Throughout the talks in Doha, Qatar, there has been nothing the Taliban could do to make the State Department walk away from the table. The group has conducted daily attacks resulting in the deaths of Afghan civilians, U.S. soldiers and our allies. It has dispatched suicide bombers throughout the country. Its men have terrorized the Afghan population, targeting women and girls. They have done all this while continuing to harbor and fight alongside al-Qaeda in an alliance the two groups have maintained for decades. Just recently, the Taliban released a video justifying the 9/11 hijackings and other terrorist attacks in the West. The Taliban bragged the deadliest day of terror in our history was a “heavy slap” on American faces.
Despite all of this and more, special representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the talks, says he is satisfied with the Taliban’s supposed counterterrorism assurances.
The Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden and his men while they plotted their attacks on the United States. The Taliban has never publicly disavowed al-Qaeda. Instead, al-Qaeda’s fighters are helping the Taliban resurrect its authoritarian Islamic Emirate. As a result, al-Qaeda continues to view Afghanistan as a haven for its leadership.
Given the Taliban’s sordid history and ongoing violence, it strains credulity to believe it can be a partner for peace. The American people deserve to see the full text of any agreement the State Department is negotiating, including supposed counterterrorism assurances. If we are putting our security in the hands of the enemy who harbored al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks, the American people deserve to know why.
As the president correctly noted in August 2017: “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.” Indeed, the Islamic State remains a global threat and has a prolific branch inside Afghanistan. An Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up at a wedding reception in Kabul just this past weekend, killing dozens of people. This was just the latest horrific attack by the Islamic State inside the Afghan capital. The group is already exporting its terror to Afghanistan’s neighboring countries and may also have ambitions to strike in the West. Our brave men and women in uniform fight the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other terror groups over there so that we are never again forced to confront them here at home.
When announcing his strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump rightly criticized his predecessor’s wartime leadership, saying that “conditions on the ground” and “not arbitrary timetables” should “guide our strategy from now on.” The president added that “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out” — a rebuke of Obama’s decision to set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Any deal with the Taliban that includes a predetermined schedule for drawing down our forces would only repeat Obama’s mistake.
The United States has made significant strides against terrorism in Afghanistan. Our troops have saved American lives, thwarting terror plots and hunting down key terrorist leaders who would do us harm. Just days before Trump was elected, U.S. forces killed a senior al-Qaeda operative who was plotting against the United States from inside Afghanistan. Under Trump’s leadership, other al-Qaeda and Islamic State figures have been eliminated inside Afghanistan since 2017. America’s security requires that these counterterrorism gains be maintained and secured.
We should not withdraw U.S. forces based on a political timetable that grants concessions to the Taliban and allows the terrorists to maintain safe havens from which they can plan and train for future attacks in the West. We cannot accept a deal that places America’s security in the hands of the Taliban.
Agreeing to such a deal would not be ending a war, it would be losing it — to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State.