After the Taliban’s triumph

I hear some conservatives saying that we should have gone into Afghanistan, defeated the forces that attacked us on 9/11, and then left. The obvious problem with this view is that as soon as we left, the forces that attacked us or collaborated in the attack would have returned to power.

Sure, we would have killed and captured some bad guys, but basically we would have been back where we were before 9/11. Who would want that?

Now, the forces responsible for 9/11, including al Qaeda (see below) are returning to power or prominence. But at least they suffered nearly 20 years of lost or diminished power, during which they experienced hardship and, most importantly, were unable to execute attacks against the U.S.

Still, the return of the Taliban to power presents a clear and present danger to the U.S., as this Washington Post article suggests. According to the Post:

[A]s the militants commandeer Afghanistan’s security and intelligence institutions, the Biden administration faces a far steeper challenge in fulfilling the president’s pledge to prevent al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups that have operated there from regaining strength and threatening the United States.

Current and former officials said that the process for identifying and responding to terrorist plots has been upended as the Pentagon and the CIA — instead of planning for operations alongside an allied government and friendly spy agency in Kabul — are forced to contemplate an environment abruptly off-limits and under the control of a hostile regime.

“The counterterrorism posture went from problematic with the U.S. withdrawal to extraordinarily bad with the Taliban in full control,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a veteran intelligence officer who served as a CIA base chief in Afghanistan. “Suddenly one wonders if we will go entirely dark. It’s like a bad dream.”

Many conservatives like to ridicule our intelligence services, and to some extent they deserve it. But it’s a fact that al Qaeda has been unable to attack our homeland since 9/11.

Unless you believe al Qaeda lost interest in attacking us, our security and intelligence services must have done something right. Our presence in Afghanistan was one of those things.

As inconvenient as it may be, al Qaeda is still around. The Post reports:

There are worrisome signs it may become more difficult for the United States to prevent a resurgence by al-Qaeda, which a recent United Nations report said maintained a presence in at least 15 Afghan provinces and showed “no indication of breaking ties” with the Taliban despite pledges to do so as part of a 2020 deal struck between the Afghan militants and Trump administration.

(Emphasis added)

A very foolish deal.

Nor is it only al Qaeda we need to worry about:

Foreign intelligence officials said they are detecting signs that the Taliban’s victory has energized global jihadists, a threat that may only grow as the Taliban releases al-Qaeda operatives who were imprisoned by the Afghan government.

An intelligence official from an Arab nation, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe evolving assessments, said officials had seen an uptick in jihadist communications about developments in Afghanistan. The Taliban takeover, this official said, “is encouraging many jihadists to think about traveling to Afghanistan now instead of Syria or Iraq.”

According to a European intelligence official, the Taliban’s victory has become a rallying cry for jihadist sympathizers there. “The U.S. appears in all of this now as a weak nation,” he said.

An al-Qaeda fighter who goes by the name Abu Khaled said the Taliban’s conquest was momentous for all extremists. “God willing, the success of the Taliban will be also a chance to unify mujahideen movements like al-Qaeda and Daesh,” he said, using another name for the Islamic State.

Of course. It’s easy to forget that the rise of al Qaeda and other such movements was fueled by the successes of the Taliban and other such movements, coupled with the Clinton administration’s fecklessness in dealing with them. And the rise of ISIS was fueled by the Obama-Biden pullout from Iraq.

It’s worth noting that the adverse consequences I discuss here — the resurgence of jihadists encouraged by America’s defeat and the inability to deal with threats emanating from Afghanistan — all flow from Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, not from the way he carried it out. It’s also worth noting that we were preventing these consequences with a commitment of only 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. forces and very few American casualties.

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