The administration is ignoring history by putting blind faith in the goodwill of the murderous Taliban
The Taliban, and jihadis around the world, are celebrating that the American leadership has been rendered deaf, dumb, and blind. So dumb are they that the Biden administration allegedly provided the Taliban with names and biometric details of Afghans who have worked for the US over the past two decades, in a show of blind faith that they would allow these at-risk Afghans through checkpoints for evacuation.
Here is an excerpt from a transcript of an exchange between a reporter and Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor:
Q: “Just to follow up, do you – does the administration think that they need the Taliban agreement to extend beyond August 31?”
Mr Sullivan: “As I said, we are engaging with the Taliban, consulting with the Taliban on every aspect of what’s happening in Kabul right now – on what’s happening at the airport; on how we need to ensure that there is facilitated passage to the airport for American citizens, SIVs, third-country nationals, and so forth. We’ll continue those conversations with them.”
That exchange took place just a day before 13 US service personnel and close to 200 Afghans were killed in a terrorist attack. The Marines were there to help evacuate other US citizens, Afghans entitled to Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), and third-country nationals.
Those of us who have been tuning in to these press conferences since the announcement of the over-hasty and chaotic US withdrawal have been treated to some bizarre stuff. But the exchange above was surreal. Those entitled to SIVs are Afghan men and women who worked with the occupying forces of the US government and its allies not only against the Taliban and al-Qaeda but also against other local Islamist groups. They took a huge risk but were reassured that America had their back. Even in the event of a full withdrawal, America would help them out of the country – that surely was why Congress created the SIV programme.
Now, they must all face the reality that an American administration has handed their identities to the Taliban.
In a desperate attempt to explain the terrorist attack that killed the 13 Marines, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that it was carried out by IS-K, not by the Taliban, whom the administration was “consulting with on every aspect of” the evacuation. Taliban, IS-K, al-Qaeda. These are the best-known jihadi brands operating inside Afghanistan. Alongside them are a myriad militant Islamist groups, often aligned with local tribes and clans. They are rivals as much as they are confederates. They have different priorities. But not one of them can be considered a reliable counterparty in the current situation.
In the eyes of the Taliban, the Afghans who worked with the Nato-backed Afghan government and those who worked in any capacity with US armed forces are traitors. The Taliban have already begun the work of retribution. Other jihadi and tribal groups in Afghanistan will be glad to lend a hand.
We’ve seen this throughout history. Think back to the French-Algerian war in the mid-20th century. There was a group of French citizens living in Algeria, the pieds-noirs, who supported the French in the war. There was another group of Algerian Muslims who supported the French too, known as the harkis. When war broke out, both groups were viewed as enemy collaborators by the Algerian Front de Libération nationale. When the French withdrew, thousands of pieds-noirs and harkis managed to escape to France, but those left behind were hunted down and forced to face the Algerian nationals alone. In 2012, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged that “France should have protected the harkis from history, it did not do so.”
The US has, itself, been in parallel situations. The Montagnards, a mountainous ethnic group from Vietnam, faced brutal reprisals for working with US Special Forces during the Vietnam War. After the war, many Montagnards fled to Cambodia, as the victorious North Vietnamese targeted them for working with the enemy. Several American Green Berets and veterans fought to evacuate their Montagnards allies to the US. Some got out, but many were captured, tortured, imprisoned or killed.
In Afghanistan, too, ethnic divisions will play a part in the conflicts that will follow the US exit. After the failure of the Soviet occupation, the USSR signed the Geneva accords in 1988, along with the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving tribal animosity to fester. The Taliban, consisting mostly of Pashtuns, rose to power in the 1990s and systematically targeted non-Pashtuns. As Amy Chua writes in her book Political Tribes, in 1998, “the Taliban massacred 2,000 Uzbeks and Hazaras (who for their part had massacred Taliban Pashtuns in 1997)”. Following the US invasion of 2001, the Americans allied with the Uzbek warlords of the Northern Alliance, which in turn took revenge on the Taliban soldiers by “mercilessly” killing thousands.
Earlier this week, US secretary of state Antony Blinken stated that the Taliban “have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans, for third-country nationals, and Afghans at risk going forward past August 31.” But we’ve already heard many reports to the contrary. Some wishful thinkers would like us to believe that this is a newer, modern version of the Taliban. However, this is not the Taliban 2.0. They are showing us who they are before we’ve even left. Soon after the collapse of the Afghan government, reports stated that they were “going door-to-door and screening names at Kabul checkpoints as they hunt for people who worked with US-led forces or the previous Afghan government”.
The recklessness of the Biden team continues to astound me. It really is as if they are deaf, dumb, and blind – ignoring not only what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan but also what has happened in multiple similar situations throughout history.