Story at a glance…
Amid massive battlefield gains by the Taliban, Republican senators meet with Afghan President Ghani.
With a number of evidence-less claims, they suggest withdrawing from Afghanistan is the wrong decision.
Is there a threat al-Qaeda could reconsolidate power in the country if the Taliban take total control?
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan. June 24th, 2021. Sustained offensives in northern Afghanistan have seen scores killed, and the Taliban seizing 7 districts while placing three major cities under siege including Kunduz, one of the largest cities in the country.
Two days earlier, the Taliban seized all the border crossings to Tajikistan in Kunduz province.
Two weeks earlier, fighting was also heavy in the province of Badakhshan on the border with China, where 12 districts were contested and 180 at least were killed in the fighting.
Now amid this flurry of battle, Washington warhawks like Senators Jim Risch (R – ID) and Mitch McConnel (R – KY) see perhaps their best opportunity to reverse the Afghan withdrawal that is at least 60% complete. They did so in the fashion of modern political decision making: without producing so much as an example or an in-line link of evidence, and using arguments principally based on fear.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby already said that the U.S. could slow the Afghanistan withdrawal. Kirby cited the increasing Taliban attacks, but failed to mention how that changes the situation or where legal authority to delay the withdrawal would come from, considering the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military has ordered all troops to leave the country.
Fighting the Taliban and defending the regime in Kabul are not the official objectives of the NATO Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, but to carry out counterterrorism, and the training of the Afghan Defense Forces.
Apparently, Biden provisioned for 650 troops to remain to guard the Kabul International Airport and the American embassy, along with a similar sized contingent of Turkish troops.
Better late than never
Risch and McConnell met with Afghan leaders on Thursday including the current president Ashraf Ghani, and the second leading politician Abdullah Abdullah, to discuss the current conflict.
In the statement that followed, McConnell warned without evidence that “The Taliban, emboldened by our retreat, is rolling back years of progress”. Quite the contrary, the Taliban control far more of Afghanistan than NATO forces, and at least two years ago came to control more of the country than ever before.
The last few years have been marked with failure or progress towards failure of every U.S. stated military and civilian objective.
Once again, without evidence McConnell said that “in the Taliban’s wake, al-Qaeda is already preparing for an ambitious resurgence of its own, which the President’s own Defense Secretary warns could lead to direct threats to the US homeland in as little as two years”.
With specifics like referring to Sec. of Defense Austin directly and a timeline of “two years,” every journalist, think tanker, military planner, or intelligence source would have to present something to demonstrate the senator from Kentucky isn’t just inventing news where there isn’t any.
“They [President Ghani and the Afghan people] are right to expect answers about how the United States will honor its commitments to brave Afghans who have helped US forces, and how we will assist in mitigating the security and humanitarian fallout of a Taliban takeover,” he continued.
Just what a Taliban takeover would look like is hard to say. Reports from Human Rights Watch as well as the hawkish Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) paint the picture of a Sharia-law hellhole from the period of Taliban control between 1996 and 2001. On the other hand, the Pashtun Taliban seized control from groups led by repeat war criminals such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Dostum, and Ahmed Shah Massoud.
In addition, it is the world’s most corrupt country, with more money disappearing in presumed bribery than it collects in taxes. Furthermore, while McConnell couldn’t even wait until paragraph 3 to comment on women’s rights, Afghan society, especially that of the militias and police, is rife with child sex slavery, which never existed under Taliban rule. One famous incident ended with one of these children acquiring a rifle, and allegedly in anger at their acquiescence to his molestation, shot several marines to death.
Would the Taliban, as the CFR warns, allow for a rebuilding of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? A recent UN report states there could be 200-500 al-Qaeda fighters in the country.
But two things go unmentioned by McConnell. First is the incredible inefficiency to be had in hunting 200-500 terrorists down with a thousand or a few thousand American soldiers on foot through Afghanistan’s valleys and mountains in open war with the Taliban. The second is that an international terrorist organization has no need of so-called “safe havens”.
The September 11th hijackers Atta and al-Omari boarded a plane from Portland to New York before changing and taking control of American Airlines flight 11. Afghanistan as a physical space had nothing to do with that attack.
Risch also commented, saying “I am concerned this decision severely hampers any chances of a negotiated peace, and puts our hard-fought counterterrorism gains at risk,” Risch said. As WaL has reported before, any counterterrorism of any substantial value in that country could be done by the Taliban, as they agreed to in their peace deal, or from outside the country.
It’s not to mention that Taliban leaders and Afghan military argue on Twitter about who’s killed more fighters from the local ISIL affiliate.