After a Taliban takeover, the world must prevent starvation in Afghanistan

Afghan internally displaced persons wait to receive food distributed by a German aid organization in Kabul on Oct. 27. (EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock) (Stringer/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Afghanistan is no longer in the headlines — after dominating them during a harrowing August in which the Taliban seized power, triggering a fearful mass exodus from Kabul. In the chaos, a terrorist attack killed 13 U.S. military personnel; then, a mistaken U.S. drone strike killed 10 innocent Afghans. Yet the country’s crisis has mutated, not ended.

The fate of those who want to flee the new regime remains unresolved, with governments and private organizations scrambling to organize escape for groups such as students of the American University of Afghanistan. The Biden administration has revised upward the number of U.S. citizens remaining in the country, which it estimated at about 100 shortly after the Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline. On Oct. 26, Pentagon official Colin Kahl told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the State Department and private organizations have extracted 314 Americans and 266 lawful permanent residents since Sept. 1. Mr. Kahl also testified that there were an additional 196 Americans in the country who want to leave and are ready to do so.

Meanwhile, of the roughly 28,000 Afghan interpreters and others who had helped U.S. forces and organizations and had started to apply for special immigrant visas, only about 8,500, and their families, got out before Aug. 31, according to Mr. Kahl’s testimony.

These numbers define some of the United States’ unfulfilled responsibilities in Afghanistan — but hardly all of them. The country’s dire economic situation, and the potential for widespread hunger, will soon call for action as well. Decades of war, a post-Aug. 31 financial collapse and drought have devastated a country where about half of the 39 million people already lived below the poverty line. Some 6.8 million Afghans, mainly located in the country’s northern half, face food scarcity, requiring “urgent lifesaving support,” according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations. These estimates bolster the World Food Program’s warning, issued Oct. 25, that “Afghanistan is becoming the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with needs surpassing those in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.” The WFP says it is feeding 5 million people in the country, but it will need an additional $220 million a month to cope with the deteriorating situation.

On Oct. 28, the State Department announced $144 million in new aid, which, officials said, will “flow through independent humanitarian organizations” — not the Taliban. The amount is more than double the $64 million the United States had pledged at an international donors conference in September, and came after the first direct U.S.-Taliban talks since Aug. 31 — which produced a pledge from the Taliban to let foreign-based aid groups deliver help “transparently.” The United States is still withholding $9 billion in Afghan assets, along with political recognition, as — for now — it should, despite fresh demands from the Taliban to release it. This is leverage to ensure the Taliban lives up to its commitments and respects the needs of its own people. In helping feed the Afghan people, the United States is signaling a measure of good faith after years of bitter conflict. The Taliban’s reciprocation — or lack thereof — could shape the relationship beyond that.

After a Taliban takeover, the world must prevent starvation in Afghanistan