Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do terrorists.
That is why Biden’s withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, no peace accord, no security assurances, no land-based air support, no US troop tripwire – is not only a strategic mistake. It is a major blunder. Only fools ignore history.
In 1994, the radical Islamic Taliban emerged.
They ruled from 1996 to 2001, ruthlessly enforcing Sharia law. They starved 160,000, destroyed thousands of homes, undertook physical and “cultural” genocide, massacres, subjugation, human trafficking their calling cards.
See, e.g., Taliban.
Not satisfied with internal chaos and control, they turned outward. Bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader, relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996, allied with the Taliban, began power projection. In August 1998, affiliates bombed two US embassies in Africa, killing 224, wounding 4,500. The hourglass flipped, countdown began to what would shake the United States, change our geopolitical thinking, internal freedoms, and security consciousness.
With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, no deterring presence in that violence-ridden country, terrorists launched the 9-11 attacks on September 11, 2001. Into Afghanistan’s power vacuum, al Qaeda terrorists poured their venom – and then exported it.
That day lives in infamy. Many lost friends.
We were all shaken. Mine died where I served as a reserve intelligence officer in our spaces at the Pentagon. I was not there. They were killed when a plane that left 45 minutes before the one I boarded hit the Pentagon. Mine landed.
Back to now, and why “now” is analogous to “then,” before 9-11. America was perceived then as “off guard,” internally divided (after a hard-bitten presidential election), militarily under-prepared (enjoying a “peace dividend”), preoccupied with cultural inanities, domestic quarrels.
Moreover – the kicker – Afghanistan was viewed as a backwater, committing atrocities, destroying cultural symbols (including the Bamiyan Buddha), killing, starving, staining humanity, but not our problem. See, e.g., Flashback: The Destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
Who had time – who wished to bother with – a handful of feuding warlords, run-amuck Islamic radical terrorists, a culture and terrain that ground down Soviets, even if hijacked by terror?
At that time, we knew these groups existed, knew their motivations were anti-Western, knew they were a ruthless, reckless bunch. After all, our embassies in Africa were bombed. But we underestimated their capacity for power projection.
And here we are again. While progress was being made toward peace under Trump, power-sharing, and stability near, that is all gone. While US troops, intelligence, airpower, and ground presence offered hope, stability, a way forward – those will all soon be withdrawn.
Early indications are the Taliban – and aspiring terror groups – are afoot, taking swaths of land, threatening, intimidating, overtaking Afghan districts, whole regions. In the past month, “Taliban insurgents have captured more than 50 of 370 districts in Afghanistan …” See, U.N. Afghanistan envoy warns of Taliban offensive; Biden defends Afghanistan pullout as Taliban gobbles more territory. Even liberal media cannot ignore what is coming. See, e.g., Afghanistan is disintegrating fast as Biden’s troop withdrawal continues.
Worse, the Taliban is so confident the US – under Biden – is weak, lost, will not be back, presents no imminent threat despite saber-rattling, they are moving in the north of the country.
This is not a small thing. Taliban strength is in the south and east, not the north.
That they are starting the re-takeover in their least secure region means they are confident, leaving little room for the central government to maneuver. No one negotiates good outcomes from weakness.
Compounding the significance of their moment, Biden is perceived as weak not just in Kabul, but around the world, in support of allies and addressing adversaries, China, Iran, and Russia.
In short, US withdrawal of troops – even tripwire troops – with no credible backup to support the weak Afghan government in 2021 resembles 2001, or soon will. Several things are different. First, we now know Afghanistan could be a terror staging ground – so are forewarned. Second, we have greater security consciousness. Third, if the nation falls, we could return – at a huge cost.
Against us are things that should keep Biden’s team-up.
Taliban – and other terror groups – know our return is unlikely under Biden. We would not leave if we possessed the courage to return. Second, if China, Russia, or Iran become distractions, the Taliban has a free hand. Third, for all the goodwill our intervention created with the Afghan people, we remain a terror target. Fourth, terrorists, like card-makers, have a special interest in anniversaries.
So, all this tells us what? Biden’s decision to withdraw, no peace, no deterrent, projecting weakness, lack of conviction says “this is your moment” to the Taliban.
They know our commitment to their struggling people and government is milk toast. We are leaving.
Long term, the issue is only partly about Afghanistan. Yes, we are giving up hard-to-restore strategic advantage, the bulwark behind which we aimed for lasting peace. Biden kicked that chair away. But the fall of Afghanistan’s government – if it happens – will say more. It will tell other adversaries that our weakness is real, resolve eroded, this is their time, too.
Oddest of ironies, as the 20th anniversary of 9-11 edges toward us, a date Biden bizarrely picked for confirming US troops out of Afghanistan, we are likely to witness wholesale Taliban control over the country – with the potential for terror projection. On 9-11-21, Biden will have permitted conditions analogous to those that preceded 9-11-01.
What is to say? Only fools ignore history.
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