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Herbert London: The Rising Taliban

On 9/11 Americans recalled the 15th anniversary of the vicious al Qaeda attack on the United States that took 2800 lives. It was yet another day in infamy. Although largely forgotten in the public memory bank, the Taliban of Afghanistan harbored the terrorists and assisted in the planning of the attack. President George W. Bush’s final act of retaliation was to strike back at the Taliban.

For 15 years U.S. troops have been on Afghanistan soil, albeit numbers have dwindled to about 8,000 from 150,000. What is revealing at this time is that the Taliban have launched an offensive to take a major provincial capital, a move, if successful, that would mark the most significant Taliban victory since the U.S. invasion. This is merely a rehearsal for Taliban troop movements, including the swallowing of large swaths of territory in Helmand province, a place where hundreds of NATO troops died.

A loss of provincial capitals would be catastrophic for the U.S. backed Afghan government. Moreover, if the Taliban gain effective control of the country - a not implausible scenario - extremist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda can reconstitute their Afghan sanctuaries spreading death and destruction in the region.

The question is what will the Obama administration do about the deteriorating situation. The answer is “nothing”. President Obama is intent on the withdrawal of American troops from the region however precarious the withdrawal may be. As the president has noted we are no longer fighting wars in the Middle East. That is true, as far as it goes. But the wars continue with or without the U.S.. American interests are in the hands of putative enemies.

While many will say “good riddance,” this isolationist temptation also means we will be obliged to fight terrorists another day on terms favorable to them. Covering one’s eyes to the horrors in the region doesn’t make them go away. Yet this is the policy the president has outlined as his legacy.

If there is to be an American “recovery” in the next administration it will have to be based on a foundation of national trust. Afghan leaders have seen a rise and a fall in the U.S. commitment to their nation. They remain unclear about U.S. policy. There are, presidential precautions about the terms of engagement against the enemy. There is the presidents distemper over any disagreement in policy.

In 2003 there was a celebration in Kabul when the city was liberated from the Taliban. Theaters opened; women removed their hijabs and the streets were filled with joyous revelry. That is all a distant memory. The Taliban are back in full force and the momentary joy of several years ago has been replaced with apprehension. President Obama may believe there aren’t consequences associated with his action or inaction, but for those who lives are in turmoil, there is a very different world view. 

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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