Army Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, stepped down from his post in Kabul on Monday, another sign of the military's departure from the country after nearly 20 years. Many foreign policy experts have raised concerns, however, about the threat of the Taliban's expansion and what the future for Afghan women will look like if the government falls.
When President Joe Biden announced his plans to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a move former President Donald Trump also planned to make, foreign policy experts and top military commanders warned the decision to pull out and not leave 2,500 soldiers could compromise the country's security.
Biden initially planned to remove all troops from Afghanistan by Sep. 11, the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, but he said on Thursday that all U.S. troops should be withdrawn by Aug. 31, minus the number of soldiers needed to secure the U.S. Embassy.
Biden said the Afghan people will have to decide their own future instead of relying on the U.S., which has aided the government for nearly two decades, Reuters reported.
As U.S. troops vacate the region, the Taliban has been posting propaganda videos, one of which shows its men stationed at a U.S.-built border crossing between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Muslim insurgent group also claims it's now occupying more territory than the Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani.
A Taliban official recently said that "85% of the territory of Afghanistan has come under the control” of the Taliban," according to Reuters. Others have estimated that the Taliban now has control of one-third of all districts in the country, and that number could increase if Afghan security forces continue to surrender without putting up a fight.
Last month, U.S. intelligence agencies revised their prospects for the country, saying it's possible the Afghan government could fall to the Taliban as early as six months after U.S. troops leave.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, one of the original members of the U.S. Army's Delta Force, said the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is essential to keep the Taliban in check and protect women.
He does not, however, believe the U.S. should maintain a presence of combat troops.
“I believe we should have pulled our front-line combat troops out right after Osama bin Laden was killed [who was killed in 2011] …,” said Boykin, who's also the former commander of the Army's Green Berets and executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
“So I think that what we should be doing now is rather than pulling everybody out is keeping a robust military advisory group to train and work with the Afghans. A security apparatus to protect the embassy and a multi-agency intelligence capability to provide us with early warning if there is going to be another attack coming out of that part of the world.”
With the absence of a substantial U.S. military presence, Boykin, like former President George W. Bush, said he expects to see the Taliban regain control of virtually the whole country.
“So what does that mean for the people? It means they’re going to go back to Sharia, Islamic law,” he stressed. “It means they’re going to discriminate against women. They’re not going to let any more women be educated even though they have made a pledge that they would treat women well, according to their laws and customs.”
While women continue to have limited rights in Afghanistan, the presence of U.S. and allied troops since 2001 has enabled a “generation of women" to obtain an education and have successful careers.
“It won’t come immediately, but it will come when we lose our focus on Afghanistan and the rest of the world is focused on something else,” he told CP on Friday. “You’re going to see those same laws that were in place in 2001, you’re going to see those same laws re-implemented, and it’s going to be very bad for women.”
Boykin does, however, believe there will be more pushback on the Taliban this time since more women have been educated in the last two decades.
“The good news is, because of the 20 years we’ve been there, we’ve got a generation of women that have been educated in Afghanistan because of the U.S. presence, because we built schools, because we insisted on allowing them to be educated. And I’ll tell you, I believe that’s a force the Taliban has probably not thought about. But I think this is a force that’s going to be a major obstacle for the Taliban …,” he explained.
Even though Afghan women are not “liberated” in the same sense as women living in the U.S. and other Western countries, the fact that they now have more rights will prove to be a major obstacle to the Taliban, he reiterated.
“I think they now feel that they have more power because they’re educated women, so that’s a positive in this whole thing,” he continued. “I think that they’re going to have to reckon with them.”
Afghan women face a reversal of the rights gained in the last two decades and restricted education once the U.S. decreases its presence and the Taliban expands control, some experts warn.
“I think there’s going to be more of a pushback, and I think ... the women are going to be the primary leaders of that, and I think the Taliban’s not prepared to deal with it,” he said. “… I think you are going to see the women pushing back and the Taliban not knowing exactly how to deal with it, other than just start killing people."
Afghan women have already taken to the streets with guns in northern and central Afghanistan to show defiance as the Taliban makes gains across the country, The Guardian reported.
The Taliban is known for enforcing restrictions on women's education, clothing and freedom of movement.
In a scathing op-ed in The Telegraph last week, Shabnam Nasimi, a British-Afghan social activist and director of Conservative Friends of Afghanistan, also highlighted the monumental gains many Afghan women have experienced due to the U.S. government's intervention.
"... Millions of girls are now in school. There are women at the top of politics — with a combined 28 percent representation in the House of the People and the House of the Elders, Afghanistan has a higher proportion of national parliament seats held by women than the United States. In the major cities, for the first time in decades, it has been possible for women to live largely independent lives."
But, Nasumi warned, all of the progress made by Afghan women could be lost if the Taliban regains control. "The West isn’t just squandering 20 years of blood and treasure by leaving Afghanistan. It’s betraying millions of ordinary Afghanistanis, particularly women, who had been led to believe they would have a better life following the toppling of the Taliban in 2001."
Bush also warned back in April that the U.S. troop withdrawal would empower the “brutal” Taliban and endanger girls' lives during an interview on NBC's "Today" show.
"A lot of gains have been made, and so I'm deeply concerned about the plight of women and girls in that country," Bush said at the time.
Boykin said it would be best to maintain a military advisory, a security force for the U.S. Embassy and a robust intelligence capability to have a “perfect, sustainable U.S. presence there that could go on indefinitely.”
Boykin also predicts that China will have a “huge impact” in Afghanistan following the U.S. departure.
“China is already trying to fill the void of the United States pulling out of there,” he added.
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org