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A Crippling Blow to the Global War on Terror

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The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the greatest jihadist victory in modern times, will give rise to a terrorist super-state that serves as a magnet for violent Islamists from around the world. The US-led global war on terror, which was already faltering before President Joe Biden took office, may not recover.

BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

The American-led global war on terror, launched 20 years ago after the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States, was already faltering before President Joe Biden took office. Now it may not recover from the blow delivered by Biden’s historic blunder in facilitating the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. The flag of the world’s deadliest terrorists – responsible for killing over 2,000 US soldiers since 2001 – will fly above Kabul on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

By empowering the Taliban, Biden has empowered all violent Islamist groups, thus making the rebirth of global terror highly likely. And by betraying one ally – the Afghan government – he has made other American allies feel that the US could abandon them, too, when the chips are down.

The greatest jihadist victory in modern times will soon give rise to a terrorist super-state – a haven for transnational fanatics and a magnet for violent Islamists from around the world seeking training to carry out attacks back home. The Taliban’s “Islamic emirate” will lay the foundation for an international caliphate of the type sought by the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks.

Whereas the short-lived “caliphate” of the Islamic State (ISIS) filled a political vacuum in northern Syria before expanding into Iraq, the Taliban’s emirate has resulted from the defeat of the world’s mightiest power. The Taliban’s triumph will thus give the international jihadist movement an unprecedented boost, including for enlisting new recruits, with consequences that will play out for many years. The war on terror, which extends from the Middle East and southern Europe to Africa and Asia, will become increasingly difficult as its fronts multiply.

This comes at a time when America’s accelerating imperial decline is already weakening its capacity to impose its will on other countries, thereby encouraging China’s global expansion. Biden, continuing his predecessor Donald Trump’s policy of military retrenchment, recently committed to ending the US combat mission in Iraq this year.

The US has expended huge resources in its war on terror, waging counterterrorism operations in scores of countries. According to a recent report from Brown University’s Costs of War project, America’s post-9/11 wars, including efforts to secure its homeland, have cost about $8 trillion and caused an estimated 900,000 deaths, including of civilians and humanitarian aid workers. But they have yielded no enduring results.

The main reason is that America has long forgotten the lessons of 9/11, including the need to shun the path of expediency. As a result, the politicization of the war on terror has prevented a concerted ideological onslaught on violent jihadism.

Biden, for his part, is drawing specious distinctions between “good” and “bad” terrorists, in a bid to obscure both the significance of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and his administration’s outreach to it. For example, he claims that “ISIS-K terrorists” are “sworn enemies of the Taliban” without acknowledging that the Taliban – like al-Qaeda and ISIS-K – are sworn enemies of the free world. Likewise, Biden was quick to absolve the Taliban of responsibility for the recent terrorist bombing at Kabul airport by pinning the blame on ISIS-K, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is ready to work on “counterterrorism” with the new regime in Kabul.

But the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS-K share a common ideology and commitment to violent jihad, with their members commingling and even moving from one group to another. As the Pentagon has acknowledged, the victorious Taliban have released thousands of ISIS-K prisoners. And according to a recent United Nations Security Council report, “the Taliban and Al-Qaida remain closely aligned.”

Meanwhile, the State Department has sought to spin a myth by claiming that the Taliban and their special forces, the Haqqani Network, “are separate entities.” In fact, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are a wing of Pakistan’s “deep state.” The network’s chief, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a deputy leader of the Taliban. And the arrival in Kabul of the head of Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency even before the Taliban formed their government highlighted that the real victor in Afghanistan is Pakistan, which has virtually gained proxy control of its neighbor.

Yet, underscoring the geopolitics behind the war on terror, the Biden administration is unlikely to punish Pakistan, a “major non-NATO ally,” for engineering America’s humiliating rout in Afghanistan. Instead, it is relying on Pakistan and another long-time sponsor of jihadists, Qatar, to establish a relationship with the theocratic dictatorship in Kabul.

The US has come full circle by ceding control of Afghanistan to the same organization that gave bin Laden the base from which to plot the 9/11 attacks. Those attacks resulted from America’s troubling ties with Islamist groups since the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan used Islam as an ideological tool to encourage armed resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, including the Haqqani Network’s foundercut their teeth in that CIA-run covert war. Another veteran of that war now heads the Taliban regime – Muhammad Hassan Akhund, a UN-listed terrorist and architect of the 2001 demolition of the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan.

But within a decade of 9/11, the US returned to training jihadists and funneling lethal arms to them in regime-change wars, such as in Syria and Libya, with the CIA’s $1 billion secret war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resulting in the rise of ISIS. And it bankrolled a renegade Pakistan as it sheltered the Taliban’s command-and-control network.

Forgetting the lessons of 9/11 has effectively derailed the global war on terror. Putting it back on track, though a daunting challenge, is essential if the scourge of violent jihadism is not to become the defining crisis of this century.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2021.

Biden has made the world’s deadliest terrorists great again

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The U.S.-led war on terror, in the global imagination, has become associated with U.S. surveillance excesses, torture, renditions, and regime-change military interventions. America’s Afghan defeat, drenched in the blood of betrayal, is the final nail in the coffin.

Brahma Chellaney, The Washington Times

On the day the United States marked two decades since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Taliban triumphantly hoisted their flag over the Afghan presidential palace and launched their new regime in a brief ceremony. The unprecedented 9/11 attacks prompted the U.S. not only to invade landlocked, strategically located Afghanistan but also to launch a global war on terror. But now, the U.S. has come full circle by handing Afghanistan to the same terrorists responsible for 9/11.

President Joe Biden’s historic blunder in facilitating the terrorist takeover of Afghanistan has highlighted how the U.S.-led war on terror has gone astray. Over the past 20 years, the scourge of international terrorism has spread deeper and wider in the world.

Biden has earned his place in history by making the world’s deadliest terrorists — the Pakistan-reared Taliban, who killed more than 2,000 American soldiers since 2001 — great again. Historians will be flummoxed that the U.S. expended considerable blood and treasure in a protracted war to ultimately help its enemy ride triumphantly back to power.

The humiliating rout of the world’s mightiest power represents the greatest victory of violent Islamists in the modern history of jihadism, with the Taliban calling it “the most joyful day of our existence.” The triumph over the “Great Satan” is certain to inspire other Islamist and terrorist groups worldwide.

Undeterred by his Afghan disaster, Biden plans to withdraw from Iraq this year, in keeping with what he declared in his August 31 address to the nation: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.” This readjustment of strategic objectives is already rattling allies — from Taiwan to Ukraine — who fear being abandoned the way the U.S. threw the Afghan government under the bus.

Afghanistan indeed may not be the last blunder of the Biden presidency. Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, wrote in 2014 that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Gates has proved right.

In fact, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a May 2010 letter found in his Pakistan compound after he was killed by U.S. forces, advised al-Qaeda not to target then-Vice President Biden, in the hope that he would one day become president. “Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis,” bin Laden wrote. He too has proved correct.

Biden has ignored the lessons of 9/11. This is apparent from the administration’s outreach to the Taliban. Biden has attempted to paint the Taliban as “good” terrorists and ISIS-K, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network as “bad” terrorists. He even claimed that “ISIS-K terrorists” are “sworn enemies of the Taliban,” ignoring the Pentagon’s acknowledgment that it was the victorious Taliban that freed thousands of ISIS-K prisoners.

Like the administration’s attempt to portray the new Taliban as more enlightened than the old Taliban, Biden’s specious distinctions between “good” and “bad” terrorists have been part of his public-relations campaign to soften the blow from his handover of mineral-rich Afghanistan to an Islamist militia that is a wing of the Pakistani “deep state.” Indeed, extending its good-terrorists-versus-bad-terrorists hypothesis, Team Biden has sought to court the Taliban as America’s new partner to help contain the “bad” militants, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying publicly that the U.S. is ready to work on “counterterrorism” with the Taliban.

A key 9/11 lesson was that the viper reared against one state is a viper against others. Drawing distinctions between those who threaten U.S. security and those who threaten others is a sure recipe for counterterrorism failure, as terrorist cells and networks must be targeted wherever they exist on a sustained basis in order to achieve enduring results against the forces of global jihad.

Team Biden is intentionally ignoring the fact that the Taliban are closely entwined with other terror groups. A recent United Nations Security Council report said, “the Taliban and al-Qaida remain closely aligned” and cooperate through the Haqqani Network. The triumphant Taliban have not only refused to utter a critical word about al-Qaeda but also now claim there is “no proof” that bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. 

The Taliban and the Haqqani Network are not “two separate entities,” as the State Department claimed, but closely integrated, as the lineup of the new Cabinet ministers in Kabul shows. And, although Biden sought to insulate the Taliban from the Aug. 26 Kabul Airport bombing by quickly pinning the blame on ISIS-K, the fact is that ISIS-K has little relationship with the ISIS founded by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Rather, as part of Pakistani intelligence’s deception operations to build plausible deniability in terror attacks, ISIS-K draws its cadres largely from the Taliban’s special forces — the Haqqani Network.

