The Taliban pushed into the Afghanistan capital on August 15 after the government collapsed and the president fled the country. Heavily armed Taliban fighters fanned out across the city causing panic across the country and nations raced to get their citizens, diplomats, embassy personnel, and local Afghan staff out of the country. Western missions took place over the next 16 days as all troops had to be out of the country by August 31. Commercial flights were suspended, closing off a route available for fleeing Afghans that do not wish to live under Taliban rule. As the evacuation efforts continue and countries scramble to evacuate their local staff from Kabul, European countries have repeatedly brought up fears of reliving the 2016 refugee crisis. The takeover of Kabul has sent thousands of Afghans attempting to flee the country, but it has also panicked western European politicians who are terrified of a large Muslim refugee influx.
There is widespread concern for many western European nations, including France, Germany, and Austria. Many are fearing a refugee crisis mirroring that of 2016. Signalling an open-door policy for refugees has the potential to cause mass immigration for nations already battling the migrant influx due to the pandemic. There are key elections coming up in Germany and France, two nations whose far-right parties have gained popularity over the past years. The German and French governments are likely to push against Afghan refugees, particularity the next several months to convey a strong front against mass refugee movement. There are worries the mass movement of Muslims will fuel the far-right movements that have gained popularity since 2015.
With German elections only a month away the far-right party Alternative for Germany will have the most to gain if the Merkel government allows any refugee flow, no matter how small. If Germany were to let in refugees, the announcement will likely come well after ballots have been cast. There are similar worries that a wave of arrivals could fuel the national Rally Party of Marine Le Pen in France and the League and the Brothers of Italy parties in Italy.
Officials in the Europe Union have been reluctant to welcome more Afghan refugees. To prevent refugees reaching Europe, EU interior ministers pledged to boost assistance to Iran, Pakistan, and other neighbouring countries. The UK has been criticised for agreeing to take in only 20,000 refugees over the course of five years, even though it is much more than neighbouring countries are accepting. French president Emmanuel Macron has faced criticism for saying France should “anticipate and protect itself from a wave of migrants”. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz mirrors the French president when he suggested that the people of Afghanistan should only be helped by their neighbouring states.
What most nations will allow are those who assisted their military forces and worked as local staff to be granted asylum in the respective country. However, this leaves out hundreds of thousands of people who fear living under Taliban rule with very few places to go. So far, no major efforts have been done to guarantee those individuals passage to another country. With key elections coming up governments will be hesitant to announce efforts as it could be portrayed as mass refugee movement. It is likely the response to retrieve local Afghan staff will be slower than what the anyone would like. Especially adding the additional complications with the Taliban not wanting Afghan citizens to flee the country. Not allowing refugees will lead to those in Afghanistan who fought alongside US allied forces to live in an Afghanistan that mirrors how life was in 2001. Although, the Taliban have repeatedly stated they will operate differently than their strict rule twenty years ago, little is expected for them to do so.
On the morning of August 11th, Haiti was struck by a powerful earthquake with a death toll currently at 2,000 people. With mass levels of devastation and remote villages cut off from help, the situation in the country is under yet another major issue to be addressed. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry described the country as “on its knees” with all that has occurred, as the long-term effects of the earthquake go on.
What has occurred has been seen as the deadliest earthquake of the year so far and the worst of its kind in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Many buildings have been left damaged including churches and hotels. The prime minister Ariel Henry declared a month-long state of emergency, with the tremor being felt across neighbouring countries. The repercussion of this earthquake is likely to affect Haiti for the foreseeable future, with the political crises also ongoing adding to concerns within the country.
Nadesha Mijoba of the Haitian Health Foundation has said that they are preparing for a public health disaster as conditions worsen in Haiti, warning of a potential outbreak of cholera due to concerns around sanitation. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said rescue workers have had to contend with armed gang attacking aid convoys, but after negotiations they agreed to let aid through.
US aid agency USAID has said many roads have remained impassable due to mudslides in the mountains and remote areas being extremely difficult to access. In the village of Marceline, north of Les Cayes, has had one in six buildings collapsed and it was one of the worst affected towns by the earthquake. Its voodoo community centre caved in on itself causing more than 25 people having to be stuck under the rubble. The medical centre has also been flattened by the earthquake making it impossible for those in the town to gather supplies.
Officials in Haiti has estimated that there are still 600,000 people still in need of emergency assistance, with Unicef warning that half a million children have little access to safe water, food, or any form of shelter. What is also concerning is the destruction to schools as in just a few weeks they were planned to reopen for the school year. Due to the recent earthquake, classes for most students scheduled to start on the 6tth has been pushed back by 2 weeks. According to UNICEF, of the 2,800 schools in the 3 most affected areas 955 have been assessed by the government with support for UNICEF and results show that 15% have been destroyed and 69% damaged. With many students already having classes pushed back due to COVID 19 many have lost out in crucial months of education.
