As the U.S. and the Taliban are on the brink of securing a peace deal that would remove U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, a new report cautions that Afghan warlords are readying for a potential civil war.
According to analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, ethnic groups in Afghanistan including Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras are preparing for a possible civil war once U.S. and NATO forces depart Afghanistan — similar to the civil war that ensued after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989.
“Afghanistan is dangerously poised for a new Afghan Civil War reminiscent of the instability that followed the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in the 1990s,” Afghanistan research assistant Scott DesMarais wrote in the analysis published Aug. 15.
The analysis claims these groups have signaled they’ve already started mobilizing their communities in order to safeguard them against the Taliban, a Pashtun organization. Pashtuns comprise more than 40 percent of the Afghan population, according to the World Atlas.
“These preparations in and of themselves raise the likelihood of a new civil war by increasing the strength of power centers outside the Government of Afghanistan and setting conditions for a rapid dissolution of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF),” DesMarais writes.
In particular, the analysis cites a local media report claiming that local militias of former Tajik Mujahedeen have started to remobilizing alongside the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir province because of an uptick in threats against the province from the Taliban. The media report, published by TOLO News, claims the area has “changed to a hub for insurgents’ activities over the past few weeks.”
The Taliban was birthed during the Afghanistan Civil War from 1992-1996, and is largely comprised of Pashtuns. The Taliban led Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, but was ultimately overthrown by the U.S. after the 9/11 terrorist attacks for providing a safe haven for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The U.S. was aided by the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras who created the Northern Alliance to challenge the Taliban.
But now, the Taliban has secured approximately half of Afghan territory — marking its strongest position since 2001. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has spearheaded recent negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban for a peace agreement, but the Afghan government has largely been shuttered from negotiations.
The U.S. and the Taliban wrapped up its most recent rounds of negotiations on Monday. The agreement is expected to call for withdrawing an ample number of the roughly 14,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan who primarily handle advising and training Afghan security forces.
As a result, DesMarais cautioned that the peace plan would cripple the Afghan government.
“It will remove the government’s core source of leverage over the Taliban — namely, the military forces and international aid money brought by the U.S. and NATO to Afghanistan,” DesMarais said.
The analysis cited international and local media reports, along with academic reports and Facebook posts from leaders of the ethnic groups.
According to an NBC News report from Aug. 2, President Donald Trump has said he is aiming to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, Trump is expected to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton on Friday to discuss the peace plan with the Taliban, CNN reports.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from the president’s own party remain concerned about a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. For example, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voiced concern that terrorist groups would pose a threat to the U.S.
“If we leave Afghanistan without a counterterrorism force, without intelligence gathering capability, ISIS will reemerge, al-Qaida will come back. They will occupy safe havens in Afghanistan, they will hit the homeland, they will come after us all over the world,” Graham said Monday during an interview with Fox News.