The world today is reaping the bitter fruits of a geopolitics-driven war on terror, which, in the global imagination, has become associated with U.S. surveillance excesses, torture, renditions and regime-change military interventions. Afghanistan is set to become a haven for international terrorists under a regime stacked with U.N.-listed or U.S.-designated terrorists, including the prime minister, who was instrumental in the 2001 destruction of two giant, sixth-century Buddhas in Bamiyan.

America’s Afghan defeat, drenched in the blood of betrayal, resulted from ignoring the lessons of 9/11, including the importance of not coddling states that bankroll or sponsor transnational terrorism. And the U.S.-led war on terror, instead of containing terrorism, has generated greater international insecurity. It is not too late for the U.S. to absorb the lessons from national policies that gave rise to Frankenstein’s monsters.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

Lessons Unlearnt

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America has always fought its war on terror selectively, and now Joe Biden has delivered a victory for global jihad

 Brahma Chellaney  | OPEN magazine

Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid makes his first-ever public appearance at a press conference in Kabul, August 17 (Photo: Getty Images)

THE UNPARALLELED TERRORIST attacks of September 11th, 2001 in the US gave birth to the American-led global war on terror. Nearly 3,000 Americans died in the unprecedented 9/11 attacks. Yet, two decades later, it is apparent that the war on terror has been remarkably ineffective, as the recent terrorist takeover of Afghanistan highlights.

Much before US President Joe Biden’s blunder in enabling the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan, the war on terror had already gone astray. Over the past 20 years, the number of terrorism-related casualties has increased globally. Terror has spread geographically, with new regions being battered by the scourge of violent extremism. And national expenditures on combating terrorism, from North America and Europe to Asia, have risen sharply.

In fact, it has been in the period since 9/11 that India has suffered a series of major terrorist strikes. The terrorist assaults on the state legislature of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Parliament occurred within weeks of 9/11. The 2008 Mumbai massacre was India’s equivalent of 9/11, affecting the Indian psyche more deeply than any other attack.

Globally, the past two decades have largely been a wasted period in combating the menace of terrorism: Instead of containing terrorism, the war on terror has generated greater insecurity in several parts of the world, including Europe, Africa and Asia. “The war has been long and complex and horrific and unsuccessful,” in the words of Brown University’s Catherine Lutz, who has been tracking the costs of America’s counterterrorism operations across the world.

What explains the failure of the US-led war on terror to achieve tangible results? Simply put, the war’s increasing politicisation has effectively stymied any possibility of achieving lasting success.

GEOPOLITICS DRIVES COUNTERTERRORISM

The US under successive presidents has turned the war on terror into a geopolitical instrument to advance narrow interests, instead of focusing on rooting out all terrorist groups wherever they exist. It is this approach that has led to the US defeat and humiliation in Afghanistan. This defeat was drenched in the blood of betrayal: America ditched its ally—the elected Afghan government—and got into bed with the world’s deadliest terrorists (the Taliban), culminating in its humiliating rout.

The only way to combat terrorism is through vigorous, proactive and pre-emptive actions, without seeking to differentiate between good terrorists and bad terrorists. Also, talking tough but doing little in action only emboldens terrorists and their sponsors.

The US, unfortunately, has never adopted a forward-looking approach to containing international terrorism. It has been more concerned about protecting its own interests, including its homeland, than about winning the larger war against terrorism. It has entered into deals with terrorist groups operating against its own regional allies and partners.

Yet it has long maintained the pretence that it does not negotiate with terrorists. In 2008, then US Vice President Dick Cheney even declared, “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” But while regurgitating the line that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” the US has quietly done the opposite in practice, as President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban and the Biden administration’s current outreach to that militia underscore.

The February 2020 Doha deal between the US and the Taliban showed that Washington not only negotiates with terrorists, but also clinches an agreement with much fanfare.

Even before the Doha deal, the US traded three leading Taliban terrorists, including Anas Haqqani (son of the Haqqani network’s founder), for two captured Westerners in November 2019. Likewise, in 2014, it freed five Taliban leaders from Guantánamo Bay in exchange for the release of a captured US Army sergeant. The late American Senator, John McCain, had called the five released detainees “the hardest of the hardcore.”

Despite America’s obsession with counterterrorism, it has always waged its war on terror selectively. It has shielded client nations even if they have bankrolled or sponsored transnational terrorism, and gone after countries that have defiantly stood their ground against Washington.

This is apparent from America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, which today includes only four countries—Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. These four have been targeted for geopolitical reasons. Such has been the arbitrariness that the US identified Cuba out of the blue as a state sponsor of terrorism in January this year, after earlier dropping Sudan from its list.

A Taliban member points his gun at protestors outside the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul, September 7 (Photo: Reuters)

The main financiers of violent Islamists, by Washington’s own admission, are US allies (Saudi Arabia and the other oil sheikhdoms). In fact, President Trump once called Saudi Arabia “the world’s biggest funder of terrorism.” And another US ally, Pakistan, has long served as the main international sanctuary of Al Qaeda and other transnational terrorists like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Thanks to WikiLeaks disclosures, we know that US officials have privately acknowledged that the terrorism problem is largely tied to American allies. Yet successive US governments have employed the war on terror as a geopolitical tool, instead of focusing on reining in America’s renegade allies.

Given the number of U.N.-listed terrorists that the Taliban have appointed as ministers, can there be any doubt that helping this terrorist regime to gain international acceptability will be disastrous for counterterrorism?

Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, as a tacit or overt sponsor of violent extremists and terrorist groups, has long acted as the enabler of transnational terrorism. No other intelligence agency in the world has promoted international terrorism to the extent ISI has done over more than four decades.

Yet the US has added Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to its list of foreign terrorist organizations but not ISI, with which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has sustained a longstanding relationship. ISI itself is part of a major terrorism-exporting force—Pakistan’s military—which maintains cosy ties with transnational terrorist groups, including providing, as President Trump acknowledged, “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

Nothing better illustrates the politicisation of the global war on terror than the fact that the US government never added the Pakistan-reared Afghan Taliban to the State Department’s annual list  of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This outfit killed more than 2,000 American soldiers between 2001 and 2021. The Taliban’s rapid conquest of Afghanistan may have brought shame and humiliation to the US, yet today the Biden administration, paradoxically, is courting this militia that is responsible for so many American deaths.

Take another example: Pakistan engineered the US rout in Afghanistan through its proxy, yet Biden is unlikely to revoke the “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) status enjoyed by that country. Sixteen other countries, including Japan, Australia and Israel but not India, have the MNNA status, which carries security benefits under American law. Nor is Biden likely to impose any financial or diplomatic sanctions on Pakistan.

It is thus no wonder that terrorism has virtually become our new normal. After the terrorist capture of Afghanistan, the international counterterrorism challenges are bound to escalate.

SURRENDER IN AFGHANISTAN

Biden’s surrender of Afghanistan to the Taliban and his administration’s ongoing efforts to legitimise the new terrorist regime in Kabul have unravelled whatever was left of the American-led global war on terror. Given the number of United Nations-listed terrorists that the Taliban have appointed as ministers, can there be any doubt that helping this terrorist regime to gain international acceptability will be disastrous for counterterrorism?

Even the head of the Taliban regime, Mohammad Hassan Akhund, is on the UN blacklist. In fact, Hassan Akhund oversaw the demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001. And with the FBI-wanted Sirajuddin Haqqani as interior minister, the notorious Haqqani network—and by extension Pakistan’s ISI agency—will be in charge of Afghanistan’s internal security. So much for the talk that the Taliban have changed!

Biden, however, has defiantly refused to offer any sort of mea culpa for his Afghan surrender and instead repeatedly attempted to rationalise his precipitous and ill-planned military withdrawal, which set in motion developments beyond the control of the US or the elected Afghan government. Lost in such defiance is Biden’s admission that Afghanistan is not a one-off decision. Rather, according to him, it represents a fundamental readjustment of America’s strategic objectives under his leadership.

“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” Biden declared in his August 31st address to the nation. The statement, reinforced by his recent pledge to withdraw from Iraq this year, raises nagging questions whether the US is faltering and retreating from its global commitments.

Biden’s Afghan disaster and new foreign-policy vision, while emboldening America’s adversaries, are likely to spur US allies to hedge, given that US objectives and resolve now seem suspect. Ukraine is worried Biden will abandon it the way he ditched the Afghan government. And Taiwan is concerned that Biden’s blunder could embolden Chinese dictator Xi Jinping to launch a lightning attack to forcibly absorb the island democracy of 24 million people. Those worries prompted Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to declare, “It is not our option to do nothing and only rely on others for protection.”

