Even as suicide bombers attacked the Kabul airport on August 26 — killing, at this writing, at least 13 U.S. servicemen and scores of civilians — visitors to the Al Jazeera website could read an interview with Khalil Ur-Rahman Haqqani, the Taliban official and U.S.-designated terrorist who is responsible for security in the Afghan capital. “If we can defeat superpowers, surely we can provide safety to the Afghan people,” said Haqqani, whose guards brandish the helmets, night-vision goggles, small arms, and camouflage the Americans left behind. “All of those people who left this country, we will assure them of their safety,” Haqqani went on. “You’re all welcome back in Afghanistan.”
He’s lying, of course. Lying is what terrorists do. Haqqani’s forces can’t protect the Afghan people from ISIS, or, apparently, from the Taliban itself. The Islamic militia is executing civilians and former members of the Afghan National Army, according to the United Nations. And Haqqani’s colleague, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, warned Afghan women and girls the other day that they should avoid the outdoors and public spaces, since Taliban soldiers “have not been yet trained very well.” And “we don’t want our forces, God forbid, to harm or harass women.”
Just to subjugate them.
The massacre at Hamid Karzai airport was the consequence of President Biden’s decision to rely on the Taliban for security. Despite the lunacy of taking the Taliban at their word, the Biden administration sounded in recent days as if Haqqani, Mujahid, and the rest of their deranged crew were U.S. partners. Not only did Biden’s botched withdrawal result in America’s departure from Central Asia, Taliban rule in Afghanistan, a catastrophe for democracy and human rights, and a propaganda boon for the global jihadist-Salafist movement. It guaranteed our dependence on a gang of medieval holy warriors whose loyalty to al-Qaeda is the reason the United States invaded Afghanistan in the first place. This historical irony is strategically dubious and morally debased. The loss of life in Kabul is a taste of what’s to come.
Biden pretended as if the Taliban had changed. On August 19, he told George Stephanopoulos that the Taliban, like a group of unruly teenagers, are “going through sort of an existential crisis about do they want to be recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government.” Later, in the same interview, he added, “I’m not sure I would’ve predicted, George, nor would you or anyone else, that when we decided to leave, that they’d provide safe passage for Americans to get out.” Nor did he predict that there would be more American casualties on the way out of Afghanistan than there had been in seven years.
In his remarks on August 24, Biden said, “Thus far, the Taliban have been taking steps to work with us so we can get our people out.” The terrorist threat, he cautioned, came not from the Taliban but from ISIS, “which is the sworn enemy of the Taliban as well.”
Biden didn’t mention that ISIS and the Taliban share a common adversary: the United States. Acknowledging that reality might have jeopardized the drawdown of American forces and evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport even before the terrorists struck on August 26. But it might also explain how the suicide bombers caused so much damage. The Kabul airport is surrounded by Taliban checkpoints. The Taliban won’t let Afghans pass through. How did the bombers get by?
Biden won’t violate the Taliban’s “red line” that America must leave by the end of the month because he fears that to do so would put U.S. soldiers and citizenry at further risk. On August 25, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reminded the world that the safety of Americans depends on the Taliban’s good graces. “The Taliban,” he said, “have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans, for third-country nationals, and Afghans at risk” — at risk of what and from whom, one might ask the Taliban — “going forward past August 31st.”
Past August 31? The safe passage ended Thursday morning.
In his August 25 remarks, Blinken said, “The United States, our allies and partners, and more than half of the world’s countries — 114 in all — issued a statement making it clear to the Taliban that they have a responsibility to hold to that commitment and provide safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country — not just for the duration of our evacuation and relocation mission, but for every day thereafter.” And if the Taliban shirk this responsibility — as they clearly did before the massacre at the airport? Well, another strongly worded note is sure to follow.
It’s not just that the Taliban hold all the cards in this game. Biden doesn’t even want to play. He’s made U.S. national security contingent on the Taliban’s ability to act like a “normal” government and not a terrorist crazy state. Earlier this week, CIA director William Burns met in secret with Taliban chief Abdul Ghani Baradar. According to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, “Burns was delivering a personal message from Biden, who evidently has decided his best course for now is to cooperate with the former adversary.”
Former? When did the Taliban renounce their hatred of America — or their allegiance to al-Qaeda?
They haven’t. Yet Biden and his foreign policy team dangled in front of the Taliban the carrot of financial assistance and international legitimacy in exchange for cooperation on counterterrorism and regional stability. As for sticks, Treasury secretary Janet Yellen crashed the Afghan financial system and economy two weeks ago when she froze Afghan government reserves in U.S. banks. The Taliban are broke. They haven’t quelled the resistance in Panjshir Valley. Which is why they’re negotiating with Hamid Karzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah to establish a government that would cross the threshold for renewed foreign aid and participation in global markets.
“We will judge our engagement with any Taliban-led government in Afghanistan based on one simple proposition: our interests, and does it help us advance them or not,” said Secretary of State Blinken. “If engagement with the government can advance the enduring interests we will have in counterterrorism, the enduring interest we’ll have in trying to help the Afghan people who need humanitarian assistance, in the enduring interest we have in seeing that the rights of all Afghans, especially women and girls, are upheld, then we’ll do it.”
That sounded like a secretary of state ready to engage. Precedent suggests that deteriorating conditions on the ground won’t matter. Yasser Arafat’s incitement to violence and militarization of the Palestinian security forces did not prevent Bill Clinton from indulging in the farcical Israeli–Palestinian “peace process.” Neither Obama nor Biden thought twice about promising (and in Obama’s case delivering) cash money to the terrorist-sponsoring Iranian regime if it stopped spinning a few nuclear centrifuges for a while.
Nor will the violence in Afghanistan this week derail the U.S.–Taliban “partnership.” The Taliban’s string of broken promises didn’t pause the “strategic dialogue” that has been taking place in Qatar for the last several years between their personnel and U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad. Indeed, the mayhem in Kabul might reaffirm the administration’s belief that the Taliban can be separated from, and used to combat, ISIS. In a briefing on the afternoon of August 26, General McKenzie, head of Central Command, said there was “no reason” to think that the Taliban were involved in the assault on our troops. Our forces have been sharing intel with the Taliban since August 14. “We will continue to coordinate with the Taliban on preventing terrorist attacks,” McKenzie said.
“Any relationship or partnership with the Taliban is going to be deeply frustrating for us,” former State Department official Carter Malkasian, author of The American War in Afghanistan: A History, told David Ignatius. It already is. The terrible events of Thursday morning have made that clear. More terrible events await. How depressing to contemplate that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 arrives with the Taliban in power, terrorism resurgent, and America at the mercy of evil men.
This column originally ran at the Washington Free Beacon.