With the death toll still rising and many communities throughout the country affected, it is a sad reality that Haiti will be affected by this disaster for the foreseeable future. With the hope that aid can eventually arrive in hard-to-reach areas, only then can Haiti start recovering its people from this disaster.
On 14 April 2021, the United States announced it would be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan on 1 May. In subsequent months all hell would break loose in the country, with the Taliban seizing much of Afghan territory, including its key cities. The Afghan capital, Kabul was the last to fall, doing so on 15 August 2021. Taliban militants overran the Afghan government building, and declared a new country: the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This new development has sent shockwaves across the world and the wider region. This article will explore the regional ramifications of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Specifically, it will look at the situation from the angle of 3 countries in the region that it has effected, albeit in different ways: Iran, Israel and Palestine.
Iran shares frontiers with Afghanistan, with three of its provinces home to border crossings: Razavi Khorasan, South Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchestan. On 8 July 2021, the Taliban seized the Afghan border crossing of Islam Qala (located in Afghanistan’s Herat province) – which borders Iran’s Taybad checkpoint. Further, on the same day Abu Nasr Farahi border crossing (located in Afghanistan’s Farah province) – bordering Iran’s Mahirud checkpoint – was taken. With the Taliban holding these key routes, this seemingly poses a threat to Iran’s commerce and security. Reciprocating, that day Iran’s customs office halted export shipments to its neighbour – following the storming of customs offices by the Taliban on the Afghan side. Interestingly, Iran’s Foreign Ministry has been quick to affirm the border remains “in full tranquillity and security,” despite the situation on the other side. This view was reinforced on 15 August, when Iranian border guards relayed there had been no clashes between them and the Taliban at Taybad checkpoint. The situation at the other checkpoints though is less clear.
Diplomacy-wise, things have been more interesting. A day prior to the crossings’ seizure, Iran’s Foreign Ministry hosted talks in its capital Tehran between Afghan and Taliban delegations. During which, the Foreign Minister remarked Iran stands “ready to assist the dialogue” and “resolve” Afghanistan’s [current] conflicts. But the situation has since drastically changed, which has made it less clear what Iran’s Afghanistan policy is. However, on 23 August Iran elaborated on its approach, stating it was “closely following the latest developments in Afghanistan.” This is a logical position to take when such situation is literally on one’s own doorstep. Further, seeing as its diplomats still remain in Afghanistan at the moment, it is unsurprising they are doing so – much like any country with assets inside Afghanistan is doing at the moment. Speaking of, there have been unconfirmed reports that say Iranian diplomats are safe inside Iran’s missions in Kabul and Herat places. Less clear is the situation in its Mazar-i-Sharif consulate. Those same reports said the Mazar-i-Sharif staffers had been evacuated to Kabul. All-in-all, it appears the diplomatic channels for now remain open under the Taliban.
Iran has also stressed “the need for dialogue and peaceful resolution,” and revealed it was in contact with “all parties and groups in Afghanistan.” It did not specify which groups, but from deduction this likely includes the Taliban, but rules out the Afghan government – currently in exile. A largely tight-lipped but quite interesting stance, under the surface it seems to indicate they are not opposed to the Taliban. This view seemed more likely when it was revealed Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi had welcomed the U.S.’s “defeat” in the country, at the hands of the Taliban. This suggests Iran is by the least sympathetic with their cause. Contact-wise, with the Taliban being the key actor in the country, it seems likely Iran would seek to get closer to them – something achieved by “dialogue.” This though would be an odd move, considering the Taliban and Iran are not natural allies – besides sharing disdain for the West, they oppose each other religiously. Moreover, the Taliban are not “peaceful” actors – as evidenced by the Taliban being an armed group, and also by the fact in 1998 the Taliban murdered 10 Iranian diplomats at Iran’s Mazar-i-Sharif consulate. Whilst the Iranian state has not publicly blamed the Taliban for the killings, they likely still harbour feelings about it – possibly holding them in contempt today. These feelings could come to the surface should the Taliban attack Iranian diplomats, or force their way into their missions. Unconfirmed reports say this possibly has happened.