What stands out, however, is the huge victory for global jihad that Biden has helped deliver. There was no strategic or domestic imperative for Biden to order a hasty and total pullout of the US force that had been drastically cut, as he admitted, to the “bare minimum of 2,500” before his predecessor left office.

That small US force could have been easily sustained with relatively modest cost and little risk to American lives. Since the US combat role in Afghanistan ended on December 31st, 2014, Afghan soldiers, not American troops, had been on the frontlines, with the residual US force playing only a supporting role.

Yet Biden rebuffed his top military commanders’ advice and ordered all American troops to rapidly return home. Biden also ignored the report of the bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group that recommended a conditions-based withdrawal while warning that a hurried, unconditional military exit would “leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats” and have “catastrophic effects in Afghanistan and the region.”

An unclassified version of the US intelligence community’s global threat assessment had warned in April: “The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”

Biden, however, refused to listen to any advice suggesting caution or developing a transition plan for the Afghan forces, which for combat operations were highly reliant on US and NATO capabilities—from intelligence and close air support to emergency logistics and medical evacuation.

Biden’s Afghan surrender occurred just months after he took office, suggesting that this is unlikely to be the last blunder of his presidency. But the US and its Western allies are located far from Afghanistan. It is next-door India that will likely bear the brunt of the strategic fallout from Pakistan’s success in Afghanistan.

An emboldened Pakistani military establishment is bound to use its ISI agency to keep India off balance in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Cadres of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al-Badr, which are all fronts for ISI, are likely to create greater trouble for India in Jammu and Kashmir and possibly elsewhere.

To make matters worse, the Biden administration has been drawing false distinctions between the Taliban, Haqqani network, Al Qaeda and ISIS-K. In reality, these groups are interlinked. For example, the Taliban and Al Qaeda members are tied by close personal relationships and intermarriage, and Al Qaeda has pledged loyalty to every Taliban leader since the time ISI created the Taliban in the mid-1990s, according to terrorism expert Seth G Jones.

ISI has used the Haqqani network to provide cadres to ISIS-K so as to help establish plausible deniability in terror attacks. As for the Taliban, their longstanding ties with Al Qaeda are reflected in the fact that, since Kabul’s fall, Taliban spokesmen have not only refused to utter a critical word about Al Qaeda, but also have claimed that there is “no proof” that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

In October 2015, US forces under General John F Campbell uncovered in Kandahar province the largest Al Qaeda base discovered anywhere in the world (75 square kilometres in size), where Al Qaeda and the Taliban were found training and operating together. According to a recent UN Security Council report, “the Taliban and Al Qaida remain closely aligned” and cooperate through the Haqqani network.

Taliban fighters after taking over the mouth of the Panjshir Valley, September 6 (Photo: Getty Images)

Against this background, the Taliban must be deterred, not emboldened. But the Biden administration, not content with having indirectly armed the Taliban with billions of dollars worth of US-made weapons, is seeking to build a partnership with this terrorist militia.

In the first ever case of a terrorist organisation acquiring an air force and sophisticated land-based capabilities, troves of US-made weapons, helicopters, planes and armoured vehicles have fallen into the Taliban’s hands. The most sophisticated weapons probably have already been transported to Pakistan for likely deployment against India. Taliban patrols are now using some of the other US-made weapons. The Taliban could transfer some weapons to Pakistani jihadists operating from Afghanistan.

Biden, seeking to blunt the torrent of bipartisan criticism at home, has bragged that he ended “the longest war in American history”. With Afghanistan now set to become a haven for transnational terrorists, the US role has merely paused. But the damage to America’s credibility and the global war on terror cannot be undone.

NEGLECTED LESSONS OF 9/11

The Afghanistan war did not start in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. As Columbia University’s Jeffery Sachs has explained, “The Afghanistan war started 42 years ago, in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter’s administration covertly supported Islamic jihadists to fight a Soviet-backed regime. Soon, the CIA-backed mujahideen helped to provoke a Soviet invasion, trapping the Soviet Union in a debilitating conflict, while pushing Afghanistan into what became a forty-year-long downward spiral of violence and bloodshed.”

With the 9/11 attacks, however, the chickens came home to roost. The attacks profoundly shook the US. But did the US draw the appropriate lessons from 9/11 and halt further training and arming of jihadists by CIA?

Then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton candidly said in an ABC News interview in November 2010 that the US was paying the price for creating Al Qaeda. “Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created. We created the mujahideen force against the Soviet Union. We trained them, we equipped them, we funded them, including somebody named Osama bin Laden. And then when we finally saw the end of the Soviet Army crossing back out of Afghanistan, we all breathed a sigh of relief and said, okay, fine, we’re out of there. And it didn’t work out so well for us,” she said.

Yet, less than a year after that interview, then-US President Barack Obama, with Hillary Clinton’s active encouragement, helped turn Libya into a failed state by toppling ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Obama also started an air war in Syria—his presidency’s seventh military campaign in a Muslim nation and one that consumed his remaining term in office.

Less known is that the Obama-ordered CIA covert war in Syria ended up creating ISIS, even if inadvertently. As Trump put it, “Obama and Hillary created ISIS.”

Against this background, is it any surprise that in the period since America launched the global war on terror in 2001 under Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush, the scourge of international terrorism has only spread deeper and wider in the world? Jihadist forces extolling terror as a sanctified tool of religion have gained ground in a number of countries. And once-stable nations such as Iraq, Syria and Libya have become anarchic, crumbling states and new hubs of transnational terrorism, even as Pakistan has remained “ground zero” for the international terrorist threat.

The first lesson is to keep the focus on longer-term goals. Terrorism can be stemmed only through a concerted and sustained international campaign that targets terrorist cells and networks wherever they exist and as long as they exist

The lessons of 9/11 were obvious, but successive US governments ignored them. The Biden administration is doing the same.

The first lesson is to keep the focus on longer-term goals and not be carried away by political convenience and narrow objectives. Terrorism can be stemmed only through a concerted and sustained international campaign that targets terrorist cells and networks wherever they exist and as long as they exist. The US cannot afford to draw distinctions between good and bad terrorists and between those who threaten its security and those who threaten others. The viper reared against one country is a viper against others.

A second lesson is not to turn the war against terrorism into a geopolitical battle to serve one’s strategic interests while ignoring the interests of others, including allies and strategic partners. After launching the global war on terror, President Bush used it to expand US military, diplomatic and energy interests in an unprecedented manner and position American forces in the largest array of nations since World War II—all in the name of fighting terror.

Another lesson is that the problem of and solution to terrorism are linked. Terrorism not only threatens the free, secular world but also springs from the rejection of democracy and secularism. The terrorism-breeding swamps can never be fully drained so long as the societies that rear or tolerate them are not de-radicalised and democratised.

Has Biden’s Afghanistan debacle sown the seeds of another 9/11?

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© UPI Photo

BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

President Biden’s Afghanistan blunder has spawned the greatest victory for terrorists in the modern history of global jihadism. Notwithstanding his claim in a defiant speech on Tuesday that the exit from Afghanistan will allow the United States to counter China and Russia, Biden knows that the Afghan security and humanitarian catastrophe he unleashed has weakened his hand against America’s adversaries.

In fact, the U.S. defeat and humiliation in Afghanistan, while highlighting the irreversible decline of American power, have created greater space for China’s assertive global expansion, for Russia’s geopolitical ambitions in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and for Iran’s continued defiance. The calamitous U.S. withdrawal also threatens to destabilize the wider region extending across the Indian subcontinent.

The Taliban’s victory over the “Great Satan,” meanwhile, is inspiring other Islamist and terrorist groups across the world. By serving as an unparalleled recruiting boost, it is promising to deliver the rebirth of global terror.

Biden not only facilitated the Taliban’s sweep of Afghanistan but also is now seeking to strike a Faustian bargain with this Pakistan-reared terrorist militia. Biden kept his promise to the Taliban, including a complete U.S. withdrawal by Aug. 31, but not his word to U.S. allies in Afghanistan or to partner countries.

Historians will be flummoxed that the world’s mightiest power expended considerable blood and treasure in a two-decade-long war to ultimately help its enemy ride triumphantly back to power.

This is a watershed moment that will go down in history books as marking the beginning of the end of American preeminence. After the way the U.S. betrayed the elected Afghan government, other allies can scarcely rely on Washington to support them when the chips are down. The erosion of American credibility will cause lasting damage to the interests of the U.S. and its friends. 

America’s close partner India, with its location right next to the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, is likely to be one big loser from Biden’s Afghan debacle. The rejuvenated epicenter for terrorism next door will leave India less space to counter an expansionist China. Nuclear-armed titans China and India have been locked in a Himalayan military confrontation for the past 16 months following Chinese border encroachments.

