West is losing the 'Great Game’ for Afghanistan

A wave of mass revenge killings is being carried out by extremists

Afghan security personnel go on patrol after parts of the city of Herat were taken back from the Taliban. AP
Powered by automated translation

Foreign embassies are hurrying to destroy spare weapons to avoid them falling into the hands of the Taliban as the insurgents close in on Afghan cities, military sources have told The National.

Security experts said it was inevitable the militants would shelter ISIS and Al Qaeda, allowing the groups to use Afghanistan “once again as a playground for terrorists”.

The last foreign troops have not yet left the country, but Afghan soldiers and police are said to be selling US-made rifles and vehicles to the Taliban.

Reports shared with The National by people in the country suggest that revenge killings of army commanders and government officials are under way.

Former British commanders last week said that the country is likely to once again become a safe haven for terrorists, as it did for Al Qaeda, allowing it to plot the 9/11 attacks.

Adnan Sarwar, a former soldier and counter-ISIS propaganda expert from the UK, said such concerns were growing.

“The Taliban are going to take over the country,” he said.

“They’re going to become more powerful and who knows what they will do with that power? Who knows if they will get into bed with ISIS?”

Plans for a battalion from the UK's Parachute Regiment to provide a security cordon during an emergency evacuation of Kabul have been shelved, defence sources said.

If and when it appears likely that the Taliban will take the capital, embassy staff will be taken from Kabul largely using their own close protection teams.

Western military sources said stockpiles of rifles, ammunition and armoured vehicles are being destroyed. With fewer embassy staff remaining, they are no longer required.

“If it’s not needed it’s being chopped up fairly rapidly,” one source said.

“Anything they can’t take with them is being rendered useless so they don’t fall into Taliban hands. They’re just getting rid of anything that they don’t need, which is quite unusual.”

Veteran military commanders believe US air strikes and small detachments of special forces on the ground will not be enough to stop the advances.

A security analyst who previously commanded 1,000 British troops in Helmand said the only hope was that Kabul could withstand the Taliban until the summer “fighting season” ends in late September.

“But Afghanistan will inevitably fall to the Taliban and that will only be the start of its problems,” he said.

“It will almost certainly become a failed state, although the Chinese could intervene, support the Taliban and prop them up with loans and mining investment as it is a mineral-rich country.

“The West just doesn’t have any clout with the Taliban, so if they become the official government, who knows what that means? For the West, this has proved strategically a complete disaster.

"It’s a massive opportunity for the Chinese to win the ‘Great Game’.”

A former Afghan interpreter for coalition forces who has many relatives in the country said morale among the security forces had collapsed.

“They can’t fight any more because they’ve lost motivation from the government and their families are living in areas where the enemy has more influence on them.”

Taliban commanders were also extremely experienced from two decades of fighting and their numbers of been bolstered by the release from jail of 5,000 battle-hardened fighters.

“One of the biggest motivating factors we are seeing is a massive amount of revenge in their mindset,” he said.

The “early indicators” were showing that women are being beaten and killed in streets and the Taliban were “doing all the things that they were doing last time, so there’s no change there”.

Afghan warlords are understood to have asked American and British private military contractors to bring in former soldiers to train local troops in resisting the Taliban.

It is not known whether they will be able to halt the Taliban, although it is hoped they could create pockets of resistance that could grow.

“At the moment, this is a massive mess and very difficult for the Afghan people,” the former interpreter said.

“There will soon be many refugees. Kabul will be cut off and surrounded in winter and the foreign embassies will leave. The outlook is bad, very bad.”

Updated: August 10, 2021, 8:11 AM