According to the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban signed in February last year, the remaining 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan are due to be withdrawn on May 1. As part of the agreement, the Taliban agreed to stop attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops, decrease the violence in Afghanistan, cut all ties with al-Qaeda, and enter into negotiations with the Afghan government.
President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated that trying to withdraw all American troops by the May 1 deadline was going to be difficult. This has frustrated some senior officials in the Pentagon who have expressed criticism that the Biden administration is wracked by indecisiveness and “dithering,” according to an NBC News post on April 8.
One official was quoted as saying, “There needs to be a decision,” adding, “just tell us what we’re doing here.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden, will announce his decision by the end of the month, and “wants to take the time to make the right decision.” This announcement by Psaki all but guarantees there will be an extension of the U.S. withdrawal.
“There Needs to Be a Decision”
It would be nearly impossible logistically for the U.S. and all of its coalition partners to withdraw by May 1. Back in March, the president said as much, stating, “It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline. Just in terms of tactical reasons, it’s hard to get those troops out.” He added, “And if we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”
Biden promised, during his election campaign, that he’d leave counter-terrorism troops in Afghanistan to work alongside Afghan commandos. That would be a breaking point with the Taliban, which would then open the door for them to attack the U.S.-led coalition. In fact, the Taliban have already done exactly that.
Late last month, the Taliban twice attacked a covert CIA base in Afghanistan Firebase Chapman in Kandahar in eastern Afghanistan. A water tower was struck and several mortar rounds landed inside the base. No American or coalition troops were injured, however, seven civilians were wounded in the attack. This is how the Taliban test the waters to gauge a potential American reaction.
The Taliban haven’t lived up to their part of the agreement in several key ways, and this latest attack just adds to it. They haven’t reduced the violence in the country, and in fact, have increased it. They’ve made it abundantly clear that the Afghan government in Kabul is, in their minds, a puppet regime of Washington.
Al-Qaeda Dealbreakers and Lies in Afghanistan
But arguably the biggest dealbreaker is the Taliban’s relationship with al-Qaeda. Nineteen years ago, then-President Bush demanded that they turn over the al-Qaeda terrorists that had planned and organized the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The Taliban refused, believing that the U.S. would never be a threat to them. That was the entire reason the U.S. began its 19-year (and counting) involvement in Afghanistan.
The Taliban continue to lie about al-Qaeda, insisting that they have no relationship with the terrorist group and they are not present in Afghanistan. And yet, in October last year, Afghan forces killed Abu Muhsin al-Masri, a senior al-Qaeda leader who was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorist list.
Al-Masri, an Egyptian national, who also went by the name Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, was believed to be al-Qaeda’s second-in-command. He was killed during a special operation in the central Ghazni province, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said at the time.
And although the Taliban deny that al-Qaeda is present in Afghanistan, the terrorist group’s communication points to the contrary.
FDD’s Long War Journal published a very informative piece that shows that al-Qaeda’s Thabat, the terrorist group’s weekly newsletter, posted multiple reports of al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan.
Thabat is described by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team as “one of [al-Qaeda’s] media arms,” that covers its operations around the world.
The Long War Journal’s piece noted the following:
“An analysis of 16 issues of Thabat (issues 3 through 18) shows that Al Qaeda and its constellation of allies in Afghanistan have been involved in dozens of attacks from Nov. 2020 to the present in 18 of Afghanistan’s provinces. The provinces where Thabat reported on operations are Badakhshan, Balkh, Farah, Faryab, Ghazni, Helmand, Jawzjan, Kapisa, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunar, Kunduz, Khost, Logar, Nangarhar, Takhar, Uruzgan, and Zabul.”
The U.S. military in Afghanistan has been well aware of foreign terrorists operating in the country with the approval and support of the Taliban for two decades. The U.S. military has launched nearly 400 operations against terrorist groups in 27 of the country’s 34 provinces. Those are the first things that need ironing out before any further ‘deals’ with the Taliban get done.