The void created by America’s retreat is a strategic boon for China, which will now shore up its interests in mineral-rich Afghanistan and deepen its penetration of Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia. The retreat will also embolden Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expansionism.

Indeed, Biden may have made Taiwan Xi’s next target by acknowledging, “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.” The statement conveys a great deal about U.S. objectives and resolve. No wonder Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, responding to Chinese warnings that the U.S. will abandon it like Afghanistan, declared, “Taiwan’s only option is to grow stronger … It is not our option to do nothing and only rely on others for protection.” 

Illustrating his weakened position, Biden has just bowed to China’s demand to stop tracing the origins of the COVID-19 virus by announcing that the intelligence inquiry he ordered has ended, even though the probe failed to uncover the genesis of the world’s worst public-health catastrophe in more than a century. By not extending the inquiry’s 90-day deadline, Biden, in effect, is letting China get away scot-free over its cover-up of the virus’s origins.

The president could have ordered the U.S. intelligence community to keep searching for the true origins of the virus until a definitive conclusion was reached. Instead, as if to underline that he can ill-afford a crisis in relations with China at this stage, Biden has pleaded with a recalcitrant Beijing “to cooperate with the World Health Organization’s Phase II evidence-based, expert-led determination into the origins of COVID-19.” But China, as the intelligence inquiry’s declassified summary states, “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.”

Had Biden extended the term of the inquiry, it would have scuttled the ongoing effort to set up a meeting between him and Xi on the sidelines of the G20 Rome summit in October. To make matters worse, Biden’s Afghan disaster has undercut U.S. leverage to pressure China to share information relevant to determining the virus’s origins, including lab records, clinical samples and raw health data from the earliest COVID-19 cases.

The upcoming 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks should be an occasion to reflect on how the U.S., by facilitating the terrorist takeover of Afghanistan, has made its homeland and its friends less safe. The seeds of another 9/11 may have been sown.

One forgotten lesson of 9/11 is that the U.S. must not draw specious distinctions between “good” and “bad” terrorists. The Biden administration, while quick to blame a local ISIS affiliate for the Kabul airport massacre, has sought to build a partnership with the Taliban, including, strangely, on “counterterrorism,” as Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledges. It has also refrained from striking Black Hawk helicopters and other U.S.-made assets parked in the open at Afghan bases.

In the first ever case of a terrorist organization acquiring an air force and sophisticated land-based capabilities, troves of U.S.-made weapons, helicopters, planes and armored vehicles worth many billions of dollars have fallen into the Taliban’s hands. The terrorist capture of Afghanistan will come back to haunt U.S. security sooner or later.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

Biden’s Afghanistan fiasco is a disaster for Asia

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Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar on Aug. 15: historians will be baffled that the world’s mightiest power waged war for two decades to make the Taliban great again.    © AP

Self-inflicted defeat sends message that allies cannot count on the U.S.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

The Kabul Airport massacre is a reminder that the geopolitical consequences of America’s Afghanistan fiasco — one of the biggest foreign policy failures under any U.S. president since World War II — will likely play out for years.

According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s potential successor Armin Laschet, this is the “biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding, and we are standing before an epochal change.”

U.S. President Joe Biden paved the way for the Taliban sweep of Afghanistan by pulling the rug out from under the Afghan military’s feet. The sudden withdrawal of some 18,000 U.S. civilian contractors effectively disabled the Afghan military’s planes and helicopters, leaving ground troops without close air support and emergency logistics, including medical evacuation, and rendering the reputable special forces immobile and out of action.

Historians will be baffled that the world’s mightiest power waged war for two decades to make the Taliban, the world’s deadliest terrorists, great again. But the immediate message from Biden’s Afghanistan disaster is that U.S. allies cannot count on America when the chips are down. The damage to America’s reputation and credibility could potentially herald a paradigm shift in international geopolitics.

Already, the image of America’s betrayal of its Afghan allies and capitulation to the Taliban has become etched indelibly in the global imagination. Indeed, a secret meeting between CIA Director William Burns and the Taliban leadership in Kabul on Aug. 23 has only underscored the troubling U.S. equation with an Islamist militia whose brutality has been a hallmark of its fundamentalism.

With Biden quickly blaming a local ISIS affiliate for the airport bombing and ordering reprisals against the group, the U.S. has been left to draw specious distinctions between good and bad terrorists.

Given Afghanistan’s strategic location at the crossroads of Central, South and Southwest Asia, the greatest strategic fallout from Afghanistan’s security and humanitarian catastrophe is likely to be felt in the Asian region. This is ironic because Biden sought to justify his withdrawal as necessary to focus on the great-power competition with China.

In reality, the void opened by America’s retreat has only given greater strategic space for China, Russia and Iran to expand their strategic footprints. For securing oil deliveries, the Taliban are now paying a cash-strapped Iran in dollars from their lucrative narcotics trade.

China, with its long-standing ties to the Taliban, including supplying weapons via Pakistan, has taken the lead in portraying the U.S. as a declining power whose ditching of the Afghan government demonstrates that it is an unreliable partner for any country.

America’s self-inflicted defeat and humiliation in Afghanistan has also blunted U.S. leverage to determine China’s coronavirus culpability, including pressuring Beijing to share lab records, genomic samples and other data relevant to finding out how the COVID-19 virus originated. It is thus no surprise that the Biden-ordered U.S. intelligence inquiry, at the end of its 90-day deadline, has failed to reach a definitive conclusion on the virus’ origins, although time is running out to find reliable answers.

If the intelligence inquiry — like the recent report by congressional Republicans — had concluded that the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab, it could have further ruptured already fraught relations with China, which has been demanding that the U.S. stop tracing the origins of the virus.

At a time when Biden is grappling with an Afghan disaster of his own making, he can ill afford a crisis in ties with China, which explains why he did not extend the term of the intelligence inquiry but instead called on a recalcitrant Beijing “to cooperate with the World Health Organization’s Phase II evidence-based, expert-led determination into the origins of COVID-19.”President Joe Biden delivers remarks about Afghanistan on Aug. 26: at a time when Biden is grappling with an Afghan disaster of his own making, he can ill afford a crisis in ties with China.   © Reuters

After Kabul’s fall, China’s victory lap included a state-media warning to Taiwan that the U.S. would abandon it too in the face of a Chinese invasion, prompting Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to declare, “Taiwan’s only option is to grow stronger… It is not our option to do nothing and only rely on others for protection.”

One definite loser from the Afghanistan debacle is India, whose security risks are coming under siege from the Taliban-Pakistan-China coalition. India, one of the largest aid donors to Afghanistan, had a big presence in that country, but its diplomats and civilians were among the first to flee.

Since last year, India has been locked in military standoffs with China, its leading adversary. But if India now faces a greater terrorist threat from across its western borders, it will have less capacity to counter an expansionist China. Afghanistan’s fall will likely strengthen the anti-India axis between the Taliban’s sponsor, Pakistan, and Pakistan’s main patron, China.

Will Biden now revoke the major non-NATO ally (MNNA) status enjoyed by Afghanistan and Pakistan, which engineered the U.S. rout through its proxy? Fifteen other countries, including Japan, Australia and Israel, have MNNA status, which carries security benefits under U.S. law.

By empowering the Taliban, Biden has strengthened all jihadi groups, promising the rebirth of global terrorism. And by betraying one ally — the elected Afghan government — he has made other U.S. allies feel that they too could be betrayed when they most need American support. Nowhere will the U.S. costs for its Afghanistan blunder be more visible than in Asia, where an emboldened China is set to up the ante.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”

Pax Americana Died in Kabul

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Biden’s Afghan disaster ranks as one of the biggest foreign-policy failures of any US president since World War II. Yet Biden remains tone-deaf to the realities, including damage to America’s international credibility and standing.

BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

The terrorist takeover of Afghanistan, following President Joe Biden’s precipitous and bungling military exit, has brought an ignoble end to America’s longest war. This is a watershed moment that will be remembered for formalizing the end of the long-fraying Pax Americana and bringing down the curtain on the West’s long ascendancy.

At a time when its global preeminence was already being severely challenged by China, the United States may never recover from the blow this strategic and humanitarian disaster delivers to its international credibility and standing. The message it delivers to US allies is that they count on America’s support when they most need it at their own peril.

After all, the Afghanistan catastrophe unfolded after the US threw its ally – the Afghan government – under the bus and got into bed with the world’s deadliest terrorists, the Taliban. President Donald Trump first struck a Faustian bargain with them, and then the Biden administration rushed to execute the military exit dictated by the deal, even though the Taliban had been openly violating the agreement.

The dramatic collapse of the Afghan defenses and then the government was directly linked to the US betrayal. Biden admits Trump “drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500” in Afghanistan. By refusing to retain that small military footprint and by ordering a rapid exit at the onset of the annual fighting season, Biden pulled the rug out from under the Afghan military’s feet, thus facilitating the Taliban’s sweep.