Other parties they are in contact with likely include Afghan Shi’ite militias – particularly Iran-backed ones. Such actors are key players in the anti-Taliban coalition of militias. Iran would likely seek to influence with them to ensure Iranian interests remain in the country. Said influence would be key to Iran’s wider regional influence, having a stake in nation-building and in the most current conflict in the region. Further, Afghanistan signals a microcosm of a new world order – one where the United States is no longer the world’s policeman, and where the West has diminished influence over regional affairs. However, this would be a difficult thing to maintain with a Taliban monopoly on government. This fact would explain why Iran also revealed it desires for the establishment of an all-inclusive government – made up of all Afghans, and which would safeguard the rights of all. To Iran, naturally they would want such a government to include their Shi’ite allies. Therefore, helping achieve that will likely be Iran’s new Afghan policy going forward.
Meanwhile, the Afghanistan situation has also spurred an influx of Afghan refugees into its territory. Iran has long been the destination for Afghan refugees – already home to about 2 million. This time around, Iran’s security forces have responded by setting up refugee camps at the border to house Afghans who come to them. It has also promised jobs for the new arrivals. Iran though stresses such measures are temporary, expressing hope the refugees will “be repatriated” when the situation improves. Meanwhile, security forces have also begun securing the border – with border police saying they are monitoring the border, and are ready to confront any hostile action along it. They have also said they will “peacefully return” Afghans who have made “irregular crossings.” The last statement is unclear, but overall it seems likely that that there will be more flows of people coming over the border – especially considering Western countries are fast approaching their timeline for evacuating Afghan refugees. Iran could also shuts its borders altogether if refugee numbers continue to climb.
Israel does not have a direct interest in Afghanistan, and is largely shielded from the situation due to distance. However, Israel still has concerned itself with it. For example, it, along with seventy other countries, signed a statement by the U.S. State Department, calling for respecting and facilitating “the safe and orderly” exodus of refugees and foreign nationals from Afghanistan. It is unclear whether signing the statement was a means of showing support to its biggest ally, the United States. However, arguably Israel does have a stake in the conflict. Firstly, its ally has been the losing side in the conflict – with President Biden’s hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops being the match that lit the fire under Afghanistan. If the situation has demonstrated something, it is the region is more unstable than ever.
Further, it signals the U.S. cannot for sure be relied upon to secure the region. That message has likely set off warning signals in Israel – particularly with regards to the Iran situation. It is already clear that the latter has been emboldened – especially with the Taliban victory over the American superpower, but also through its impunity in maritime affairs. The former has had the impact of boosting morale in a country that despises the United States’ interference in the region. Such a morale boost is dangerous, as it could entice Iran to act belligerently – perhaps using Israel as a surrogate in the region. Explained, if Iran feels the United States is weak, it might try to attack the U.S.’s closest ally in the Middle East. The prospect of such action has probably made Israel defensive, and this has likely already given Israel’s unilateralism policy against Iran a boost. In short, Israel will likely be more self-reliant than ever. Notably, earlier this month Israel’s leadership has already said it is ready to attack Iran – with now the prospects of this coming to fruition being that much stronger.
Such unilateralism against Iran could also spark further action by Israel in Iran’s proxy countries (namely Lebanon and Syria), and perhaps also with the Palestinians. Or if not unilateralism, then it is possible the Afghanistan situation might have sparked room for bilateral action on the part of Israel and the United States. This is evident in Israel’s Prime Minister’s decision to lay out a new plan to deal with Iran when he comes to Washington for his visit. With the U.S.’s left feeling embarrassed by Afghanistan, coupled with its frustration with stalled nuclear talks, Biden could ‘bite’ and go with Israel’s hard-line plan – so as to prevent further instability and insecurity in the Middle East. That in turn could put an end to the Vienna talks, with escalation into further regional conflict.
The victory of an armed group fighting against a larger, colonising power is good optics for armed groups fighting against a larger power. In Palestine, the optics of this are indeed already playing out in how Hamas publicised a statement congratulating the Afghan people for defeating the U.S. and Western “occupation,” and also the Taliban for its victory. Use of the word “occupation” suggests a kinship, seeing the Afghan and Palestinian plights as one and the same. Similarly, one Hamas member also described the Taliban as an Islamist “liberation movement[s]” – a bit far-fetched view, but an expression of sentiment nevertheless. Therefore, such kinship, along with both groups considered to be Islamist-liberation movements, could suggest Hamas will seek closer ties with the Taliban in the future. Further, the inclusion of a picture of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and the leader of the Taliban seated together perhaps also suggests such efforts are already underway.
