Afghanistan has plunged into chaos. Over the past several months, the United States has withdrawn its troops as per an agreement cemented with the Taliban. However, the withdrawal of U.S. troops has only emboldened the Taliban, a designated Sunni terrorist organization, which has rapidly expanded its presence in the country. As of last week, the group has captured significant territory in Afghanistan, including major cities such as the capital, Kabul. Afghanistan is once again entering a period of political instability, violence, and chaos. This vacuum, sparked by the U.S. withdrawal, has made Afghanistan ripe for Iranian intervention and could encourage Iran’s anti-West sentiments and agenda in the region. 

In February 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced that his administration had inked a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Under the agreement, the U.S. would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan within the next 14 months. In exchange, the Taliban would initiate peace talks and explore a potential ceasefire with the Afghan government. The militant group also promised to reduce violence and ensure that Afghanistan will not become a haven for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. The Trump deal sought to fulfill one of the former president’s campaign promises: to end America’s longest war and bring its troops back home. Estimates suggest that the 20-year war cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion and almost 2,500 lives. However, as many critics noted, the deal was fraught with flaws and ambiguities that made enforcement difficult. Others, including U.S. lawmakers, expressed skepticism that the Taliban would hold up their end of the deal. 

When Joe Biden took office this year, he stated he would honor the deal with the Taliban and withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the September 11 deadline. However, the withdrawal of troops has plunged the country into chaos. According to an EU official in early August, the Taliban had obtained control of 65% of Afghanistan, including major cities such as Kunduz, Sar-e-Pul, and Taloqan. On August 15, the Taliban captured Afghanistan’s capital city and stormed the presidential palace. Before the fall of Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled to the United Arab Emirates. As experts predicted, the Afghan government and military provided little resistance to the militant group. The withdrawal has sparked a potential refugee and humanitarian crisis, as Afghans try to flee the country and clamor for limited resources among newfound Taliban rule. Indeed, fears of a civil war between the Taliban and the remnants of the Afghan military have arisen. Numerous actors in the international arena have criticized the United States for its haphazard exit from Afghanistan. 

Amid this chaos, Iran has taken the opportunity to bolster its anti-Western agenda. Last week, Mohammad Reza Naghdi, a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official, exclaimed that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan had revealed weaknesses in the U.S. foreign policy and influence. According to Naghdi, despite the U.S.’s vast wealth and resources, it could not defeat the Taliban. Despite decades of support from the United States, the Afghan military and government quickly capitulated, suggesting the U.S. provided little value to the regime. Naghdi underscored that the current situation in Afghanistan serves as a critical warning and lesson for nations considering collaborating with the U.S. in the future. He also noted that the U.S.’ superpower status in the Middle East has come to an end, and as a result, countries in the Middle East should aim to detach from the United States. 

What’s more, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has also created a ripe opportunity for Iran to expand its influence in the region. Over the past few years, the U.S. has accused Iran of providing aid to Taliban fighters going up against U.S. forces. The Iranian regime has denied this, claiming it advocates for an Afghan government that includes all ethnic groups and sects. When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last week, Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, described the current moment as an opportunity to establish durable and lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. 

Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim country, has traditionally been an enemy of the Taliban, which is Sunni Muslim. However, over the past few years, Iran has tried to foster relations with the Taliban due to the shared goals. In July, Iran convened a meeting of former Afghan government representatives and numerous high-ranking Taliban political leaders. Tehran will undoubtedly continue to develop these relationships in the coming months, therefore, expanding Iran’s anti-West sentiments in the region and align it with the Taliban’s anti-West agenda. Over the past week, Iran also called on the United States to withdraw forces from bases across the Middle East. This demonstrates how Iran is capitalizing on the current situation to further its regional agenda.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan has inevitably sparked chaos and instability in Afghanistan. The recent events in Afghanistan have emboldened Iran, causing the Persian pariah to foster deeper relations with the Taliban and to spread its anti-West agenda across the region. The international community must act cautiously and work to counteract Iran’s growing influence in Afghanistan. 

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