The debacle in Afghanistan belongs to Biden. But the previous president is an accomplice to this catastrophe.
NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE D oes the name Mawlavi Talib ring a bell? No reason it should. In Afghanistan, it’s just another name — one in 5,000.
One in 5,000, that is, if you’re talking about the 5,000 prisoners the Trump administration pressured the Afghanistan government to release last year in furtherance of its sham peace deal with the Taliban.
Except Mawlavi Talib was not just any released war prisoner. He turned out to be a Taliban commander — just like the Taliban commanders President Obama shamefully released while pleading with the militant Islamists to come to the negotiating table, pretend to recognize the “sharia-democracy” regime we’d then been struggling to stand up for over a decade, and indulge us in a brief respite of calm so we could slip out of Afghanistan quietly, without something like the catastrophe that is now unfolding. This, as President Biden, until Monday, hid under a conference table at Camp David.
The debacle in Afghanistan — the U.S. surrender, the deadly chaos that has followed, the withdrawal without any feasible plan to prevent the reemergence of jihadist safe havens (actually, the proliferation beyond the havens that already exist) — belongs to Biden. He is the commander in chief, he could have prevented it, he insisted that it wasn’t happening even as it was washing over him, and he has shamed our country as it has not been shamed since the end of the Vietnam War nearly a half-century ago.
That said, to hear former Trump officials and Trump apologists at the RNC rip into Biden as if the former president’s fingerprints and nauseating “forever war” drivel were not all over this debacle is hard to take.
As the Trump administration knew it would, the release of the prisoners swelled the ranks of the Taliban even as they were overrunning the U.S.-backed government throughout the country. Indeed, the leader of the Taliban, Abdul Ghani Baradar, who took control of Afghanistan on Sunday, had been in Pakistan’s custody for years until 2018 — when he was released at the request of the Trump administration, in furtherance of its negotiations with the terrorist organization. Those, you may recall, are the same negotiations for which President Trump tried to invite the Taliban to Camp David until publicity about that outrageous notion embarrassed him into canceling.
After Mawlavi Talib’s release pursuant to the Trump administration’s written agreement with the Taliban, he led the fighting in Helmand province. The Trump jailbreak also filled out the forces of jihadist organizations, most prominently al-Qaeda, which have aligned with the Taliban throughout the years of fighting, and which will now have free rein to set up shop, recruit, train, and plot against the United States, just as they did — under the Taliban’s protection — in the years before the 9/11 attacks.
Naturally, one of Talib’s moves upon release was to plot jailbreaks. Such operations to facilitate the escape or otherwise extort the release of imprisoned jihadists are a staple of Islamic terrorism. They promote loyalty to the cause and spur recruiting. They motivate attacks.
This was not news in 2020 when the Trump administration induced the Afghan regime to spring thousands of prisoners. As anyone who has been following jihadist terrorism for the last decade or three could tell you, jailbreaks are always a priority.
The Trump administration nevertheless agreed to an unconscionable jailbreak. It is right there, indelibly, in the black and white of Trump’s agreement with the Taliban: “Up to five thousand (5,000) prisoners” were to be released by March 10, 2020.
Now, remember the circumstances of that mind-boggling arrangement.
The Taliban are a terrorist organization. And not just any terrorist organization — they are the terrorists who gave sanctuary to al-Qaeda when it publicly declared war against the United States; when it bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (killing over 200 people); when it struck and nearly sank a naval destroyer, the USS Cole (killing 17 U.S. sailors); and when it mass-murdered nearly 3,000 Americans in the 9/11 attacks.
The United States tells the world that it does not negotiate with terrorists. But the Trump administration, just like Republican and Democratic administrations before it, pretended the Taliban were not a terrorist organization so that it could carry out talks, mouthing the familiar claptrap about how “you make peace with your enemies, not your friends” — quite a departure from, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists.”
The Trump–Taliban agreement is disgraceful.
To begin with, the Trump administration negotiated directly with the Taliban. The U.S.-backed Afghan regime may have been formally, physically ousted from power on Biden’s watch Sunday, but it was effectively nullified when the Trump administration, in the former president’s haste to pull out regardless of the security costs, cut the regime out of his negotiations with the Taliban. That is why the Trump administration had to squeeze the (now-departed) government in Kabul to release the 5,000 prisoners: The regime was not part of the agreement and was fighting for its survival against the Taliban that would be fortified by the jailbreak.