Going further, Hamas’ also theorised the U.S. / West’s defeat “is proof that the popular resistance, mainly our Palestinian militant people, will triumph and achieve the goals of freedom and return.” This is a clear sign the militant group has been emboldened in its fight against Israel. In short, it appears Hamas believes if the Taliban can be victorious in Afghanistan, then they can be in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The potential ramifications of this are Hamas will push harder to be a thorn in Israel’s side, until it makes high gains. Hamas aside, the other Palestinian militant group in Gaza already has historic ties to the Taliban: Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). One the group’s prominent leaders, Abdullah Azzam, one of the joined the Afghan insurgent group, and actually helped it develop its military capabilities. Therefore, there is real potential for deeper ties with the Taliban. You might also expect an exchange of weapons and training between them.
Meanwhile, at home, it is entirely possible that like Hamas, PIJ could go on to carry out more attacks on Israel. This would in the short term put an end to the recent peace treaty between Israel and Hamas. In the long-term however, such action could inspire a new generation of violent, unrelenting resistance against Israel – especially attacks on Israel’s southern communities.
On 9 August, the anniversary of last year’s fraudulent presidential elections in Belarus, the UK, the US, and Canada imposed sectoral sanctions on Belarus, targeting key exports such as potash and crude oil, and the UK closed its financial markets to Belarusian debt and securities. President Aliaksandr Lukashenka responded by saying the UK could ‘choke on your sanctions’ which may seem an empty threat viewed from the safe distance of London but, for Belarus’ closest neighbours Lithuania, Poland and Latvia, the choking could become very real.
When the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions, Lukashenka responded by flying in waves of migrants from the Middle East and delivering them to the border to cross into the EU; a tactic last seen by Russia against Nordic states in 2015. This weaponization of migration is a form of hybrid warfare with the aim of destabilizing EU and NATO eastern borders and stirring up tensions within member states as well as between allies.
News broke last week that Poland had deployed around 900 soldiers to its border with Belarus to prevent an influx of asylum seekers from entering the country. More than 30 asylum seekers remain stranded between the Belarusian and Polish border, which is now under military guard and being reinforced with barbed wire. Poland’s crackdown came after neighbouring Lithuania toughened its own border controls to counter the same problem. Lithuanian officials report that more than 4100 people have crossed into the country illegally this year, the majority of whom arrived in July. But between 5 and 16 August, only 14 people made the crossing from Belarus. Lithuanian border guards are pushing asylum seekers back, and the Lithuanian prime minister is unapologetic.
The prime minister repeated accusations that Belarus is flying asylum-seekers in from dangerous and war-torn countries such as Iraq, and pushing them into the EU in retaliation for sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Footage has emerged showing Belarusian security forces in riot gear entering Lithuanian territory to push asylum seekers forward.
As the exodus from Afghanistan continues, it is expected that the tensions will get worse. It’s also noted that in July Belarus has been negotiating a visa agreement with Pakistan, which is already home to at least 1.3m Afghan refugees. Belarus obviously lacks the capacity to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the EU, but Lukashenko’s strategy has exposed how sharply attitudes have shifted in the past six years. Greece, France, Germany and Austria are on the same page as Lithuania – no repeat of 2015 – leaving asylum seekers vulnerable to becoming weaponised and dehumanised. Furthermore, German and French elections are looming large, and the issue is politically poisonous. Moreover, any new wave of migrants on Europe’s eastern borders may worsen anti–immigrant sentiment. In creating the migrant crisis Belarus is becoming just another tool in Russia’s hybrid warfare against western liberal democracies, and it is unlikely this tactic is being used by Belarus without the approval of Moscow. After the latest sanctions, Lukashenka has hinted he will stop cooperating with the US in combatting the traffic of nuclear materials. The impact of such a step is unclear – but it is easy enough to imagine how Belarus, and potentially Russia, could turn this into another facet of hybrid warfare against Europe.
In July, South African and Botswana military teams began to deploy to northern Mozambique to assist Mozambican government forces in combating a developing Islamist insurgency. They joined Rwandan soldiers as well as European and American military training forces in the area. With the foreign military help, Mocímboa da Praia, which has been at the centre of the conflict with the jihadist, has been reclaimed. Yet, It is unknown whether this is the start of the end for the group known as al-Shabab. What is evident is that the operation conducted by the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) represents the internationalisation of a locally embedded insurgency.
Mozambique seemed unable to contain the intensifying violence within its borders. The battle began with an attack on Mocímboa da Praia in 2017 and grew in intensity when young people seized firearms from soldiers and won local support. The insurgents known as ‘al-Shabab’ have no association with the Somalia-based group of the same name. The US has designated them as a terrorist group and named them “ISIS Mozambique.” The radicals took control of major areas of the country’s northern regions in the previous year, securing large towns from Mozambican forces on various occasions, notably Palma in the Cabo Delgado Province. The conflict, according to the United Nations, has displaced around 1 million individuals.
