Does the Taliban victory in Afghanistan mean the end of US global clout?

·4-min read

The Taliban's rapid seizure of power in Afghanistan has been seen by some in the Middle East as a signal that the region can no longer depend on the United States. While anti-Western factions have welcomed the Taliban victory, the group's advance has also triggered concerns that Afghanistan could once more become a haven for islamist militants.

Fighting to expel foreign forces since being overthrown in 2001, the Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday after a lightning offensive as US-led Western forces withdrew.

In the Middle East, where the United States has long been the dominant outside power, events in Afghanistan could prompt some governments to forge new or parallel alliances.

"What happened in Afghanistan reinforces the conviction of numerous Arab regimes that the US role in the Arab and Islamic world ... is regressing," said Mohammad Abu Rumman, a Jordanian analyst and former minister.

"It is time to reduce dependence on Washington in the strategic realm," Emirati analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla wrote in The National.

Writing on Twitter, Abdullah said of the Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, that he "may be among the most prominent candidates for the presidency of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

The Emirati analyst added: "These are the new rulers of Afghanistan. Qualifications, differences and renewed conflict between the various wings of the Taliban movement for power should not be excluded."

Resistance to Western intervention

Western policy and military interventions have sparked resistance movements for decades in the Middle East, and some have welcomed the retreat of foreign forces.

The Houthi movement in Yemen and Lebanon's Hezbollah, both aligned with Iran, made statements drawing attention to what they called US failure and humiliation.

Hezbollah said the American withdrawal should serve as a lesson to US-aligned groups in Lebanon not to depend on Washington as an ally.

"In order not to fight on behalf of anyone, he [US President Joe Biden] accepted bearing a historic and humiliating defeat in Afghanistan," Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said during a Tuesday night sermon.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, congratulated the Taliban and the Afghan people.

Gazans were reportedly pleased about the Taliban's advance, which offered encouragement to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

Implications for French intervention in Sahel

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, France joined the international coalition with the sole objective of capturing Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

At peak involvement, France had over 4,000 troops and police officers deployed in Afghanistan, but withdrew its main military contingent from the country in 2012. Eighty-six French servicemen lost their lives in the conflict.

France's main overseas engagement since then has been the counter-insurgency Operation Barkhane, headquartered in the Chadian capital N'djamena since 2014, where over 5000 troops are deployed.

Following recent difficulties within the governments of Chad, Niger and Mali, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to end the anti-jihadist operation by 2022.

Retired French General Dominique Trinquand told RFI that events in Afghanistan will have an impact on France's intervention in north Africa.

"What has happened in Afghanistan has given jihadists a fantastic window to showcase that the overthrow of Kabul was the will of God. They will be emboldened to demonstrate that Sharia law is the will of God.

"But when it comes to France's role in the Sahel," the general says, "the African governments will now point to the fall of Kabul and say 'look what happened there'. Despite their flaws, the constitutions of countries like Niger and Mali enshrine universal human rights, not Sharia law.

Agressive invasions

Meanwhile in the Persian Gulf, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Hamad al-Khalili, the Grand Mufti of Oman, which has a longstanding policy of neutrality, welcomed the victory over "aggressor invaders".

However, reactions were tempered by concern over resurgent militancy in Afghanistan, where before 2001 many Arab fighters were trained under Taliban rule for insurgencies back home.

Several groups aligned with al-Qaeda have welcomed the Taliban's success.

The Taliban's capture of Kabul could accelerate a trend of jihadists heading for Afghanistan.

President Macron, along with other Western leaders, has underlined that Afghanistan can not be allowed to return to being a safe haven where islamist groups can train fighters and plan attacks.

A Taliban spokesman has hinted that the group will impose laws less aggressively than during their harsh 1996-2001 rule and that women's rights "will be respected according to Sharia law", a statement that has been received with scepticism by some in the West.

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