the terrorists. If Afghanistan has taught a lesson, it is that although sheer force can blunt terror, its removal can cause the threat to return.” Indeed, there are many lessons to learn from the Afghan debacle. He would go on subsequently to say that “a lack of hope is the chief recruiting sergeant for the continent’s new brand of terrorism.”

However, residents of the Federal Capital Territory and others are living in apprehension over the news of the fall of Kabul as the Taliban Islamic group has begun to act in line with the dictum of extremist Islamic religion. Nigerians are of the view that the fight against terrorist Boko Haram and ISWAP who take communities especially in the North-east is not yielding the needed results as there is a lot of politicking ongoing. The soldiers were killed daily by these rag-tagged terrorists whose firing power seems to be superior to that of the Nigerian soldiers known for their gallantry.

In a chat with Abdullahi Mamood a resident of the FCT said that the news in Afghanistan was not palatable as this has put him and many Nigerians especially those of the North in apprehension for fear of the unknown. He appealed to Mr.President and the Chief of Army Staff, Air Staff to redouble their efforts as what happened in Kabul should not repeat in the FCT, Abuja.

Also Hajia Bilikisu, a resident of the FCT expressed shock about the news coming from Kabul the capital of Afghanistan, saying that even as a Muslim, extremism is not Islamic and should be rejected by any right thinking person. According to her, Afghanistan has been a Muslim country of over 97% but accommodated people of other religions, with the takeover by Taliban what will be the fate of those few percentage of people of other faith.

Nigerians all over expressed displeasure over the Taliban feat that it might trickle down to Africa especially Nigeria which by military performance were rated low and the President’s action in his deradicalisation and reintegration into the society. They were shocked that the Army is planning to integrate the repentant Boko Haram into the Nigerian Army. This was exactly what failed the U.S. mission in Afghanistan as acclaimed repented Taliban were providing information and helping the group to advance their course. Nigerians are calling on Buhari to teach the terrorists and bandits in the language they will understand because the citizens are not ready to welcome any take over from the terrorist sects.