John Bolton, the former national security advisor to Donald Trump, told CNBC he thinks that the Taliban’s return to power could once again turn Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorist groups.
“We stayed there for an equally valid strategic reason, which is to keep Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other threatening terrorist groups from regaining a capability, to have a privileged sanctuary from which they could plan and direct attacks against the U.S. and our friends and allies,” Bolton told “The Squawk Box.”
This is entirely possible but not very likely — at least not right away. The Taliban will look to consolidate power and then go on a “charm offensive” trying to keep the spigot of Western aid flowing. They know how to act in order to get aid from the EU.
But Bolton says that even the incompetent, corrupt U.S. governments of the last 20 years were better than the Taliban being in power.
“What Taliban-controlled Afghanistan provides is potential for a regime that enables terrorist groups — unlike other regimes which try and hunt them down and eliminate them,” Bolton said.
“They can now go to Afghanistan under Taliban and expect a more hospitable reception. I think that endangers us all,” he added.
The Taliban has said it will not allow Afghanistan to be used to launch attacks on other nations.
But experts say that ties remain with al Qaeda, whose attacks against the United States prompted Washington to invade the country in 2001, as well as other militant groups including in neighbouring Pakistan.
“Other militant groups” include the radical Haqqani Network, which was fond of taking American hostages.
“Jihadists writ large are jubilant and electrified by the Taliban’s return,” said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia security scholar affiliated with Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.
“Major jihadist constituencies across South Asia, Middle East and Africa have taken note … (and) al Qaeda’s eco-system sees the Taliban’s return as its own victory.”
Every jihadist group you’ve ever heard of is celebrating the Taliban’s glorious victory and the humiliating defeat of the United States.
Besides groups affiliated to al Qaeda, congratulatory messages to the Taliban have come from Somalia’s al-Shabaab and Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Yemen’s Shi’ite Muslim Houthi group, which is opposed to the United States and other Western countries, said events in Afghanistan proved that foreign “occupation” was bound to fail.
The Pakistani Taliban, which is not part of the Afghan group, pledged allegiance, and said hundreds of its members were freed from prisons when the Afghan Taliban swept through the country in recent days.
Does this sound like the Taliban have retired from the terrorism business?
The Taliban don’t think and plan for the short term. They think in thousand-year intervals so that setbacks like their ouster from Afghanistan in 2001 were always seen as temporary. They see their goal of a worldwide Islamic caliphate as achievable — perhaps not in their lifetimes, but as inevitable as the sun rising in the east.
They can afford to wait a few years before beginning the struggle against apostates and blasphemers once again. They’ve got all the time in the world.