Mozambique’s neighbours, particularly South Africa, the regional leader, have grown increasingly concerned in recent months about the conflict’s potential to expand and impact more parts of the region through forced migration and the propagation of extreme views. Countries thousands of miles away, such as France, are equally concerned. France has significant holdings in Mozambique. Its oil giant – Total – which invested $20 billion in Mozambique’s vast natural gas projects, was forced to shut down all on-shore operations due to the escalation of violence in the area. As a result, the global community stepped in with military help because the Mozambique government appeared incapable of suppressing the rebellion.
Despite its initial reluctance to seek outside military assistance, Mozambique has now realised that it cannot win the war on its own. Rwandan forces, comprised of 1,000 troops, have already commenced operations in Cabo Delgado. The EU announced the creation of a European Union Training Mission (EUTM), which will most certainly be made up of Portuguese and French troops. The United States military is also assisting with training in counter-insurgency. Additionally, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional inter-governmental organisation, will provide troops led by South Africa. It’s uncertain how Rwandans and Mozambicans will collaborate with a SADC force that includes Angolans, Batswana, and Zimbabweans. Despite the fact that Mozambique claims to be in command, the RDF has taken the helm.
Moreover, Mozambique’s slow embrace of outside assistance was notably due to South Africa, its greatest and most militarily competent neighbour. This could be due to fears that South Africa will utilise its military presence for selfish gains. The latest arrests of South African spies working in Cabo Delgado has not eased the neighbours tense relationship. Many would believe that South Africa is southern Africa’s natural provider of security. However, its economy is in crisis, and it has serious domestic security concerns, notably the riots in July that resulted in over 300 fatalities and the mobilisation of thousands of soldiers. The presence of South African troops has been approved only until October 2021, thus, a lengthy counter-insurgency war in Mozambique could be unsustainable for South Africa, or it could wear out their already fragile welcome in Mozambique.
Nonetheless, foreign military has so far proved to be valuable. Within two weeks of their deployment, Rwandan forces – the first foreign force to confront the terrorists – had retaken a vital road junction controlled by the extremists for the past year and reached the coastal town of Mocímboa da Praia. Mozambican and Rwandan forces then retook this key town from the militants, their last stronghold. The Rwandan Defence Force then tweeted that “The port city of Mocímboa da Praia , a major stronghold of the insurgency for more than two years has been captured by Rwandan and Mozambican security forces.”
Rwandan forces barely arrived in Mozambique, yet they already appear to be influencing the conflict’s trajectory. These forces seem to have done more for Mozambique than its own troops have done since the start of the insurgency. President Filipe Nyusi’s objective, based on the way the operation has developed, appears to be to resurrect the natural gas project as Rwandan troops have reclaimed important towns and secured routes leading to gas infrastructure. After all, Mozambique hopes Total could resume work in Mozambique in 2022.
However, with the efficiency with which Rwandan forces advanced into Mocímboa da Praia, which suggests that rather than fighting, the jihadists retired to the jungle, some believe that there is little reason to be optimistic. Mozambique is coming to resemble other African countries afflicted by insurgencies as a result of the influx of foreign forces. There are some important lessons to be learned. Problems have arisen due to a lack of coordination between numerous foreign and regional forces combatting militants in Somalia, or the Sahel region. Military triumphs that appear to be substantial can be deceiving. The mere fact that extremists have been pushed out of cities and other critical regions does not imply that they have been crushed. They can fracture into smaller fragments, alter strategies, and shelter among civilians, slowly disappear into the territories they know better than anybody else – ready to emerge when they are stronger or when the foreign powers have departed. This is already happening. The insurgents have already abandoned their positions and dispersed into smaller units, as insurgents do when under duress. Parts of the fighting zone are densely forested, providing excellent cover. Analysts believe the militants plans may evolve now, with the group possibly extending across northern Mozambique and employing guerrilla tactics.
There is also the worry that the heavy emphasis on the gas project may fail to address the conflict’s core causes. Grievances will persist as long as the people of Cabo Delgado see minimal benefits from the development of local natural resources, and as long as they see a state incapable of providing medical care, schooling, job opportunities, and security. Thus, many believe that there is a strong possibility that present regional support for Mozambique will fall short of its goals, necessitating the formation of a broader international military alliance to combat the conflict’s numerous risks and stop the violence. However, civil conflicts rarely culminate with a military victory. Military action alone will not tackle the political and economic marginalisation that fuels the insurgency, and therefore, wider grievances must be resolved as well.