Ruslan Trad: EU response to events in Afghanistan is inadequate

The threat of terrorist attacks in Europe is great and it has nothing to do with the Afghan war or the influx of refugees

It is absurd that with their initial reactions Brussels and European leaders signalled to the Taliban that they could feel like possible partners. We have no reason to believe that the Taliban can form any type of legitimate government. However, regional powers such as Russia, China and Iran are likely to lend legitimacy to the Taliban - they have already signalled such intentions, says Ruslan Trad, journalist and Middle East analyst, in an interview to EUROPOST.

Mr Trad, why did the world prove so unprepared for the Taliban retaking Afghanistan when there was every indication that this would happen?

The truth is that the world, and the US in particular, was aware of where the situation was headed. Over the past few years, troops on the ground had increasingly violent clashes with the Taliban, who kept building their own institutions parallel to the official ministries, courts and security forces. All of this was described multiple times in great detail by the special envoys of both the US and the EU to Afghanistan. They painted a picture of misappropriations of funds, corruption and influence exerted by regional powers such as Russia, Pakistan and Iran. All of this was well known. The world was aware that one day the Taliban would recapture Kabul and that they had never severed their ties to Al-Qaeda.

And yet, not much was done to stop these processes. Soon after the 2001 invasion, there was this sentiment among American politicians that an end must be put to the war, at least as far as the US involvement was concerned. When it comes to the EU, there was no common policy to speak of - we are constantly reminded that Brussels does not have one, neither in foreign nor in security affairs.

Why did the billions spent, mostly by the US, on training the Afghan army and building government bodies, fail to provide the expected result, offering the Taliban almost no resistance?

The allocation of enormous amounts of funds is not a sufficient condition for success. This has been proven not only by Afghanistan but also other regions around the world. In addition to spending, there needs to be real support for the institutions, the government and the local security forces. There was such coordination on paper, but the reality on the ground was very different. One of the biggest problems of Afghanistan is corruption, which is ubiquitous. It played a part in the Taliban taking control of Kabul and other cities.

In that sense, it is worth reminding that the Afghan security forces were constantly engaged in battles - they were shot at, attacked, kidnapped and threatened. Over the past eight years, the Taliban launched sustained military efforts in several Afghan provinces. On the one hand, they attacked army and police positions, and on the other hand, they launched social media campaigns that undermined the image and competency of the government. The Taliban are well versed in manipulations, especially on the subject of corruption. Realistically speaking, the major cities were under siege for years. What is transpiring now is the culmination of all those actions.

The Afghan army lost over 66,000 people fighting the Taliban - this represents half of the actual number of its military. Finally, I would like to note that the coalition forces and the US are also at fault for starting to withdraw contractors and troops from Afghanistan, sometimes without coordinating those moves with the authorities in Kabul. Over 17,000 contractors from Washington were pulled out in a span of just several months, taking with them even airplane and helicopter mechanics. Without aerial support, the clashes with the Taliban were gradually lost.

The government of Ashraf Ghani is also to blame after practically handing Kabul to the Taliban, even though the military command had reason to believe that the army could defend the city and put the cabinet in a better position to negotiate. The political leadership failed the military.

Where do the Taliban get their money from?

Official reports of the UN and the US have been unequivocal in their assessments over the years. The Taliban, like other similar movements, have been funded in many ways. They do not rely on official funding sources or on transactions via traceable accounts. The Taliban support a huge network of foreign donations, and they have a supporting network in Pakistan. They were also taking fees and taxes from the population that was under their control even before the recent offensive that has led to the fall of Kabul. It is no coincidence that the Taliban firstly attacked the border crossings with neighbouring countries - from a single one of these checkpoints, the Afghan government received more than $20m a year.

What do you expect to happen in the region in the coming weeks?

It is still largely unknown. Regional powers also have a say, as they have their interests in Afghanistan. Probably, the Taliban will try to cope with the rising resistance movement from both the society and the forces of Ahmad Massoud and former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who are recruiting thousands of fighters north of Kabul. The Taliban will also have to solve their problems with Islamic State, which has been their enemy for years. It will be significant whether a Taliban government is formed or not.

What should be the position of the EU towards the new regime in Kabul?

Unfortunately, the EU is not responding adequately at this point. When the news of the possible fall of Kabul first broke, the EU's top diplomat said that the government and the Taliban should talk and clear up their political misunderstandings. They have no “political misunderstandings”. The Taliban are not just a political party that wants to be involved in government. However, those positions, as well as the following positions expressed by Chancellor Merkel and other leaders, have shown the Taliban that they could feel like possible partners. It is absurd. We have no reason to believe that the Taliban can form any type of legitimate government. However, regional powers such as Russia, China and Iran are likely to lend legitimacy to the Taliban - they have already signalled such intentions in statements on multiple occasions. If the Taliban can provide secure borders and investment opportunities, then these countries will turn a blind eye to their regime. China has already set the tone - the Chinese want access to Afghanistan's mineral deposits and they would work with anyone who provides a corridor for action.

Apart from refugees, will Europe face a new threat of terrorist attacks?

The threat of terrorist attacks has always been great in recent years, and it has nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan or the influx of refugees. Let us recall that the main bombers in Europe were citizens of the respective European countries and their motives have nothing to do with the military conflicts. Yes, there will be a refugee wave but many Afghans are fleeing the same enemy that Europe has - terrorism.

Close up

Ruslan Trad is an analyst, author and freelance journalist with a focus on the Middle East, Africa and conflict zones. He has lectured in Bulgarian universities, the Diplomatic Institute with the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NATO, and has published a series of articles on Lebanon, Southeastern Turkey, Tunisia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Thailand. In 2017, his book Murder of a Revolution was published. The book is dedicated to the war in Syria. His second book, The Russian Invisible Armies, co-authored with Kiril Avramov, treats the subject of the Russian mercenary companies. He is also a cofounder of De Re Militari Journal - the only journal in Bulgaria covering military conflicts and producing maps related to them.

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