AFGHANISTAN risks becoming hell on earth as a resurgent Taliban seize territory and open the door for the rise of terrorist groups such as ISIS.
Security experts have grimly warned about the fate that awaits the Afghan people as the state risks descending into a “terror battleground” as the US withdraws its last troops after two decades.
Within days the last American soldiers will leave Bagram Air Base after spending 20 years fighting after overthrowing the Taliban – but they are feared to leave behind a nation on the verge of disaster.
US General Scott Miller has warned the country is on the verge of “civil war” as Taliban militants have seized more than one third of Afghanistan.
“That should be a concern to the world,” said General Miller.
And it is feared the nation could become a new haven for terrorist forces wanting to strike out against the West, with The Sun Online revealing concerns new training camps could be operational by September.
Professor Anthony Glees, from the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, said the Taliban are now “back with a vengeance”.
But the most immediate impacts may be on the people of Afghanistan.
They face being plunged back beneath the rule of a brutal regime who enforce strict versions of Islamic law and issue punishments such as beheading and torture.
Vile atrocities committed by the terror groups are well documented – in particular by ISIS who may seek to establish vile rule over parts of Afghanistan like they did in Iraq and Syria.
Punishments handed out by the terror groups include floggings, beheadings, hangings, and crucifixions.
Professor Glees told The Sun Online: “The point is that the Taliban are fanatics, the worst kind of enemy, they are, in their terms, not just extremely brave because they love death like all Islamists, but are fighting for a belief, a religion – the word Taliban means ‘religious student’ – not just political control.
“They will, once they have full control, return to type and do all the things they did before, persecute, torture and murder all who oppose them; enslave and degrade their fellow female citizens, prevent them from gaining an education, destroy anything that conflicts with their religious world view.”
[The Afghan people] now await a terrifying fate
Professor Anthony Glees
And meanwhile Robert Clark, from the national security think tank Henry Jackson Society, warned other terror groups such as ISIS will look to stake their claim to Afghanistan.
He said while the Taliban may attempt to stick to peace terms agreed with the US – promising the nation will not be a haven for terrorists – other jihadi groups do not have to stick to such pledges.
Mr Clark told The Sun Online: “Whether [the Taliban] will stick to that is another question but they will be likely to do so to avoid US troops returning but it doesn’t mean they can control other terror groups, such as ISIS, who will look to take advantage and will look to recruit and train there.
“They hold no such agreement. It could become a terror battleground.”
Taliban forces are reported to hanged children as young as 12 after accusing them of spying, and also burned people alive using gas stoves during their insurgency since the US invasion.
Graphic videos have also emerged showing Taliban militants stoning people in front of crowds of hundreds as they stand next to shallow graves before being shot.
Other clips which have emerged over the years have shown them shooting groups of men after declaring them “enemies of Islam”.
And one horrifying video features a woman being shot nine times as she was accused of adultery, one of the Taliban’s so-called “moral crimes”.
Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International, told The Sun Online: “We’ve seen nothing from the Taliban that suggests their attitude towards human rights has changed.
“With peace talks faltering and preparations for the full withdrawal of international forces gathering pace, Afghanistan sits at a dangerous crossroads.
“A full return to power would risk the reversal of twenty years of progress on women’s rights, minority rights, freedom of expression and freedom of the media.”
ISIS – who have a much smaller hold in Afghanistan – meanwhile could bring some of their infamous punishments and tortures which they used while ruling swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Vile videos became the norm showing brutal beheadings, men being burned alive, or even drowned in cages during their surge around 2014.
Other shocking accounts from within the so-called Islamic state also included crucifixions, people being tossed from buildings, or being hung like cattle in slaughterhouses before being sliced open.
Mass graves continue to be uncovered in Iraq and Syria as the true horror of ISIS’s rule continues to become clear – and fears loom the terror cult is continuing to regroup.
Mr Clark told The Sun Online: “The Taliban as a group are diverse and clash at senior levels, as they become more fractored the worse it will become and other terror groups like to take advantage.
“Even if it is not a safe haven, day to day life will be reverted back to that of the 1990’s.
“A local shadow chief in the north has already said that he will enforce Sharia law in those areas.”
