Taliban without al Qaeda? Don’t bet on it
If the Taliban took over Afghanistan, would al Qaeda again have a safe haven? I think so. The time to drive a wedge betwixt the two was back in 2002-2003, after the American invasion, when both groups had fled Afghanistan in disarray, and were licking their wounds and reproaching each other as they hid in ...
If the Taliban took over Afghanistan, would al Qaeda again have a safe haven? I think so. The time to drive a wedge betwixt the two was back in 2002-2003, after the American invasion, when both groups had fled Afghanistan in disarray, and were licking their wounds and reproaching each other as they hid in Pakistani frontier villages.
That thought is provoked by an article in today’s New York Times and by a series of interesting interviews with Taliban members recently carried by Newsweek. After the U.S. arrived, notes one Talibaner interviewed:
The Arabs were disappointed the Taliban hadn’t stood and fought. They told me they had wanted to fight to the death. They were clearly not as distressed as the Afghans. This was understandable. The Arabs felt they had lost a battle. But the Afghans were much more devastated-they had lost a country.”
The groups began rebuilding, the same Talibani recalls, by using raids and even funerals as recruiting and fund-raising tools. After one cross-border raid against an American outpost, he recalled:
We carried the stiff and bloodied bodies of our martyrs back to Wana. Thousands of locals attended their funerals. … As the news traveled, a lot of former Taliban began returning to Wana to join us.
Another Taliban member says they benefited from American violence and the abuses of the Kabul government:
The Afghan Taliban were weak and disorganized. But slowly the situation began to change. American operations that harassed villagers, bombings that killed civilians, and Karzai’s corrupt police were alienating villagers and turning them in our favor. Soon we didn’t have to hide so much on our raids. We came openly. When they saw us, villagers started preparing green tea and food for us. The tables were turning. Karzai’s police and officials mostly hid in their district compounds like prisoners.
As the old John Hiatt song laments, this is the way we make a broken heart. Or rather, this is the way we allowed a medieval bunch of Afghan hillbillies to re-group while we distracted ourselves with an unnecessary war in Iraq.
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1
More from Foreign Policy
Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak
Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.
Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage
The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.
The West’s False Choice in Ukraine
The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.
Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.