As U.S. leaves Afghanistan, extremists pick the softest targets

·3 min read

Kabul — The recent attack on a school for girls in the Afghan capital left dozens of innocent children and teenagers dead. They were murdered in an act of unimaginable cruelty, simply for daring to pursue an education. Afghanistan's government blamed the Taliban, which denied any involvement in the attack. The part of Kabul where the attack happened, home to many ethnic Hazara Shiite Muslims, has been targeted frequently by the ISIS branch in Afghanistan, including other attacks on schools. The massacre underlined the instability in the country as the U.S. and its international partners withdraw, and Afghanistan's own security forces struggle to both contain militants on the battlefield and keep safe civilians in the cities.

Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib told CBS News that his country would have preferred the U.S. withdrawal to come after a few more years, "when our air force would have all the capabilities that we needed and then everything else would be in line for us to take over completely."

But President Joe Biden only delayed the withdrawal put into motion by his predecessor by a matter of months. The lack of U.S. air support will be sorely missed as the Afghans battle a resurgent Taliban, which continues to claim new ground every day.

"We're as prepared as we can be," Mohib told CBS News. "The circumstances are not perfect. It probably would not ever be perfect, but what we do is make the best of what we have and defend ourselves."

Mohib acknowledged growing fears both inside and outside Afghanistan that, as the insurgents sow chaos with violence and try to capitalize on the departure of foreign forces, the country could descend into complete civil war.

"My concern is people will panic," he said, noting that non-government, non-military groups have already said they're prepared to pick up the fight should the Afghan security forces crumble in the face of an emboldened militancy. But Mohib said that shows the extent to which the Taliban may be overplaying its hand.

"The Taliban have a lot of enemies in Afghanistan, and I think they underestimate how much people do not want them," he told CBS News.

They may have many enemies, but for now at least, the Taliban's friends continue to cause heartache across the country.

An Afghan student is treated at a hospital after she was injured by deadly bombings targeting a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2021. / Credit: Rahmat Gul/AP
An Afghan student is treated at a hospital after she was injured by deadly bombings targeting a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2021. / Credit: Rahmat Gul/AP

"It's impossible to separate Taliban from al Qaeda, or any other terrorist group operating here for that matter," said Mohib.

He doesn't expect those groups to give the U.S. or other foreign troops a particularly hard time as they pack up and leave: "It's in the Taliban's interests to see Americans leave. I think they would want to see that happen quickly."

But as they watch the U.S. war machine break down and ship out, the extremists aren't hiding their intentions to impose — by brutal force — as much of their will across the country as possible.

"Right now, the Taliban are not fighting us in conventional warfare. They attack us where we're weakest," Mohib said. "Our front line are our mosques, they're our streets, they're our schools, they're our universities. Any place the Taliban can attack is a front line for us now."

The parents who buried their children in Kabul this week never sent them to a front line. They just sent them to school.

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