Proof of this disaster comes in new reports that a number of Islamic terrorist groups are once again thriving in Afghanistan. All of this means one thing…at some point, al-Qaeda and/or other terror groups likely will try to attack the United States.
A recent report from the United Nations confirmed this, stating, “The Taliban-controlled Afghan reality that the report describes includes a score of terrorist groups, both regional and worldwide in scope, living unmolested, conducting terror activities and growing more numerous in 2023 than they were the year before.
The HillWhen the U.S. announced its impending withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, many argued (or at least hoped) that it would be the final chapter in our 20-year engagement there and somehow insulate us from the threat that prompted our post-9/11 “war on terror.”
But less than two years since the last soldier left Afghanistan, reality continues to dash that hope. Afghanistan is once again becoming a gathering place for terror groups to train, organize and launch attacks on the rest of the world.
That’s the conclusion of a report released publicly in June by the United Nations committee overseeing U.N. sanctions against the Taliban. The Taliban-controlled Afghan reality that the report describes includes a score of terrorist groups, both regional and worldwide in scope, living unmolested, conducting terror activities and growing more numerous in 2023 than they were the year before.
According to the report’s summary, “the link between the Taliban and both Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan remains strong and symbiotic. A range of terrorist groups have greater freedom of maneuver under the Taliban de facto authorities. They are making good use of this, and the threat of terrorism is rising in both Afghanistan and the region.”
The Taliban welcomes all these groups, according to the report, except for the local Islamic State affiliate known as ISIL-K. But the Taliban seems curiously unable to neutralize ISIL, despite having a chokehold on every other aspect of Afghan security.
What does al Qaeda leader Amin ul-Haq’s return to Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover mean?
We are longtime observers of Afghanistan and international security policy who are troubled not only by this frighteningly negative trend but also by the accommodationist Western response.
The evidence contained in this latest U.N. report challenges the arguments we heard two years ago, that we could contain the rebuilding of terror networks in Afghanistan with an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism capability. By leaving as we did, the U.S. betrayed and disrupted its information networks in Afghanistan. Even a U.S. senior military official said in March that “over-the-horizon” isn’t going to keep us safe against a determined foe.
Not-so-secret talks between the CIA and Taliban to cooperate against ISIL-K are a mistake on many levels, as it prioritizes a tactical goal over the strategic problem of embroiling the U.S. in a partnership with a known terrorist group. Furthermore, as a noted United Kingdom sanctions export pointed out recently, the Taliban’s “Pashtun chauvinism” strengthens ISIL’s appeal to other ethnicities, and the shrinking economy and regime human rights abuses against former government officials also add to those willing to join ISIL.
Some have called for engaging with the Taliban because they are the “de facto” rulers. But we should consider more carefully what that would mean for our enduring national security interests. Do the advocates of engagement truly mean to open the door to a Taliban leader standing in front of the U.N. General Assembly, afforded the legitimacy of that body, spewing misogynistic hate and a call to violent action?
Within a few years, the external and internal forces of jihad will hold a captive audience of millions of people. The U.N. report documents a surge of foreign fighters relocating to Afghanistan; meanwhile, groups around the world see the Taliban’s rhetoric of a great victory through jihadist purity as a beacon and model. Afghan primary school children are now enrolled in revenge-fueled fundamentalist education. Young Afghan girls, forced out of education and employment, are becoming brides and mothers before their time.
Inside Afghanistan under Taliban rule:
We must do everything possible to keep and strengthen the biggest international policy tool we have: targeted, worldwide, U.N.-administered sanctions against Taliban leaders, imposed on the grounds that their actions are a threat to international peace and security. The U.N. Security Council, bitterly divided on most issues, has supported this sanctions regime, renewing it most recently in December 2022.
The regime could be strengthened, and allies such as the United Kingdom could take the lead. It is time to add to the current list of sanctioned Taliban individuals, tighten the rules for travel ban, mandate closure of the Taliban’s office in Qatar and call for the return to Afghanistan of the relatives of listed Taliban officials — including their daughters who are sent abroad to study.
Furthermore, the Taliban’s human rights abuses, such as killing prisoners and former government officials, torturing women and denying health services and food to the most vulnerable, are akin to using terrorism on the Afghan population. We would advocate other policy options that send a clear international message that these acts of domestic terror, in addition to their hosting of international jihadi groups, are further reasons that the Taliban cannot be treated as a legitimate representative of the Afghan people.
This report makes it clear that the U.S. must abrogate the 2020 Doha agreement. The Taliban clearly don’t believe they have to abide by it; why are we?