After Two Decades of Fighting Taliban, U.S. Is Uneasy Partners With Them



WASHINGTON — Twenty years in the past, President George W. Bush denounced the Taliban for “aiding and abetting homicide” after the terrorist assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, as President Biden ends the conflict Mr. Bush began, the US is locked in an uneasy partnership with that very enemy power, counting on the Taliban to assist safeguard Americans and their Afghan allies as they race to evacuate the nation.

It’s an unbelievable battlefield relationship: Diplomats, spies and navy officers for the US are having cooperative discussions with their Taliban counterparts, because the group serves as America’s first line of protection on the airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital, screening passengers for paperwork and weapons.

That relationship seems to have failed spectacularly on Thursday, American navy officers mentioned, when rival terrorists managed to move via Taliban checkpoints across the airport and set off a suicide bomb that killed 13 American troops and scores of Afghan civilians.

The grim incident — and the warnings by administration officers that extra assaults are potential, even possible, within the days forward — underscores the precarious place that Mr. Biden finds himself in after overruling his navy advisers within the spring and ordering a complete withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by the top of August.

Mr. Biden has acquired broad criticism for his dealing with of the withdrawal, even from many Democrats. Republicans who eagerly supported President Donald J. Trump’s months of negotiations with the Taliban at the moment are savaging Mr. Biden for leaning on the brand new rulers of the nation. However as soon as the Taliban toppled the Afghan authorities on Aug. 15, the crucial was set, based on Mr. Biden and his high generals. Over the past 10 days, they’ve described a crucial, if distasteful, working association.

“Nobody trusts them,” Mr. Biden mentioned Thursday night as he denounced the terrorist assault by ISIS-Ok, an Islamic State affiliate and a rival to the Taliban. “We’re simply relying on their self-interest to proceed to generate their actions. And it’s of their self-interest that we depart after we mentioned and that we get as many individuals out as we will.”

Contact between the US and the Taliban, the enemy in a conflict that took the lives of greater than 2,400 American troops, is just not unprecedented.

President Barack Obama accredited talks with the Taliban in 2010 to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was captured by the group the yr earlier than.

Through the Trump administration, the US sought direct peace talks with the Taliban in hopes of ending the battle. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was introduced in to guide the negotiations, which slogged on for almost two years within the Qatari capital, Doha.

At one level in 2019, the talks appeared so near success that Mr. Trump sought to deliver the Taliban to the presidential retreat at Camp David for a victory announcement. The journey was rapidly scuttled by a suicide bombing by the Taliban in Kabul that killed 12 folks, together with an American soldier.

Officers working for Mr. Trump minimize a take care of the Taliban management final yr to finish America’s presence in Afghanistan by Might 1, a deadline Mr. Biden pushed again till Aug. 31.

U.S. officers on Friday angrily denied reviews that that they had handed over to the Taliban lists of susceptible Afghans who have been attempting to make it to the airport. One U.S. official mentioned Taliban fighters at checkpoints have been allowed to overview manifests as buses approached the group’s cordon, however to not hold the lists.

Thursday evening, whilst they continued to work with the Taliban after the airport assault, two U.S. officers mentioned the C.I.A. blew up Eagle Base, a website on the outskirts of Kabul used all through the conflict to coach Afghan counterterrorism forces, to maintain it out of the group’s fingers. The operation was a uncooked instance of how difficult the connection is between the US and the Taliban.

The Biden administration initially had no intention of working with the Taliban throughout the evacuation this month, based on American officers briefed on the plan.

When the primary of the just about 6,000 troops that Mr. Biden licensed began arriving in Kabul this month, navy commanders believed they’d be working with the Afghan authorities’s safety forces to assist ferry Individuals and others to security. However by Aug. 15, when the Taliban swept into Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani fled town, his safety forces ceased to perform.

That day, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a Marine who leads U.S. Central Command, met with Taliban leaders, telling them to not intrude with the evacuation. Taliban officers informed Normal McKenzie that safety was deteriorating in Kabul, and that they needed to act swiftly to safe town.

At that assembly, the Taliban supplied to arrange a liaison system to debate safety issues, based on a U.S. official briefed on the assembly.

Over the past two weeks, there have been periodic conversations between the Taliban official in command of safety in Kabul and American navy commanders, together with Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely

. These conversations mirror a practical relationship of necessity, the U.S. official mentioned. The navy conversations have been tactical conversations and should not anticipated to proceed previous the top of the evacuation mission on Aug. 31, the official added.

Thomas Joscelyn, who has tracked the main points of the Afghanistan conflict on the Basis for Protection of Democracies’ Lengthy Battle Journal, mentioned such tactical discussions have been in all probability crucial.

“There’s a specific amount of tactical speaking that must be achieved right here as a result of they’re nose to nose, and there must be some tactical deconfliction,” he mentioned.

After the bombing on Thursday, Normal McKenzie mentioned the U.S. navy had requested the Taliban to make changes to their safety cordon and to shut particular roads that the US had recognized as sources of threats.

“We’re doing every thing we will to be ready for these assaults. That features reaching out to the Taliban,” he mentioned. “And we are going to proceed to coordinate with them as they go ahead.”

American officers nonetheless imagine they will depend on the Taliban to cease assaults from the Islamic State or different terrorist teams, with sharp limits that have been demonstrated this week. The Taliban management and Islamic State are enemies who’ve repeatedly battled inside Afghanistan.

However even earlier than the bombing that killed dozens, U.S. officers mentioned the mass launch of prisoners that the Taliban allowed as they took over the nation was a transparent signal that the Taliban would act in unreliable methods, permitting developments that would endanger the US.

As soon as the evacuation is full, a lot of the common communication with the Taliban may fall to the C.I.A. The spy company is given the duty of coping with unsavory companions and governments all over the world. The C.I.A. acts covertly, so its discussions with the Taliban might be extra simply shielded from public view.

The company’s highest-profile diplomatic foray, the Monday go to to Kabul by its director, William J. Burns, might be the start of a sequence of engagements over the approaching years. However how a lot the C.I.A. talks to and cooperates with the Taliban will in all probability depend upon their conduct. If the Taliban permit strikes towards Islamic State and Qaeda targets, and supply details about creating terrorist cells, the U.S. authorities is extra prone to cooperate with them, officers mentioned.

The extent of that cooperation may depend upon whether or not Mr. Biden finds any help for that method on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Biden has acquired withering criticism from high Democrats, who’ve pledged to make use of their committee gavels to hunt a full accounting of what went flawed. Republicans, in the meantime, have struggled to discover a coherent criticism.

Within the Home, Consultant Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican chief, ridiculed Mr. Biden on Friday as “an image of weak point and incompetence.” However that criticism got here after a dizzying sequence of contradictory statements, together with his assertions that the US shouldn’t have any troops in Afghanistan however ought to have held onto Bagram Air Base — which might have required extra troops.

Requested whether or not Mr. Biden and his staff are pissed off by the necessity to depend on the Taliban, Jen Psaki, the White Home press secretary, mentioned Friday that the administration was targeted on ending its mission.

“There’s simply not loads of time for self-reflection proper now,” she mentioned.

Catie Edmondson and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.


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