On a Saturday in late October in Kabul, Afghanistan, a car carrying explosives rammed into an armored U.S. military bus, killing 13 Americans, including five soldiers and eight civilian staff. In August, a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, killing 30 Americans. Who was responsible? The Taliban. And who now says the Taliban is not America’s enemy? Vice President Joseph Biden.
In an interview with Newsweek, Biden laid out his — and the Administration’s view — of the Taliban:
Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us.
Just in case there was any confusion over Biden’s remarks, White House press secretary Jay Carney chimed in yesterday for clarification, complaining that the Vice President’s statement was “taken out of context.” His underlying message, though, was essentially the same as Biden’s, that the Taliban is not America’s enemy:
And what the vice president was reflecting is that — and this is related to the reconciliation process that I was just discussing — is that the Taliban, per se — while we are fighting them — it is not the elimination — the elimination of the Taliban is not the issue here.
Need a brief refresher on history, Mr. Press Secretary? Mr. Vice President? Over the past 10 years the United States has waged a costly war in Afghanistan with the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda, eradicating the Taliban regime which gave the terrorist organization safe haven, and creating a viable democracy in that country. For too long, al-Qaeda had operated from Afghanistan with impunity. Osama bin Laden formed an alliance with the Taliban, his forces trained with Taliban forces, and his relationship with Taliban leader Mullah Omar grew. After bin Laden and his affiliates were found accountable for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, the Taliban refused to extradite the guilty parties to the United States, claiming that “without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin… He is a free man.” Meanwhile, bin Laden praised the Taliban as the “only Islamic government” in existence and praised the Taliban’s leader.
Let there be no doubt, bin Laden and al-Qaeda used Afghanistan as a base of attack against the United States, and it was a launching platform for the 9/11 attacks, after which time President George W. Bush declared that in the war against terrorism, neutrality is not an option, and “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”
Under the Obama Administration, though, a different course is being pursued — one of negotiation and reconciliation with the Taliban. It dates as far back as early 2009, when in a speech before a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama spoke of combating al-Qaeda but failed to mention defeating the Taliban, signaling his Administration’s policy direction. At the time, Heritage’s Theodore Bromund warned that the President’s path would be a dangerous one for the United States:
The comprehensive strategy that he promises may be one that seeks to reconcile with the Taliban while continuing isolated strikes against terrorist safe havens. Indeed, his strongest promise of all on national security issues was his assurance that he would not allow such safe havens to plot against the U.S. That promise, firm in isolation, foreshadows a return to the Clinton-era policy of counter-terrorism by cruise missile, just as his promise of “swift and certain justice” for captured terrorists implies a return to the view that terrorism is largely a law enforcement issue. If so, he will be returning to a well-trodden and failed path, one that led directly to 9/11.
However, it appears that reconciliation is the Administration’s end game — and Heritage’s Lisa Curtis explains in a new paper that reconciliation should not be an end in and of itself. “The U.S. must make clear that political reconciliation in Afghanistan is desirable–but only if it contributes to the ultimate goal of ensuring that Afghanistan can never again serve as a safe haven for international terrorists.”
In late September, suicide bombers assassinated former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was in charge of the High Peace Council pursuing reconciliation talks with the Taliban. The assassination dealt a blow to the political reconciliation process and reinforced resistance to the notion of political accommodation with the Taliban. And Curtis explained that it should have served as a wake-up call to the United States and that “the U.S. must be realistic about the threat that Taliban extremists and their al-Qaeda allies pose to U.S. interests in the region.”
Unfortunately, the American people are not seeing realism from the White House. Rather, they are witnessing the Obama Administration trying to make a friend out of an enemy all in the name of justifying a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan. America has made tremendous sacrifices in Afghanistan for the sake of U.S. security– the greatest sacrifice being the lives of its sons and daughters lost in waging the war. Ignoring the Taliban’s true nature jeopardizes the successes that our military has won, and it risks turning back the clock to September 10, 2001, when terrorist forces could find safe refuge from which they could plan their attacks.