• Matthew C. Mai

Don’t Hand Afghanistan Back to the Taliban

Bob Strong / Reuters

In light of the developing negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, there has been a renewed call to bring our troops home from the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan that no one seems to know why we are fighting anymore. This is largely to blame for the lack of a continuous strategy on the part of the last three presidents as well as a lack of clarity presented by the administrations on what our objective in Afghanistan is. What makes wars like Afghanistan hard to finish is that victory is not guaranteed in four years due to the nature of our enemy and that each president has a different outlook on what our foreign policy should be. Our impatience and frustration with the war are now showing as we engage in withdrawal negotiations with a group that was once our sworn enemy.

One of the conditions on the table with the Taliban is that when the United States leaves Afghanistan, they will not play host to terrorist groups as they once did for Al-Qaeda in the lead up to 9/11. Ignoring the humanitarian concerns Taliban rule presents, this issue of playing host is of primary interest to US security. While the Taliban may not have the global reach of groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda, given the freedom to do so, they will enable those groups by providing a safe haven no matter how many promises they make. They are, after all, a violent Islamic fundamentalist group that despises America and American values and the Taliban would like nothing more than to see America attacked on her home soil.

While aggressive US policy towards ISIS has taken away a vast majority of their territory, there are still thousands of fighters estimated to be lurking in Syria and Iraq. It would not be unreasonable to imagine those fighters finding their way to Afghanistan where a fellow Sunni fundamentalist terror group is in control. The Taliban hosted Al-Qaeda before, they will certainly do it again for ISIS. According to the State Department, there is already a small contingent of ISIS fighters who have gained a foothold in northern Afghanistan. If ISIS was to have protection from the Taliban in Afghanistan, America would be in just as much danger as it was before 9/11.

Taliban rule in Afghanistan would not only be the antithesis of American values, but it would also present the world with another authoritarian government and an inevitable humanitarian crisis. The Taliban’s humanitarian track record before the 2001 invasion was abysmal. Women could not work, go to school, and were denied healthcare. NGOs were expelled from the country, millions were displaced from their homes, and basic necessities like food and clean water were not available. It has also been clear from the negotiation process that the Taliban are not willing to share power with an Afghan government they view as a US puppet. Look no further than the December 2018 attack on a government building where dozens of civilians were killed or the massive car bomb that killed Afghan 100 soldiers on a military base in late January this year. Given this violence and blatant disregard for the Afghan government throughout the negotiations, as well as the larger goal of seeing the US out of Afghanistan, it is clear the Taliban expect to be running the show once we leave. To let the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan would present a clear threat to US national security interests as well as impair the country's growth and development as a society.

Our continued mission in Afghanistan should be what it was when we first entered the country in 2001, to ensure it is not a safe haven for international terrorist groups. The Taliban would allow for that safe haven. The United States has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists and the Taliban should be no exception to that policy. We should not be negotiating with them at all as they are a group primed for violence and determined to undermine America by facilitating terrorism. While there is certainly a list of legitimate complaints about our policy decisions over the last 17 years, letting the Taliban pick up where they left off will inevitably present us with the same situation that brought us to Afghanistan in the first place.

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