The US had trained and equipped the Afghan forces not to play an independent role but to rely on American and NATO capabilities for a host of battlefield imperatives – from close air support, including drones for situational awareness, to keeping US-supplied weapon systems operational. Biden’s calamitous troop pullout without a transition plan to sustain the Afghans’ combat capabilities unleashed a domino effect, with 8,500 NATO forces and some 18,000 US military contractors also withdrawing and leaving the Afghan military in the lurch.

As former CIA Director General David Petraeus has explained, ever since US combat operations in Afghanistan ended on January 1, 2015, Afghan soldiers had been bravely “fighting and dying for their country” until the US suddenly ditched them this summer, mortally compromising Afghan defenses. This assessment is reinforced by the number of military deaths: Since the US combat role ended more than six and a half years ago, Afghan security forces lost tens of thousands of soldiers, while the Americans suffered just 99 fatalities, many in non-hostile incidents.

This is not the first time the US has dumped its allies – or even the first time in recent memory. In the fall of 2019, the US abruptly abandoned its Kurdish allies in northern Syria, leaving them at the mercy of a Turkish offensive.

But in Afghanistan, the US sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. Its self-inflicted defeat and humiliation have resulted from a failure of political, not military, leadership. Biden, ignoring conditions on the ground, overruled his top military generals in April and ordered all US troops to return home. Now, two decades of American war in Afghanistan have culminated with the enemy riding triumphantly back to power.

Whereas 58,220 Americans (largely draftees) were killed in Vietnam, 2,448 US soldiers (all volunteers) died over the course of 20 years in Afghanistan. Yet, the geopolitical implications of the US defeat in Afghanistan are much more significant globally than the American defeat in Vietnam.

The Pakistan-reared Taliban may not have a global mission, but their militaristic theology of violent Islamism makes them a critical link in an international jihadist movement that whips hostility toward non-Sunni Muslims into nihilistic rage against modernity. The Taliban’s recapture of power will energize and embolden other violent groups in this movement, helping to deliver the rebirth of global terror.

In the Taliban’s emirate, al-Qaeda, remnants of the Islamic State (ISIS), and Pakistani terrorist groups are all likely to find sanctuary. According to a recent United Nations Security Council report, “the Taliban and al-Qaida remain closely aligned” and cooperate through the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, a front for Pakistani intelligence.

The unraveling of the effort to build a democratic, secular Afghanistan will pose a far greater threat to the free world than Syria’s meltdown, which triggered a huge flow of refugees to Europe and allowed ISIS to declare a caliphate and extend it into Iraq. The Taliban’s absolute power in Afghanistan will sooner or later threaten US security interests at home and abroad.

By contrast, China’s interests will be aided by the Taliban’s defeat of the world’s most powerful military. The exit of a vanquished America creates greater space for China’s coercion and expansionism, including against Taiwan, while underscoring the irreversible decline of US power.

An opportunistic China is certain to exploit the new opening to make strategic inroads into mineral-rich Afghanistan and deepen its penetration of Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia. To co-opt the Taliban, with which it has maintained longstanding ties, China has already dangled the prospect of providing the two things the militia needs to govern Afghanistan: diplomatic recognition and much-needed infrastructure and economic assistance.

The reconstitution of a medieval, ultra-conservative, jihad-extolling emirate in Afghanistan will be a monument to US perfidy. And the images of Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters transporting Americans from the US embassy compound in Kabul, recalling the frenzied evacuation from Saigon in 1975, will serve as a testament to America’s loss of credibility – and the world’s loss of Pax Americana.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2021.

America’s self-inflicted defeat and humiliation

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The US has grievously hurt its international credibility with a self-inflicted defeat and humiliation in Afghanistan. Its enemies can only be celebrating. The security and humanitarian disaster that the Biden administration has unleashed in Afghanistan will likely unravel whatever is left of American primacy.

 Brahma Chellaney  | OPEN magazine

BETRAYAL, VIOLENCE AND surrender have defined Afghanistan’s history for long, especially as the playground for outside powers. The US-midwifed terrorist takeover of Afghanistan fits with that pattern. When an ageing US president, refusing to consider conditions on the ground, overrules his military generals and intelligence agencies and orders a precipitous and ill-planned action, it is a sure recipe for a foreign policy disaster. The blame for the international humiliation wreaked on the US by the terrorist capture of Afghanistan must be laid squarely at the door of Joe Biden, the oldest person to ever assume the American presidency.

The fact that the US, however unwittingly, aided the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan is likely to redraw attention to American policies which, over the decades, have spawned dangerous jihadists. America’s troubling ties with violent Islamists were cemented in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan’s administration used Islam as an ideological tool to incite armed resistance to the Soviet military intervention Afghanistan. In 1985, at a White House ceremony attended by several Afghan mujahedeen (jihadists), Reagan gestured toward his guests and declared, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers.”

Within years, however, many of the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers, including Osama bin Laden, came to haunt US security. Yet, there was never any debate in the US on the lessons for the US from the CIA’s creation of jihad-extolling mujahideen. In fact, under President Barack Obama, the US ruined two countries—Libya and Syria—by arming jihadists to topple governments there.

The experiment in Syria, the second largest covert operation in CIA’s history after the clandestine war against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, failed to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. But the US-led intervention in Libya led to seven months of NATO airstrikes in the name of democracy, resulting in the overthrow of the secular dictatorship that Muammar el-Qaddafi ran for 42 years and the still-continuing jihadist chaos there.

Afghans injured by the Taliban’s use of guns, whips and sticks to control the crowd on the road to the airport in Kabul, August 17 (Photo: Getty Images)

Against this background, it is worth remembering how the US got into an overt war in Afghanistan that became the longest armed conflict in American history. The US-led invasion in October 2001 ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul for harbouring the Al Qaeda planners of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, the key Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaida and Ramzi Binalshibh, were later found holed up inside Pakistan. Yet, paradoxically, the US, while raining bombs on Afghanistan for almost 20 years, rewarded Pakistan in the same period with tens of billions of dollars in aid.

It was the US reluctance to take the war to the other side of the Durand Line by targeting the Taliban’s command-and-control bases in Pakistan that undercut America’s war effort in Afghanistan. Rather than degrade and decapitate the Taliban, the US sought “reconciliation” with its battlefield enemy, allowing the medieval, jihadist militia to gain strength and terrorise Afghans. As General John Nicholson, the then US military commander in Afghanistan, admitted in 2017, , “It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven.” The reluctance to target the Taliban’s cross-border network structure in Pakistan hobbled the US military mission in Afghanistan right until Biden’s bungling military exit.

The fact is that, in modern world history, no counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when the militants have enjoyed cross-border state sponsorship and safe havens. This also explains why terrorists remain active in the Kashmir Valley. As former CIA Director General David Petraeus said recently, “the Taliban, Haqqani Network and the other associated extremists and insurgents have their headquarters, their major bases, outside of Afghanistan and beyond our reach in Pakistan, where our Pakistani partners refuse to eliminate them from their soil. So, you could never truly win.”

US President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, August 16 (Photo: AP)

The protracted search for a Faustian bargain with the Taliban also explains why that ruthless militia was never added to the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This approach counterproductively led to an ascendant Taliban expanding their territorial control and killing government forces in growing numbers.

By spurning the advice of his civilian and military advisers and unleashing the Afghanistan disaster, Biden must shoulder the blame for America’s international humiliation. Let us be clear: there was no strategic or domestic imperative for Biden to order a hasty and total pullout

The Taliban, like Al Qaeda, evolved from the violent jihadists that the CIA trained in Pakistan to wage war against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. It was only after the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks at home that the US turned against the Taliban. Then, in search of a face-saving exit from the military quagmire in Afghanistan, America embraced the Taliban by concluding a “peace” deal with them. That development eventually led the US to unwittingly enable the conquest of Afghanistan by the same thuggish group that it had removed from power in 2001.

AMERICA’S FATEFUL DEAL WITH TALIBAN

It was US President Donald Trump’s capitulation to the Taliban at the negotiating table that set in motion events that culminated under his successor in America’s humiliating rout in Afghanistan. The deal was clinched after more than a year of negotiations, with US and Taliban representatives signing the agreement on February 29th, 2020 at Doha, Qatar.

Desperate to exit Afghanistan, Trump accomplished what his predecessor set out to do but failed—to cut a deal with the Taliban. It was with the aim of facilitating direct talks with the Taliban that Obama allowed the militia to establish a de facto diplomatic mission in Doha in 2013. Then, to meet a Taliban precondition, the Obama administration freed five hardened Taliban militants (two of them accused of carrying out massacres of Tajiks and Hazaras) from Guantánamo Bay. The five were described by the late US Senator, John McCain, as the “hardest of hard core”.

