The Independent: The Taliban is expanding its influence in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of US forces

The Independent electronic newspaper published an article written by Suzanne George and Aziz Tassal entitled “The Taliban is expanding its influence in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of US forces”.

The article notes that the US military evacuated the Forward Operating Base Lightning in March, less than a month after US and Taliban leaders signed a peace agreement that led to a complete withdrawal of US forces.

But Afghan officials say the US withdrawal has had an enormous impact outside of al Qaeda. 

Targeted killings are on the increase, and Taliban fighters are expanding their areas of influence.

The article finds that what happened in Paktia Province, a few hours’ drive from Kabul, in the months following the departure of US forces, provides a glimpse of what may await other parts of the country as the Trump administration looks to withdraw thousands of additional troops. 

In the coming weeks, and possibly withdraw completely by Christmas.

The number of US forces has decreased from 12,000 in February to 8,600 in July – including the closure of al Qaeda in Paktia Province – and further cuts will come if the Taliban abides by its commitment to sever ties with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The future of counterterrorism in Afghanistan has been a major concern for US officials for years, the article confirms, as diplomats have struggled to reach a peace deal with the Taliban. 

al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a base for planning and carrying out the 9/11 attacks, which ultimately propelled the United States into nearly two decades of war. 

Now, many current and former US officials fear that a complete US withdrawal could lead to a power vacuum, allowing similar groups to use Afghan soil to carry out terrorism abroad.

The article notes that the number of killings has increased in Afghanistan.

In the Taliban-controlled areas, the militant checkpoints have doubled. 

They are no longer under the constant threat of air strikes and drones, but many of these checkpoints are permanent, and their bases are clearly fortified, according to local security officials.