Professor Glees added it was “absolutely the wrong decision” to pull out of Afghanistan – and said the West was leaving the country’s people to a horrific fate.
He told The Sun Online: “Biden has sensed US public opinion, twenty years after 9/11, has had enough.
“That may be so, but it is nevertheless entirely the wrong decision with consequences for all Western states but most of all for the brave Afghans, and particularly Afghan women, who jumped at the chance to work with the US, the UK and our NATO allies, to try to create a better future for themselves, have been betrayed.
“They now await a terrifying fate.”
The Taliban has seized control of a third of the country, most of that territory within the last two weeks, putting them within striking distance of major cities such as Herat and Kabul, where 95% of NATO were previously based.
A recent US intelligence report warned they could take the capital within six months with experts fearing the government could be overthrown by the end of the year.
The terror group is reportedly already launching violent attacks on Kabul, a city well known for opposing Taliban rule after 55 were killed in a car bombing at a school back in May.
Afghan forces are said to be striking deals with Taliban soldiers in exchange for immunity, abandoning check points and handing over weapons to avoid bloodshed, a move that has allowed them to move quickly.
Fighting has exhausted Afghan forces, seeing troops complain they are outnumbered, outgunned, under-paid and weary from 20 years of fighting.
20 years in Afghanistan – what happened?
US forces have begun a full withdrawal from Afghanistan under the orders of US President Joe Biden after spending 20 years fighting to stablise the war-torn nation.
Some 456 British soldiers and 2,420 Americans – along with hundreds of other coalition troops – died during the war which was sparked by the September 11 attacks.
And the civilian casualties are estimated to have been almost 50,000.
Codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom, the US led an invasion off Afghanistan to oust the Taliban after al-Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Centre and other US buildings in 2001.
The mission was to oust the Taliban, who were said to be harbouring terrorists and providing them a safe haven – including Osama bin Laden.
What followed was nearly 20 years of grinding conflict as the US, its allies, and the Afghan security forces staged a grinding campaign to attempt to rebuild the country and beat back the Taliban.
The Taliban had ruled most of Afghanistan following the Afghan Civil War in the 90s – sparked by the withdrawal of the Soviet Union.
Western nations had actually supported the Taliban in the 80s as the ran an insurgency against the Soviet backed regime of Mohammad Najibullah.
However, after seizing power in 1996 – the Taliban brutally ruled Afghanistan and offered a safe haven to terrorist killers like Osama.
As the US war rolled on into the 2010s, Bin Laden was killed in May, 2011, in a US special forces raid in Abbotabad, Pakistan.
And since then there has been a slow withdrawal, with British troops officially ending combat operations in October 2014.
February 2020 saw a peace deal signed between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which agreed to a withdrawal – whoever the Afghan government criticised it as being done behind “closed doors”.
Taliban forces have since continued their operations and have been gaining ground – and the US continues to pull back its troops.
The war is seen as defeating the Taliban and improving the lives of the Afghan people who were once living under strict Islamic law and who now have free elections.
However, for some it is unfinished job which was mishandled – and that may 20 years on simply see a return to the dominance of the Taliban as they did pre-9/11.
Mr Clark, who served in the British army for nine years, told The Sun Online is unsurprising the Afghan forces are rolling over – with local commanders having to strike deals with the Taliban.
And while these deals could help quell some bloodshed, it won’t stop their ruthless rise – with the potential fall of Kabul sparking a “domino effect”.
“By the end of the year is it most likely that the Government will have fallen or be fighting to survive,” he said.
Professor Glees meanwhile told The Sun Online there will “definitely” be a fresh terror threat posed by a new Taliban regime – with the US withdrawal making them believe the West is “weak”.
“The more the Taliban are left to their own devices, the more they can hone their forces and their fellow Islamist ‘students’ in the West,” he said.
Taliban forces were first overthrown in 2001 following a US invasion – but since US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw, the group has now gone on to seize one third of Afghanistan.
And further offensives are expected throughout the summer with warnings the jihadi forces could take the capital of Kabul within six months.
It is being described by concerned US intelligence officials as “the greatest jihadist victory since the Soviets quit in 1989”.