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To Understand U.S. Response to Taliban, Look at Syria and Libya

In the wake of the bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, many Americans may be wondering how the U.S. government found itself closely cooperating with, and even relying upon, an enemy with whom we were at war for 20 years.

The Taliban maintains its intention to enforce Sharia Law, harbors al-Qaeda, and includes a designated terrorist group among its organizations.

Yet the head of U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, praised the Taliban for their assistance with the U.S. evacuation, calling the jihadist group “actually very helpful.”

The Biden Administration is signaling the possibility of future cooperation with the Taliban. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said the United States would consider sharing intelligence with the Taliban to target Islamic State fighters. Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has openly floated providing the Taliban with U.S. development aid. Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s statement to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell seems to accurately reflect the Washington Beltway consensus.

“I think the Taliban are going to need our help,” he said. “Economically to be sure, but they may come under severe attack by al-Qaeda or ISIS-K,” Cohen told Mitchell. “They may need intelligence that they don’t have, that we may be able to provide them under certain conditions.”

To fully understand the U.S. government’s about-face on the Taliban, look not to Afghanistan but to Libya and Syria for answers. It was here, during the tumultuous “Arab Spring” that the United States became increasingly comfortable forging alliances with jihadist groups—even those with ties to al-Qaeda—to achieve foreign policy ends, often with disastrous consequences. In many cases, the Obama Administration officials who played a leading role in those disasters are now back and guiding the Biden team.

The Obama Administration opted to support Libyan Muslim Brotherhood leaders with ties to al-Qaeda-linked militias to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a story John Rossomando tells in his upcoming book for the Center for Security Policy, The Arab Spring Ruse: How the Muslim Brotherhood Duped Washington in Libya and Syria. Through contacts with the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. government found itself cooperating with known jihadist groups, such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Rossomando writes: “Sullivan—who is currently President Biden’s National Security Advisor—informed Clinton of these terror links before she meet with Libyan Muslim Brotherhood’s number two, Mahmoud Jabril, on March 14, 2011, and committed to supporting the revolution against Gaddafi.”

The U.S. decision to back jihadist rebels in Libya led directly to the disastrous assault on the U.S. consulate and CIA station in Benghazi, as the Muslim Brotherhood militia, recruited by the U.S. to help defend the embassy, melted away into the night when al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shariah killed four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Similarly, the Biden Administration relied on the Taliban to provide security checkpoints throughout Kabul, only to result in a horrific ISIS suicide bombing which killed a dozen Americans and scores of Afghan civilians.

In Syria, the Obama Administration believed that it could support jihadist fighters against ISIS and the Assad regime, and in doing so managed to provide millions of dollars in weapons and aid to al-Qaeda-linked groups. Rossomando notes:

There were numerous instances of American-supplied weapons finding their way into the hands of Al-Qaeda or ISIS jihadists because of these alliances. For example, Anas Obaid, a U.S.-trained Syrian rebel leader, announced he had deceived the United States and that he had defected to Jabhat al-Nusra, now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, with his American-supplied weapons.

U.S. armed and vetted “moderates” included Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, which was armed with TOW anti-tank missiles, fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, and outraged the world when their fighters were videotaped beheading a child.

To vet these so-called moderates, the Obama Administration relied on Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups such as the Syrian Emergency Taskforce, which repeatedly attempted to align the U.S. with Islamist groups. Once again, the Obama Administration thought that it could cause jihadist groups to fight alongside the U.S. against their ideological compatriots.  They failed spectacularly.

If Afghanistan is any indication, they learned nothing from this failure.

Contrary to the claims of the Biden Administration, the Taliban is joined at the hip with al-Qaeda, which is at this moment fighting alongside them against what little resistance remains to Taliban rule. Even the notion that al-Qaeda and ISIS are intractable enemies is overblown. Al-Qaeda and ISIS operatives have cooperated in the past.

Congress should demand to know the full details of any agreement the Biden Administration cut with the Taliban. That should include whether the decisions which undercut the U.S. evacuation effort, such as surrendering Bagram Air Base or pulling air support to the Afghan military, were made in coordination with the Taliban.

Americans need to understand that the Biden Administration made the deliberate decision to partner with the Taliban, in the same way that the Obama Administration chose to cooperate with al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Libya and Syria. Their blinkered ideological insistence that jihadist groups can be U.S. partners in foreign policy continues to cost American lives.

They must be held accountable.

Kyle Shideler

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