The head of the US military leadership said recently that the United States may end up coordinating with the Taliban in the fight against the jihadist group Islamic State (Daesh). These statements mark the culmination of a drastic turn in the Pentagon’s policy of military alliances, after the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Until just a few days ago, Washington was nominally at war with the Taliban, whom he overthrew in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. Now, not only has he agreed with them to evacuate Kabul, even giving them data on US citizens, but he also considers them a possible ally in the war against new jihadist groups. As General Mark Milley, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a press conference at the Pentagon on Wednesday, “it is possible” that this coordination will take place. “We don’t know what the future of the Taliban is, but I can tell you from personal experience that they have proven to be a very ruthless group in the past, and it remains to be seen whether or not they will change.” “In war, you do what you must,” Milley said, although this, he added, “is not necessarily what you want to do.”
The common enemy
In reality, the US and the Taliban share a common threat that is the Islamic State, the group responsible for an attack at the Kabul airport last week that killed 13 American soldiers and about 180 civilians. This is something that the president Joe Biden has been repeated in numerous public appearances recently.
The US diplomatic mission has been transferred from Kabul to Doha, the capital of Qatar. The White House has not said whether it intends to have diplomatic relations with the new Afghan ’emirate’, following the collapse of the previous government and the surrender of the Afghan Armed Forces.
In fact, Washington has maintained contact with the Taliban since 2019 by decision of Donald Trump, which even invited Islamists to the presidential residence of Camp David, although in the end that trip was cut short by a deadly attack in Kabul. The final withdrawal fulfills a promise from Trump that Biden inherited: to end what they had both called an “eternal war,” which began in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
As Biden said recently, the war in Afghanistan should have ended 10 years ago, when Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in Pakistan. At the time, Biden was vice president in the first term of Barack Obama. He ended the war in Afghanistan not once but twice, but did not keep his word.
“It was time to end this war,” Biden said in a fiery speech Tuesday. “I was not going to prolong an eternal war and make the exit also an eternal exit,” he added from the White House.
Hours earlier, the evacuation of Kabul had ended, with the removal of more than 120,000 Afghan civilians and 6,000 US citizens.
Now, various Capitol commissions are likely to open oral hearings to elucidate how the withdrawal was decided and how it was carried out.
The leader of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives, Californian MP Kevin McCarthyon Tuesday described the withdrawal from Afghanistan as “probably the greatest failure of the US government in a military setting.” “We can never make this mistake again,” McCarthy said.
The truth is that the plan of this Administration, after declaring its intention to withdraw all combat troops, was to keep the US embassy in Kabul open, with a contingent of 650 US soldiers that would also secure the airport.
Biden also planned to give the now-defunct Afghan government billions more to keep training and equipping his Army. Until the withdrawal, and since 2001, the US gave Afghanistan a trillion dollars to train and arm its troops, who fled or surrendered to the Taliban two weeks ago. It is estimated that there were about 300,000 soldiers.
Biden and US generals, including Milley, have said their priority will be to combat terrorism, which they will likely do with missile strikes from drones or “drones.”
Al Qaida has been decimated after so many years of war, but the Islamic State has been strengthened in Afghanistan, as well as in other Muslim countries. There it is true, as Biden points out, that he has faced not only the US, but also the Taliban, whom he considers enemies.