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Taliban’s intensified attacks suggest humiliating US defeat in Afghanistan — expert

As the American contingent continues to leave Afghanistan, forces opposing the Taliban, including in the north of the country, are falling through, says Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrei Kortunov

MOSCOW, July 5. /TASS/. The intensified attacks by the Taliban radical group (outlawed in Russia) in Afghanistan amid the US troop pullout are evidence that the West’s operation in that country has suffered a defeat, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrei Kortunov told TASS on Monday.

"In my view, the situation is developing under a scenario unfavorable for the United States. The attempts to rely on some forces opposing the Taliban, including in the north of Afghanistan, are falling through. So far, the situation is developing towards the humiliating defeat of the United States and the entire NATO contingent present there," the expert pointed out.

"To all appearances, the Taliban’s offensive is proceeding far quicker than predicted," he added.

As the Taliban is advancing farther, it is getting more likely that "quite a resolute change of power will take place" in Afghanistan and "there will be no coalition government there while the Taliban will simply enter Kabul and seize the country," Kortunov said.

"The United States has failed to reach a compromise with the Taliban, which considers itself as the winner in this war. The government in Kabul and the Taliban group are not yet ready to make considerable concessions. The date of the US troop pullout has been announced. In this sense, the United States has lost its lever of influence on the Taliban that it had earlier," the expert noted.

Keeping US presence

Despite the decision to pull out its troops, several options exist for the United States to keep a partial presence in Afghanistan, Kortunov said.

"Various reservations are possible with regard to keeping American advisers and special operations forces after the date of the final withdrawal. In this case, some presence will remain to help resist the Taliban’s advance. However, this is fraught with great risks. If the Taliban’s offensive continues, the losses of US personnel may grow," the expert explained.

Washington is considering the option of gaining access to military infrastructure "around Afghanistan, first of all, in Central Asian states" to use it for supporting the government in Kabul from the air, Kortunov said.

"Actually, the Americans will be performing the function that the Russian air taskforce is fulfilling in Syria. But there is no clarity about how sufficient this support will be. Most experts view this option skeptically because pro-Iranian militia groups played a big role in Syria, apart from the Russian air support, and so on," the expert remarked.

Besides, the West can promise "substantial economic and technical support" to the Taliban in exchange for settling the situation in the country but "it is difficult to say how significant this motivation is for the Taliban because this is quite a specific political force that is not interested in modernizing the country," Kortunov pointed out.

IS threat

The stronger positions of the Islamic State terrorist group (outlawed in Russia) on Afghan soil pose a serious threat, the expert said.

"The Islamic State is more dangerous than the Taliban in the sense that with all their specific political guidelines, the Taliban militants are, first and foremost, Afghan nationalists who are seeking to place the country under their control while they lack any articulated plans for expanding internationally and regionally. However, ISIL [the former name of the Islamic State terrorist group] or Al-Qaeda [both outlawed in Russia] undoubtedly have such plans. For them, Afghanistan is just a site for planning operations," Kortunov specified.

"There exist acute disagreements and rivalry between ISIL and the Taliban, and they are fighting against each other. But it cannot be ruled out that the Taliban and the ISIL may reach some tactical agreement that the Taliban will control the country and permit ISIL as it earlier allowed Al-Qaeda to use the territory of Afghanistan as some bridgehead for operations outside Afghanistan. This, of course, will be the most unpleasant scenario for the countries around it, including for Russia," the expert cautioned.

Role of Afghanistan’s neighbors

Moscow will continue advocating "multilateral solutions and the search for some common grounds in the Afghan settlement, Kortunov said.

Russia has quite active contacts with the government in Kabul and consultations with the Taliban group are also ongoing, he said.

"Russia is interested in securing the unity of views of major regional actors on the problems of Afghanistan. It seems to me that it is very hard to imagine a scenario, under which Moscow would be ready to interfere in the situation in Afghanistan with the use of military force. This is unlikely to happen, I believe," the expert emphasized.

"Neighboring states should take major efforts to normalize the situation in Afghanistan," he said. "These issues can be discussed within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, all the more so as Afghanistan has an observer status in it, with the prospect of gaining full-fledged membership. I have a feeling that now Russia pins great hopes on interaction with Pakistan because Pakistan has considerable influence on the Taliban. The Afghan-Pakistani border is largely imaginary," the expert specified.

"Simultaneously, some multilateral projects will be offered for the country’s post-conflict recovery in partnership with China and Central Asian states. Iran should also play a certain role. Western Afghanistan remains the country’s most stable part, i.e. Iran acts as a responsible constructive force in this case," Kortunov pointed out.

Deterioration in Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden announced on April 14 that he had made a decision to complete the operation in Afghanistan that had been the longest overseas military campaign in US history. The American contingent is expected to leave Afghanistan by September 11. At the peak of the US military operation in Afghanistan in 2010-2013, the Western coalition of forces exceeded 150,000 troops in that country. The major US and NATO combat units were withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014.

Despite the contacts that the delegations of the Afghan government and the Taliban movement have recently resumed in Doha (Qatar), the hostilities in Afghanistan are intensifying amid the US troop pullout from the country. On July 1, the American troops left the Bagram airbase near Kabul, which had been their main base in the country.

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby has said that the US military contingent will be withdrawn from Afghanistan as planned and the current situation in the country will not affect the scheduled timeframe.