Sixteen times the February 29, 2020, agreement refers to the Taliban by the name they used to brand themselves as the country’s legitimate government: “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Clownishly, with each utterance of that phrase, the Trump State Department added a qualification, so it reads: “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban.” That includes the pact’s laughable title “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America.”
Can you imagine taking pains 16 times in a three-and-a-half-page document to indulge by its preferred name a terrorist negotiating partner that you claim not to recognize — while excluding the actual government you’re purporting to back? It is fraudulence raised to self-parody. And, indeed, the agreement is fraud through and through.
And by the way, the name that the Trump State Department repeatedly invoked but claimed not to recognize — the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — is highly meaningful. The objective of the global jihad to which the Taliban joined themselves by supporting al-Qaeda is a worldwide caliphate governed by sharia, Islam’s archaic legal system and societal framework. In pursuing the global objective, the jihadist strategy is incrementally to add territories that are governed by sharia and that do not accept the post-Westphalian system of notionally inviolable nation-state boundaries. These territories are referred to as emirates (regimes controlled by a sharia-adherent emir), and the ultimate aim is to knit them together into the caliphate.
That is the nightmare vision that our government lends credence to, however mindlessly, when it invokes the name the jihadists demand to be addressed by — the “which is not recognized by the United States” lip-service notwithstanding.
If the backdrop of Afghanistan’s collapse were not so horrifying, it would be amusing to hear Trump officials and apologists insist that, because the agreement contains benchmarks, Trump would not have allowed the situation to deteriorate, as Biden has done, once the Taliban breached these conditions. That insults the intelligence.
To be sure, senior Trump advisers who knew better would have continued pushing against Trump’s recklessness, and perhaps they’d have continued to hold him off, at least for a time. But the conditions in the Trump–Taliban agreement were shams, not benchmarks. They were being rampantly violated even as the agreement was negotiated and signed, and Trump officials knew it — including when they forced the regime in Kabul to release the prisoners.
To take the most notorious example, the agreement expressly states that the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” will not allow jihadist “groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” As the State Department and our $50 billion per annum intelligence apparatus well knew when this agreement was signed, al-Qaeda had all along been aligned with the Taliban and had continued fighting the U.S.-backed regime in conjunction with them. Al-Qaeda’s pre–9/11 partnership with the Taliban had never been broken, even as the terror network persisted, unabashedly, in calling for terrorist operations against American forces, American interests, and the American homeland.
The notion that President Trump would have voided the agreement if the Taliban violated their conditions is sheer nonsense. The conditions were not just made to be broken; they were consciously illusory from the start.
Behind the scenes, of course, publicly stoic senior officials were pleading with Trump not to pull out. But the president was undermining this effort at every turn — repeatedly telling the world he could not get out of the “forever war” fast enough, while his advisers tried to insist that the exit would be conditional on Taliban compliance. In fact, in April, Trump publicly derided Biden for extending the May 1 deadline his agreement had set for full evacuation — because leaving Afghanistan would be “a wonderful and positive thing to do” despite the deteriorating security situation and, critically, the lack of credible U.S. counterterrorism capabilities.
Trump’s agreement with the Taliban was never anything more than a fig leaf. He was determined to get out, heedless of whether our government had in place a plausible counterterrorism apparatus to prevent the Taliban from giving safe harbor to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other anti-American jihadist groups.
While senior Republicans concerned about our national security ripped the Trump–Taliban agreement, it had the ringing endorsement of the Trump-enchanted Republican National Committee. Before the 2020 election, “the historic peace agreement with the Taliban” was lauded on the RNC website as a “decisive move towards peace” and “the best path for the United States.” As it happens, though, you can’t find that anymore. Even as it ripped Biden for the Afghan debacle, the RNC quietly scrubbed its effusive praise for the agreement from its website.
History, however, is not so easy to purge. It will hold President Biden to account as it should, but it will not forget that President Trump was an enthusiastic accomplice — no matter how hard he and his allies strain to distance themselves from the unfolding calamity.
PHOTOS: The Fall of Afghanistan