But when the then Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, defiantly refused to revive stalled peace negotiations, the CIA, on Obama’s orders, assassinated him inside Pakistan with a drone strike in 2016. Although Obama hailed Mansour’s killing as “an important milestone”, it did little to change military realities on the ground.

Kenneth F McKenzie, the commanding general of US Central Command, inspects an evacuation control centre at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, August 17 (Photo: Reuters)

After Trump came to power, he promised to reverse the worsening Afghanistan situation that he inherited from Obama by “winning again”. Yet, two years into his term, he embarked on fulfilling his predecessor’s quest for a deal with the Taliban. Trump’s message, including from his drawdown of US troops in Syria, was unmistakable: To exit from messy situations of its own making, the US doesn’t mind throwing its allies under the bus—from the Afghan government to its Kurdish partners in Syria.

Instead of the promised Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, Trump clinched the deal with the Taliban without prior consultations with Kabul and then sought to sell it to a sceptical Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. In doing so, Washington involuntarily aided the Taliban effort to delegitimise the elected Afghan government. Given that Ghani was blindsided by the “peace” accord, it was no surprise that Washington did not care to take India, its supposed “major defence partner”, into confidence either.

Under the largely one-sided deal, America committed to the withdrawal of all US and NATO forces by May 1st, 2021. By promising a terrorist militia a total American military exit in about 14 months as well as a pathway to power in Kabul, the US, in essence, entered the terms of its surrender in the agreement.

The accord US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad finalised with the Taliban in Qatar read more like US capitulation to a terrorist organisation. The US, despite having earlier signed a security pact with Kabul in 2014 to maintain nine military bases, conceded the Taliban’s main demand for a total American exit. In exchange, the terrorist group offered a fig leaf—a promise to deny other terrorist networks a foothold on Afghan soil. However, as a recent United Nations Security Council report pointed out, “the Taliban and Al Qaida remain closely aligned” and cooperate through the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, a veritable arm of Pakistani intelligence.

The deal was a major diplomatic win for the Taliban’s sponsor, Pakistan, which, until the Taliban’s recent takeover of Afghanistan, sheltered the top Taliban leadership and provided cross-border sanctuaries to Taliban fighters. A year before the deal with the Taliban, Trump had cut off most security assistance to Pakistan, saying, “The US has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help.”

Yet in February 2020, Trump agreed to abandon Afghanistan to Pakistan’s machinations. Under successive US presidents, Pakistan has been rewarded for sponsoring cross-border terrorism.

The Doha agreement document, as revealed to the public, was short. It, however, contained classified appendices that were never declassified. Two of the elements contained in the secret appendices, as acknowledged in US congressional testimony, were: one, the Taliban pledged not to attack US or allied forces or civilians during the period through the promised US and NATO military exit by May 1st, 2021; and two, the Taliban and the US agreed to jointly target their common enemy, the Islamic State (ISIS)-Khorasan, on the basis of US intelligence shared with the Taliban.

The Taliban, by all publicly available accounts, did stick to their first promise other than committing one violation, when they attacked a joint US-Afghan base. But that promise left the Taliban free to escalate their hit-and-run attacks against Afghan forces and civilians, which they did with increasing brutality. What was dubbed as a “peace” deal engendered greater bloodshed and, as Biden admits, “left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001.”

Indeed, the “peace” deal not only granted the Taliban respectability and legitimacy, but also meant war on Afghan women and civil liberties. By concluding the deal behind the Afghan government’s back and by excluding the lawfully constituted government from the agreement, the US left intra-Afghan reconciliation talks to move on a separate track. But the Taliban, with their determination to impose a military solution, had no incentive to negotiate in good faith with the Afghan government, let alone to make concessions, because the US had unconditionally agreed to gradually draw down its forces and leave Afghanistan.

In this light, the die had been cast in February 2020 that the US would exit Afghanistan, no matter what. The deal led not only to greater terrorist attacks by the Taliban but also eventually to the unravelling of the elected Afghan government.

BIDEN’S RECORD OF BLUNDERS

Robert Gates, who served as defence secretary under presidents George W Bush and Obama, wrote in a 2014 memoir that Joe Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades”. Biden’s surrender of Afghanistan to the terrorist Taliban vindicates Gates’ grating assessment. By spurning the advice of his civilian and military advisers and unleashing the Afghanistan disaster, Biden must shoulder the blame for America’s international humiliation.

Let us be clear: There was no strategic or domestic imperative for Biden to order a hasty and total pullout of the US force that had been drastically cut, as he admitted a day before Kabul fell, to the “bare minimum of 2,500” before his predecessor left office.

Taliban fighters assault a crowd trying to raise the national flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Kabul, August 19 (Photo: Getty Images)

The small US force could have been easily sustained with relatively modest cost and little risk to American lives. Not a single American soldier had been killed in fighting in the past more than a year-and-a-half, essentially because only Afghan soldiers were on the frontlines since the US combat role in Afghanistan ended on December 31st, 2014. The residual US force was mainly playing a supporting role.

Yet Biden rebuffed his top military commanders’ advice in April and ordered all American troops to rapidly return home. Biden also ignored the report of the bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group that recommended a conditions-based withdrawal while warning that a hurried, unconditional military exit would “leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats” and have “catastrophic effects in Afghanistan and the region.”

When the Taliban were previously in power, their brutal record evoked the horrors perpetrated by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. The reestablishment of a jihadist, theocratic dictatorship in Kabul will likely destabilise the region

In fact, an unclassified version of the US intelligence community’s global threat assessment had warned in April that, “The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.” Biden, however, refused to listen to any advice suggesting caution or developing a transition plan for the Afghan forces, which for combat operations were highly reliant on US and NATO capabilities—from intelligence and close air support to emergency logistics and medical evacuation.

The irony is that Biden was facing no public pressure to quickly end the Afghanistan War. Contrary to the American media trope about “war weariness”, there was no evidence that Americans were tired of the military entanglement in Afghanistan, especially given the very small number of troops involved in the mission and the minimal casualties.

In fact, Gallup polling over the course of the 20-year war in Afghanistan repeatedly found Americans to be more supportive than opposed to that military intervention. The sustained public support to the longest war in American history was in stark contrast to previous US wars, including in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, during which the majority public opinion at some point turned unfavourable, giving rise to anti-war movements.

It was only after Biden had effectively ended the Afghanistan War on July 1st (when US forces secretly pulled out at night from the sprawling Bagram Airbase, which had long served as the staging ground for operations in the country) that an American partisan divide over the war became distinct. (The Biden administration, in unpublicised negotiations with the Taliban, had secured a short extension of the original May 1st deadline for exit.) In a July 6-21 Gallup poll, 47 per cent Americans (the vast majority of them Democrats) said the war was a mistake, while 46 per cent said it wasn’t.

If there was any imperative for a rushed withdrawal, it was Biden’s woolly-headedness to honour a one-sided US deal with the Taliban that Trump had bequeathed. The Taliban, Pakistan’s longstanding proxies whose brutal attacks over the years made them the world’s deadliest terrorists, had been openly violating the deal, so Biden’s sticking to it made little sense.

Indeed, Biden’s clinging to a blighted deal seriously compounded a US pattern of undermining the Afghan government, including forcing Afghan authorities last year to release 5,000 jailed Taliban terrorists (a number equivalent to the size of two US army brigades or regiments). The freed terrorists helped spearhead the Taliban reconquest of the country.

If Biden did not want to retain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, he could have reduced their number to just 1,000 to provide critical air support and reassurance to Afghan forces. That would have averted the disaster that has unfolded. But Biden, seeking to imprudently safeguard a deal that had already been wrecked by the Taliban, ruled that option out.

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks at an emergency parliamentary meeting in Kabul on August 2. He fled the country on August 15 (Photo: AP)

As one Afghan city after another fell to the Taliban and several American Senators and retired generals urged the White House to immediately unleash US military might to halt the militia’s further advances so as to save Kabul, Biden issued a statement on August 14th that proved the final nail in the coffin for a secular Afghanistan. Biden adamantly stated that, “I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

By confirming that his dumping of the Afghan government was irrevocable, the statement led next day to two momentous events—President Ashraf Ghani’s hurried escape from Afghanistan, followed quickly by the fall of Kabul.

This background illustrates how Biden’s actions aided and abetted the terrorist capture of Afghanistan. As a lawmaker from Biden’s own Democratic Party, Dean Phillips, put it, it is the Biden administration’s execution of the Trump-initiated exit strategy that “clearly, by any measure, has been a dramatic failure and stain on the United States.”

