Total Taliban victory over U.S. is absolute worst-case scenario 


ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

TV images of the lightning-fast Taliban victory in Afghanistan are both stunning and sickening.

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Taliban fighters have utterly defeated the weak government and disorganized military of Afghanistan, plunging the nation into utter chaos.

The Taliban have caused President Ashraf Ghani to leave the country and desperate Afghans to flee to the Kabul airport. In taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban are bringing back to power the most draconian, misogynist regime in modern history.

We must remember that it was the Taliban who provided a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, which orchestrated the nightmarish 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a thwarted attack on the U.S. Capitol. Just under 3,000 innocent people were murdered on that ghastly day. President George W. Bush accurately called the attacks “acts of war” and, with the support of our NATO allies, sent American troops to Afghanistan to drive the Taliban from power. They started the effort to track down and kill bin Laden, which was achieved during the Obama administration.

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The war in Afghanistan, which became America’s longest war at 20 years and cost the lives of 2,400 American troops and trillions of dollars, was considered fully justified by most Americans. But as the war dragged on with no end in sight, two administrations, those of Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, announced decisions to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan.

It appears that those hasty decisions and no apparent plan to leave in place a number of U.S. troops was a grave miscalculation.

Both Trump and Biden share responsibility for the disaster in Afghanistan. Trump initially set May 1 as the deadline to withdraw U.S. troops. Trump was wrong to trust the words of the Taliban leaders who continued to support terrorism during  fruitless talks in Doha. Biden was even more unprepared by failing to plan for an orderly withdrawal and for leaving Afghan interpreters and other allies who desperately rushed to the Kabul airport in what became an optical rerun of the 1975 fall of Saigon.

American credibility has been dealt a severe blow. Biden is being criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, and by media outlets that until now were largely supportive of the president.

Biden has much repair work ahead of him.

The “official” Afghan government and its 300,000 U.S.-armed and trained Afghan security forces “offered no resistance” to the insurgents, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. In just over 10 days, the Taliban controlled the presidential palace as thousands of Afghans who had served as translators for the Americans ran for their lives to escape the Taliban forces.

Women and girls are seeing the vicious return to power of the Taliban, who do not allow women and girls to attend school or work and require them to hide their faces and bodies with head-to-toe burkas. There already have been reports of women and girls being beaten, raped and murdered.

Like all of our fellow citizens, American Jews are deeply concerned over the rapidly unfolding debacle in Afghanistan, which creates even more instability in the Middle East and is of great concern to the State of Israel.

The Taliban has worked not only with al-Qaida but with groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the fanatic regime in Iran. An extremist hard-line candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, was recently elected president of Iran, and he has continued Iran’s relentless attacks on Israel. The economic and political chaos in Lebanon has emboldened Hezbollah to intensify its attacks on Israel.

Raisi has been implicated in the mistreatment of political prisoners and journalists who have reported on humanitarian issues.

Coordination among the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaida means Iran would pose a truly existential threat not only to Israel but also to the Middle East and the entire world.

At the center of the controversial manner in which the chaos in Afghanistan was handled is Biden. As the horrifying images from the Kabul airport filled TV screens, Biden appeared oddly disconnected as he sat silently at a large table at the Camp David presidential retreat.

When he finally did give a report on the crisis, it did not include a fully credible accounting or a willingness to take responsibility for the tragic events. Journalists from across the spectrum criticized Biden for pointing fingers at the Afghan government and military. He did quote Harry Truman’s famous desk plate that “The Buck Stops Here,” but his remarks were defensive and unconvincing.

No one has come forward to advocate a continuation of the two-decade war in Afghanistan. But serious questions remain to be answered. Biden said that he was surprised by the speed with which the Taliban achieved its stunning victory.

A thorough investigation of the events of the past two weeks is urgently needed. In the meantime, we should all honor the memory of the brave men and women who paid with their lives in America’s longest war.

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.