Why are we helping the Taliban?
“We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest.” – President George W. Bush, addressing Congress, 20 September 2001
Wesley Morgan of the Washington Post revealed a jaw-dropping aspect of American policy in the Afghanistan. The title of the piece said it all – “Our secret Taliban air force.” Here are the details (and the Trump Administration’s refusal to admit to it).
“What we’re doing with the strikes against ISIS is helping the Taliban move,” a member of the elite Joint Special Operations Command counterterrorism task force based at Bagram air base explained to me earlier this year, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the assistance was secret. The air power would give them an advantage by keeping the enemy pinned down.
Last fall and winter, as the JSOC task force was conducting the strikes, the Trump administration’s public line was that it was hammering the Taliban “harder than they have ever been hit before,” as the president put it — trying to force the group back to the negotiating table in Doha, Qatar, after President Trump put peace talks there on hold and canceled a secretly planned summit with Taliban leaders at Camp David. Administration officials signaled that they didn’t like or trust the Taliban and that, until it made more concessions, it could expect only blistering bombardment.
In reality, even as its warplanes have struck the Taliban in other parts of Afghanistan, the U.S. military has been quietly helping the Taliban to weaken the Islamic State in its Konar stronghold and keep more of the country from falling into the hands of the group…
…inside JSOC, the team working on this mission is jokingly known as the “Taliban Air Force,” one task force member told me.
This is the inevitable end game of the Administration’s myopia on Afghanistan – and on the world in general. Trump himself has repeatedly and deliberately ignored any anti-American terrorist group that isn’t Daesh (a.k.a., ISIS). Combined with his reflective isolationism, Trump’s overly simplistic view of the world is a boon to Vladimir Putin, to Xi Jinping, to Bashar Assad, and to the Taliban – the latter still allied to al Qaeda nearly two decades after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
To make matters worse, Morgan also noted that in the “peace” deal agreed by the US and by the Taliban in February, the Taliban doesn’t have to renounce al Qaeda.
The Doha agreement requires the Taliban to prevent terrorist groups from using its territory to plan international attacks, but not for the Taliban to break its ties with al-Qaeda — and last summer, a top Taliban spokesman refused to acknowledge that al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
In other words, on top of everything else Trump has done to appease the Taliban (inviting them to Camp David for talks, silence on the bounties paid to them by the Kremlin to kill our soldiers, and a “peace” deal that his former National Security Advisor likened to Munich ’38), we now know that Trump policy is to openly help the Taliban even as it remains allied with the killers of 3,000 Americans.
We do not know why Trump has such a large blind spot regarding the Taliban, but we do know they are grateful.
Whatever the reason, the conclusion is clear: The Trump Administration has completely lost the plot in Afghanistan.