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The Situation on the Ground in Afghanistan

Quality of life in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate daily. Many Afghans lack proper food, financial resources or suffer from the Taliban’s acts of violence and brutality, despite the Taliban’s claims of inclusiveness, benevolent rule and granting amnesty to dissenting Afghans. The Taliban’s last amnesty claim was made on December 30, 2021. However, both open-source reports and human sources indicate otherwise.

Overwatch focused on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan for this brief, interviewing three sources about their latest experiences and what they’ve seen inside the country that no longer has a U.S. military or diplomatic presence. We interviewed a civilian who had to flee from the Taliban, an Afghan who worked in intelligence collection with U.S. partners, and a journalist from the Panjshir Province.

Since the Taliban took over Kabul in the summer of 2021, Omar has feared for his life. Last August, the Taliban posted a flier at the mosque nearby Omar’s house, naming him and his family members as threats, forcing them to leave their home and relocate. Omar told Overwatch that the situation is only becoming worse in Afghanistan. “They continue to go to peoples’ homes to target them. The Taliban does whatever it wants. They are taking revenge and killing those who have raised their voice against them.”

Omar’s claims were confirmed by Farshad, who previously worked in intelligence and counterterrorism with U.S. government partners. Farshad said the Taliban has killed 50 NDS employees since taking over the government. The NDS, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, was responsible for Afghan national security interests and mitigating terrorist threats. “An NDS employee was killed in the area of Wazira Akbar Khan last week,” said Farshad. Wazira Akbar Khan is a neighborhood in Northern Kabul.

Farshad also said there had been an increase in Al Qaeda members coming into the country, which, to some degree validates comments from Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command. Gen. McKenzie said, “There’s a presence. We thought it was down pretty small, you know, toward the end of the conflict. I think some people have probably come back in. But it’s one of the things we look at.”

Natiq Malikzada, a well-known Panjshiri, anti-Taliban activist, and journalist, has closely followed events in Afghanistan. Malikzada has lost family members to the Taliban, including his uncle, Mojer Haqjo, a former officer in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. Malikzada said of his death, “The Taliban had a list of all former government employees and Afghan, National Defense & Security Forces (ANDSF) in Panjshir, but because my uncle was a security officer, they shot him in the head and cut his throat. His body was left on the street for two days, and the Taliban did not allow anyone to bury him.”

Malikzada said that the Taliban also guarded his grandparents’ home for months. “The Taliban patrolled my grandparents’ house for months, and they did not allow any of our relatives to come to visit for the funeral ceremony to prevent my grandparents from giving any interviews to the media.” Malikzada added, “I also lost three cousins to the Taliban.”

ASSESSMENT

The Taliban will continue to target members of the Afghan National Army and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security. The targeted killings of these individuals aren’t only for revenge but to prevent U.S. combat-trained individuals from fomenting unrest throughout Afghanistan.

There is a growing humanitarian crisis and significant lack of resources in Afghanistan. Considering the Taliban’s history of using kidnapping of foreign nationals to fund their activities, the remaining American Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and Green Card Holders in the country could be all be at risk of being taken as hostages. Foreign hostages may serve as leverage for the Taliban to raise money through ransoms or payments from insurance policies. Additionally, claiming to arrest remaining American citizens or persons with preferred status and charging them as foreign spies provides the appearance of legitimate order and government, in the hopes of starting diplomatic negotiations.

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, both Russia and China expressed an interest in helping them “rebuild” the country. Russian and Chinese involvement in Afghanistan coincides with Overwatch’s assessment they intend to erode the U.S.’s image and global influence.

As Al-Qaeda’s presence increases inside Afghanistan, other terrorist groups will likely follow and see the country as a haven that closely follows Islamic Fundamentalism. Were such a terrorist inpouring to occur, the U.S. would likely find itself with radicalized Americans traveling to Afghanistan, as they did in Syria and Iraq when ISIS controlled significant swaths of territory.

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