Afghanistan one month after the fall of Kabul: Taliban back, Haqqanis in power, and al Qaeda lurks

One month after the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan is a more dangerous place.

Americans and Afghan allies are still stranded, a new Taliban “caretaker” government is populated by terrorists, and there are worrying predictions al Qaeda's presence in the country will continue to grow.

The U.S. Embassy was abandoned in mid-August, and Hamid Karzai International Airport erupted into chaos as Americans and Afghans attempted to flee when the Taliban marched into Kabul, with at least one Afghan plummeting to his death after clinging to a U.S. aircraft. Thousands of U.S. troops had to be sent back into the country to assist with the airlift evacuation and to protect the airport, with the Taliban just outside the perimeter.

Helicopters evacuating personnel out of the U.S. Embassy were immediately compared to infamous images from Saigon in the 1970s. President Joe Biden had promised that such imagery would not occur in Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country in a helicopter, denying reports he had taken suitcases full of money with him.

Thirteen U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians and others were killed in a suicide bombing perpetrated by ISIS-K, the local Islamic State affiliate, outside Kabul airport. The United States claimed a retaliatory strike in Kabul killed a would-be ISIS-K car bomber, but evidence has emerged that the strike, which killed a number of civilians and children, may have killed an aid worker, not a possible suicide bomber.

Roughly 100 U.S. citizens are still trying to escape, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who conceded that there are still “several thousand green card holders” in the country. Tens of thousands of Special Immigrant Visa applicants, interpreters, and Afghan allies were also left behind in Afghanistan.

Private efforts to get Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan continue.

As the dust settles a month later, the Taliban, according to Blinken, are now “the de facto government of Afghanistan,” forcing the U.S. to negotiate with them. Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, said that “it’s hard to put a label on it” when asked whether the Taliban are now a “frenemy,” an adversary, or an enemy.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said earlier this month that the Taliban “have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents” from Kabul airport and “have shown flexibility” and “been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort.”

Despite its “businesslike” demeanor with the U.S., the Taliban’s feared “virtue and vice” police, which enforced its extreme views on Shariah, including the subjugation of women, appears to have returned. The Taliban are reportedly also committing atrocities and beheadings in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, they named Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a longtime ally of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, to serve as the country’s acting prime minister. Akhund, who was the Taliban’s foreign minister before the U.S. invasion in 2001, told the United Nations in 1999 that “we will never give up Osama [bin Laden] at any price.”

Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban, was appointed to be Akhund’s deputy. Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, was freed from Pakistan in 2018 and is the most prominent of thousands of Taliban prisoners freed at America’s request in its efforts to promote failed peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

A number of members of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network also received key top positions, including leader Sirajuddin Haqqani being picked to be the Taliban’s acting interior minister. Haqqani, the “deputy emir” of the Taliban, has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. and has a $10 million reward for his arrest hanging over his head. The State Department insists that the Haqqani network and the Taliban are “separate entities,” but Anas Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani's brother, bluntly said this month: “We are the Taliban.”

Hibatullah Akhundzada, considered the “emir” of Afghanistan by the Taliban, is a strong al Qaeda ally and proud father of a suicide bomber known as the “commander of the faithful.” Current al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri reportedly swore allegiance to him as the “emir of the believers” in 2016.

Four of the so-called Taliban Five were also named to key roles in the Taliban’s new “caretaker” government after the militant leaders were released by the Obama administration from detention at Guantanamo Bay in a prisoner exchange for U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl.

A small resistance to Taliban rule is present. Organized in Afghanistan’s northeast Panjshir Valley by deposed Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, the U.S. has declined to issue any public signs of support for the group.

Al Qaeda, meanwhile, lurks in the shadows. The Taliban gave al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan for years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks and continued to protect bin Laden and al Qaeda after the U.S. invasion in late 2001. The Taliban and al Qaeda fought alongside each other in the now-successful insurgency against the U.S. in Afghanistan, where more than 2,400 U.S. service members were killed. The Taliban’s top spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, falsely claimed there is “no evidence” bin Laden was behind 9/11 just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

Intelligence officials said this week that al Qaeda could become a threat to the U.S. homeland within a year, using Afghanistan as a base once again.

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that “the current assessment, probably conservatively, is one to two years for al Qaeda to build some capability to at least threaten the homeland.”

Biden falsely contended in late August that al Qaeda was “gone” from Afghanistan.

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Tags: News, al Qaeda, 9/11, Taliban, Taliban Five, Afghanistan, Joe Biden

Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: Afghanistan one month after the fall of Kabul: Taliban back, Haqqanis in power, and al Qaeda lurks

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