By confirming that his dumping of the Afghan government was irrevocable, Biden’s statement led next day to two momentous events—president ashraf Ghani’s hurried escape from Afghanistan, followed quickly by the fall of Kabul

When the Taliban were previously in power, their brutal record, including destroying historic and cultural artefacts, , evoked some of the horrors perpetrated by Cambodia’s China-backed ultra-communist Khmer Rouge between 1975 and1979. The Taliban’s reestablishment of a jihadist, theocratic dictatorship in Kabul will likely destabilise the region.

The US and its Western allies are located far away. But with the terrorist takeover of Afghanistan, India is being encircled by the China-Pakistan strategic nexus. In fact, the Taliban reconquest of Afghanistan will facilitate an even stronger China-Pakistan axis against India, while aiding the Pakistani intelligence’s proxy war against Indian targets.

The stepped-up threat from the axis may not be of immediate nature, yet the Taliban’s success creates greater strategic space for the two revisionist allies, China and Pakistan, to collaborate and advance their interests at India’s expense. This, coupled with Pakistan’s long-coveted acquisition of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, holds significant, long-term implications for the security of India and the wider region.

Simply put, after the Afghan people and Afghan nation, India will be the biggest loser from Biden’s Afghanistan blunder.

THE END OF THE AMERICAN ERA

The US has grievously hurt its international credibility and standing with a self-inflicted defeat and humiliation in Afghanistan. And its enemies can only be celebrating.

The US, the world’s preeminent power since 1945, has long prioritised the safeguarding of that privileged position. But even before the Afghanistan debacle, America’s global primacy had been slowly eroding. The security and humanitarian disaster that the Biden administration has unleashed in Afghanistan will likely unravel whatever is left of American primacy.

Biden’s fantasy that US security could be advanced simply by bringing back American troops enabled terrorists to recapture Afghanistan. The debacle shows how a fawning media can be dangerous. The US mainstream media had literally spearheaded Biden’s presidential campaign, trashing his opponent and concealing the Hunter Biden scandal. They still slobber over him.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (centre left), senior Haqqani group leader Anas Haqqani (centre right), head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council Abdullah Abdullah (second from right) and other members of a Taliban delegation at a meeting in Kabul, August 18 (Photo: AP)

When Biden ordered a hasty total withdrawal from Afghanistan by overruling top military generals, the US media didn’t question his decision. Contrast that with the way the US media had roasted Trump when, ignoring military advice, he drastically cut troop levels in Afghanistan. It was with the domestic media’s support that Biden embarked on a path of self-delusion, with him and his team naively believing that the US could use aid and sanctions relief to moderate the Taliban and prevent that militia from pursing a military solution.

In his headlong rush to exit Afghanistan, Biden neglected to consult with America’s allies on the tactics or timing. Instead, Biden acted more like his predecessor, whose unilateralism he had repeatedly criticised. Biden’s unilateralist actions that precipitated the Afghanistan disaster, according to one news report, have left America’s closest ally, Britain, “embarrassed and embittered”.

Like a Santa Claus at Christmas, Biden delivered three gifts to the world’s most brutal militia.

First, Biden facilitated the Taliban’s lightning conquest of Afghanistan, including the bloodless takeover of Kabul. The capture of the capital without firing a shot represented a major propaganda success for the Taliban, given that the new rulers need international recognition and economic assistance to govern Afghanistan. A bloody seizure of Kabul would have made the task of securing recognition and aid very difficult.

The Taliban reconquest of Afghanistan will facilitate an even stronger China-Pakistan axis against India, while aiding the Pakistani intelligence’s proxy war against Indian targets. After the Afghan people and Afghan nation, India will be the biggest loser from Biden’s Afghanistan blunder

Second, the Biden-enabled terrorist takeover of Afghanistan has boosted the Taliban’s terrorising capabilities with massive caches of US-made weapons, including artillery, Humvees, helicopters, planes and armoured vehicles. Thanks to Biden, the Taliban now have what they had never dreamed of—an air force.

According to fleet data from Cirium, the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing had 284 aircraft in active use before the Taliban completed its sweep of Afghanistan on August 15th. Between August 14th and 15th, Cirium reported that “a large number of Afghan Air Force aircraft and helicopters were flown by ‘escaping aircrew’ to Termez, Uzbekistan.” A few helicopters and aircraft were also flown to Tajikistan.

But some US-supplied assets that remained on the ground at Afghan airbases have come under Taliban control. These include armed MD530 rotorcraft, UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters, A-29 Super Tucano armed turboprops and MD-530F light scout attack helicopters, as well as Soviet-made Mi-17s. Given China’s longstanding ties with the Taliban, the US has a difficult task at hand in the present circumstances to prevent its technological knowhow from falling into Chinese hands.

Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, admits that a “fair amount” of US weaponry has fallen into Taliban hands. Some reports suggest that a lot of arms, ammunition, military equipment and military vehicles have moved across the border into Pakistan, the Taliban’s procreator.

Third, Biden has helped deliver to the Taliban Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, estimated to total between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in value. The untapped resources open the path for the Taliban to move from their traditional reliance on opium and heroin trade for income to developing the country’s mining industry with China’s help, which has long sought to exploit Afghanistan’s rich lithium, copper, iron, cobalt and rare-earth deposits.

The Taliban may have an “emir”, or spiritual leader, who was long holed up near Quetta in Pakistan, but in Biden, they have found a godfather.

Old age is usually associated with caution and judiciousness. But the 78-year-old Biden has lived up to the adage “Act in haste, repent at leisure”. In doing so, he has undermined the trust of allies in US leadership. America’s allies henceforth will balk at unquestioningly toeing its line on issues in which they have a stake. Biden, by handing Afghanistan to terrorists, has also undercut the US-led global war on terror. The US may not be able to recoup from the Afghanistan disaster.

Yet, Biden refuses to accept any responsibility for bringing the Taliban back to power. In his August 16 speech to the nation after the Taliban completed its sweep, Biden blamed everyone—from Trump to the Afghan government and Afghan military—except the Taliban and himself. As The Wall Street Journal put it editorially, Biden is “determined in retreat, defiant in surrender, and confident in the rightness of consigning the country [Afghanistan] to jihadist rule.”

In fact, to escape culpability for the terrorist takeover of Afghanistan, Biden has pinned the blame on Afghan troops for not putting up a fight—a myth the US mainstream media has been quick to embrace. In truth, Biden pulled the rug out from under the Afghan forces’ feet, with his precipitous withdrawal leaving the Afghan military high and dry.

It is America’s misfortune that, at a critical juncture when China is aggressively expanding its strategic footprint and clout, it is led by a weak president whose repeated bungling in a short time has triggered major crises from the southern US border with Mexico to Afghanistan. America’s enemies can only be emboldened by a president who rationalises his bungling in Afghanistan as strategic prudence. Foes will see such fecklessness as an opportunity for them to seize.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

Biden surrenders Afghanistan to terrorists

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Hill

Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obamawrote in a 2014 memoir that Joe Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” President Biden’s surrender of Afghanistan to the terrorist Taliban vindicates Gates’s grating assessment.

By spurning the advice of his civilian and military advisers, Biden must shoulder the blame for the international humiliation wrought on the United States by the terrorist capture of Afghanistan. There was no strategic or domestic imperative for Biden to order a hasty and total pullout of the U.S. force that had been drastically cut, as he admitted over the weekend, to the “bare minimum of 2,500” before his predecessor, Donald Trump, left office. 

The small U.S. force could have been easily sustained with relatively modest cost and little risk to American lives. Not a single American soldier had been killed in fighting in the past more than a year and a half, essentially because only Afghan soldiers were on the frontlines since the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan ended on Jan. 1, 2015. The residual U.S. force was essentially playing a supporting role.

Yet Biden rebuffed his top military commanders’ advice in April and ordered all American troops to rapidly return home. Biden also ignored the report of the bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group that recommended a conditions-based withdrawal while warning that a hurried, unconditional military exit would “leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats” and have “catastrophic effects in Afghanistan and the region.”

In fact, an unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence community’s global threat assessment had warned in April that, “The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”

Biden, however, refused to heed any advice suggesting caution or developing a transition plan for the Afghan forces, which for combat operations were highly reliant on U.S. and NATO capabilities — from intelligence and close air support to emergency logistics and medical evacuation.

The irony is that Biden was facing no public pressure to quickly end the Afghanistan War. Contrary to the myth that the U.S. was tired of the war, Gallup polling over the past 20 years repeatedly found Americans to be more supportive than opposed to that military entanglement. The sustained public support to the longest war in American history was in stark contrast to previous U.S. wars, including in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, during which the majority public opinion at some point turned unfavorable, giving rise to antiwar movements. 

It was only after Biden had effectively ended the Afghanistan War on July 1 (when U.S. forces secretly pulled out at night from the sprawling Bagram Airbase, which had long served as the staging ground for operations in the country) that an American partisan divide over the war became distinct. In a July 6-21 Gallup poll, 47 percent of Americans (the vast majority of them Democrats) said the war was a mistake, while 46 percent said it wasn’t.

