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Biden’s Betrayal of Afghanistan

Biden’s Betrayal of Afghanistan
By Con Coughlin

Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.

The only logical conclusion to be drawn from US President Joe Biden’s ill-judged decision to withdraw the last remaining US troops from Afghanistan is that it will lead to the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies once more seizing control of the country.

That is certainly how the Taliban leadership is viewing the Biden administration’s decision, as within hours of Mr Biden making his televised appearance to announce the withdrawal, the Taliban was claiming victory in the country’s long-running civil war.

More than that, the Taliban even had the nerve to claim that, by completing the withdrawal of US forces by September 11, Washington was reneging on the peace deal negotiated with the previous Trump administration last year, which stipulated that all American troops, together with other Nato forces, would be withdrawn by the end of next month.

In fact, under the terms of the Doha deal former US President Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar last February, the withdrawal of US forces was contingent on the Taliban renouncing violence, as well as ending its long-standing support for Islamist terror groups like al-Qaeda.

The reality is that the Taliban has made no serious attempt to fulfil either of these conditions, even though the US began reducing its troop strengths immediately after the agreement was signed in February last year.

Instead, the terror group has continued with its nationwide campaign of violence against the Afghan people, enabling it to seize large swathes of the country as forces loyal to the democratically-elected government of President Ashraf Ghani have proved incapable of mounting a credible defence.

In addition, as a recent US Treasury report has concluded, the Taliban has maintained its links with al-Qaeda, as well as other Islamist terrorist organisations. The report stated that al-Qaeda is “gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban’s protection.” It adds that the group “capitalizes on its relationship with the Taliban through its network of mentors and advisers who are embedded with the Taliban, providing advice, guidance, and financial support.”

Now the Taliban has responded to Mr Biden’s overly generous offer to withdraw all US forces by September — in spite of the Taliban’s abject failure to honour their side of the bargain — by threatening to launch a fresh offensive against the US and its Nato allies.

Speaking shortly after the President made his announcement, a senior Taliban commander warned:

“We are prepared and already present in the battlefield; our fighters are ready to target Nato troops as the trust deficit widens after Biden delayed US troops’ withdrawal.

“The Taliban are a true political entity in the Islamic emirate and we are already victorious in the war and our victory compelled the US to sign a deal with the Taliban.”

The Taliban’s refusal to cut its ties with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organisation was the initial reason for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan back in 2001 after al-Qaeda took advantage of the protection it received from the Taliban to plan and execute the devastating September 11 attacks — the worst terrorist atrocity ever carried out on American soil.

The invasion resulted in the overthrow of the Taliban and the end of its barbaric rule, and destroyed al-Qaeda’s terrorist infrastructure, while bin Laden was forced to flee to neighbouring Pakistan, where he was eventually hunted down and killed by an elite team of US special forces in 2011.

Even after it suffered these devastating defeats, the Taliban still refused to renounce its ties with al-Qaeda, to the extent that it has spent the past two decades involved in a brutal conflict with US coalition forces, costing the lives of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters.

Despite these devastating setbacks, the Taliban has been quietly confident that it would ultimately prevail ever since former US President Barack Obama made his disastrous U-turn in Washington’s Afghan policy in 2009, and made his unilateral announcement that he was withdrawing all remaining American combat troops by the end of 2014.

Taliban leaders have always argued that, in keeping with previous generations of foreign invaders, Washington would eventually lose interest in the conflict and withdraw. As the old Taliban saying goes, “you may have all the watches, but we have all the time.”

And so, thanks to Mr Biden’s capitulation, it has come to pass, with the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies set to reclaim the control of the country after 20 years in the wilderness.

Mr Biden has attempted to defend what amounts to his administration’s abject surrender to the Taliban on the grounds that the time has come to end America’s longest war, while arguing that the announcement will increase the pressure on both the Taliban and the beleaguered Afghan government to conclude the peace deal which was supposed to be the most important outcome of the Doha process.

Yet, as the Taliban’s attitude has revealed, the terror group has no serious interest in concluding a peace deal with Kabul, preferring to resort to its previous tactic of seizing control of the country through violence and intimidation.

Certainly, as a recent Pentagon report has highlighted, without the support of US and other Nato allies, the Afghan government has little chance of prevailing against the Taliban once the withdrawal has completed.

John Sopko, the Pentagon’s special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, last month warned that, without US support, the Afghan government “probably would face collapse.”

The US intelligence community’s 2021 Threat Assessment published last week reached a similar conclusion, stating that “the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”

These are damning assessments of both the ability of the Afghan government to defend itself without Western support, as well as the Biden administration’s decision to abandon the country in its hour of need.

The only realistic outcome is that, once the Taliban have retaken control of the country and implemented its brand of medieval religious authoritarianism, al-Qaeda will re-establish its terror bases in the country and use them as a base to launch a fresh wave of attacks against the West.

Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

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