If there was any imperative for a rushed withdrawal, it was Biden’s woolly-headedness to honor a one-sided U.S. deal with the Taliban that Trump had bequeathed. The Taliban, Pakistan’s longstanding proxies whose brutal attacks over the years made them the world’s deadliest terrorists, had been openly violating the deal, so Biden’s sticking to it made little sense.

Indeed, Biden’s clinging to a blighted deal seriously compounded a U.S. pattern of undermining the elected Afghan government, including striking a deal with the Taliban behind Kabul’s back and then forcing Afghan authorities to release 5,000 jailed Taliban terrorists (a number equivalent to the size of two U.S. army brigades or regiments). The freed terrorists helped spearhead the latest onslaughts. 

If Biden did not want to retain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, he could have reduced their number to just 1,000 to provide critical air support and reassurance to Afghan forces. That would have averted the disaster that has unfolded. But Biden, seeking to imprudently safeguard a deal that had already been wrecked by the Taliban, ruled that option out.

Last week, as one Afghan city after another fell to the Taliban and several senators and retired generals urged the White House to immediately employ military might to halt the terrorist militia’s further advances, Biden issued a statement on Saturday that proved the final nail in the coffin for a secular Afghanistan. By confirming that his dumping of the Afghan government was irrevocable, the statement led to President Ashraf Ghani’s escape from Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul.

This background illustrates how U.S. actions unwittingly aided and abetted the terrorist capture of strategically located Afghanistan. As Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) put it, it is the Biden administration’s execution of the Trump-initiated exit strategy that “clearly, by any measure, has been a dramatic failure and stain on the United States.”

When the Taliban was previously in power, from 1996 to 2001, its brutal record, including destroying historic and cultural artifacts, evoked some of the horrors perpetrated by Cambodia’s China-backed ultra-communist Khmer Rouge between 1975 and1979. The Taliban’s reestablishment of a jihadist, theocratic dictatorship in Kabul will likely destabilize the region and come to haunt U.S. security.

Biden, the oldest American to ever assume the presidency, has lived up to the adage, “Act in haste, repent at leisure.” In doing so, he has undermined America’s international credibility. The U.S. may not be able to recoup from the latest debacle.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

Exiting Afghanistan will go down in history as Joe Biden’s big blunder

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The disaster in Afghanistan is unfolding just the way top U.S. generals had forewarned in the event of a hurried U.S. exit. But Joe Biden overruled them in April and ordered all U.S. troops home. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Afghanistan is turning out to be U.S. President Joe Biden’s first foreign-policy disaster.

Ending America’s 20-year war there made sense, but the sudden and poorly planned U.S. military exit has facilitated the Taliban’s rapid advances, which have included the capture of a string of provincial capitals. The Taliban, long-standing proxies of Pakistan, have already managed to expand their control to two-thirds of the country, leaving the Afghan government in Kabul teetering on the brink, with its forces retreating from rural areas to defend cities.

The hasty exit order is especially foolhardy given that Mr. Biden, who has been quick to overturn many of his predecessor’s actions, is honouring Donald Trump’s one-sided deal with the Taliban. The U.S. could have quit Afghanistan without getting into bed with the world’s deadliest terrorists and thereby undermining the security of the country and the region. Instead, by following in Mr. Trump’s footsteps in Afghanistan, the White House has undercut U.S. leverage by vacating all its bases there, leaving the administration to chant the mantra that “there’s no military solution in Afghanistan” – even as the Taliban demonstrate in blood and territory that one indeed exists.

The geopolitical fallout from the Taliban’s success in forcing out Americawill extend far beyond Afghanistan. By signifying U.S. defeat, it will energize and embolden other terrorist groups in the global jihadist movement. If the Taliban seize Kabul, they are likely to declare an Islamic caliphate, as they did in 1996, when they seized power and ruled brutally until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Make no mistake: The disaster in Afghanistan is unfolding just the way top U.S. generals had forewarned in the event of a hurried U.S. exit. But Mr. Biden overruled them in April and ordered all U.S. troops home. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.

The U.S. has launched air strikes, but they have failed to halt the Taliban’s ruthless offensive. With the situation on the ground increasingly dire, many embassies in Kabul have advised their nationals to flee Afghanistan before commercial flight operations cease. Canada is bringing in Afghans who assisted the Canadian military’s mission in the country.

When Mr. Biden took office, there were just 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, compared with more than 100,000 at the height of the war. After the U.S. combat role ceased at the end of 2014, U.S. financial costs and casualties dramatically plummeted. In the period since, Afghan security forces have lost tens of thousands of men while the Americans suffered just 99 fatalities, including in non-hostile incidents.

Mr. Biden could have left behind a small residual force to provide critical air support and reassurance to Afghan forces in a cost-effective way. This would have prevented the security and humanitarian nightmare that is now developing. But the President, seeking to safeguard a deal that the Taliban had already been violating, ruled that option out.

Clinging to a blighted deal, Mr. Biden has compounded a Trump-initiated pattern of undermining the elected Afghan government, including Mr. Trump’s actions in striking a deal with the Taliban behind Kabul’s back and then forcing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to release 5,000 jailed Taliban terrorists, many of whom are now in the vanguard of the latest onslaughts. Just before Mr. Biden’s withdrawal decision was announced, a leak of his administration’s draft peace proposal revealed that he sought to replace Mr. Ghani with a transitional government in which the Taliban held half of all positions – which only further emboldened them.

The primarily ethnic-Pashtun Taliban have now stepped up their campaign of targeted killings while seeking to militarily oust Mr. Ghani’s government. Their capture of key cities in the north – dominated by ethnic-minority groups – is part of a strategy to forestall the re-emergence of the “Northern Alliance,” whose ground operations aided U.S. air power in overthrowing the Taliban regime in 2001.

The Taliban’s brutal record in power, including destroying historic and cultural artifacts, evoked some of the horrors perpetrated by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. A recent United Nations Security Council report said the Taliban and al-Qaeda “remain closely aligned” and co-operate through the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network, known as an arm of Pakistani intelligence.

The Taliban’s swift advances raise the spectre of a reconstituted extremist emirate emerging in Kabul – one that is likely to deliver the rebirth of global terror. And just as the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq led to U.S. reintervention, a Taliban emirate in Kabul will likely trigger the same awful cost eventually – which would only affirm Mr. Biden’s decision as a historic blunder.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning Water: Asia’s New Battleground.

Can Japan really trust America?

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Taiwan tensions underscore Tokyo’s growing sense of insecurity

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a joint news conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on April 16, 2021. © Reuters

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Japan, America’s most pivotal ally in Asia, faces pressing security challenges due to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expansionist policies, which appear to be driven by an increasing appetite for taking risks.

After accelerating a provocative campaign of aerial and maritime incursions designed to challenge Japanese control of the disputed Senkaku Islands, Xi has also set his sights on absorbing Taiwan, which, geographically, is an extension of the Japanese archipelago.

Stepping up China’s military intimidation of Taiwan — Imperial Japan’s first colony — Xi recently vowed to crush any attempt to thwart his “historic mission” to incorporate the island democracy.

No country will be more threatened by China’s invasion of Taiwan than Japan, a peaceful nation that has not fired a single shot since World War II. Indeed, as Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso recently said, Japan would regard such an invasion as an existential threat to its security, making it likely that it would join the U.S. in defending Taiwan. That prompted Chinese Communist Party organs to threaten “Japan’s survival” with military reprisals, including through “continuous” nuclear bombing.

There are more American soldiers permanently stationed in Japan than in any other foreign country, with about 54,000 military personnel spread across over 80 U.S. military facilities on Japanese soil as part of a long-standing mission to keep the peace in the Pacific. A 1960 bilateral security treaty also commits America to defend Japan in the event of an attack.

So, what explains Japan’s growing sense of insecurity?

To start with, China’s official military spending has expanded to four times that of Japan over the last eight years. The gap is even wider because China’s official budget hides significant parts of its defense spending, with external organizations estimating actual Chinese military expenditure to be up to 40% higher.

Furthermore, Japan’s population, totaling just 8.7% of China’s, is not just aging but shrinking. This unfavorable demographic trend accentuates Japan’s security concerns, including how to effectively police a vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which, with 6,852 islands, is larger than China’s.

Add to the picture America’s unpredictability, which causes unease in Tokyo and explains why successive Japanese prime ministers have repeatedly sought U.S. assurances that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the 1960 treaty.

The Senkakus are part of the Ryukyu island chain centered on Okinawa, which the U.S., after World War II, occupied for two decades longer than the rest of Japan. Even after returning Okinawa in 1972, the U.S. for years rebuffed Japan’s pleas to abandon its neutral stance on the Senkaku issue.

America eventually discarded its neutrality, but the first caveat-free U.S. assurance on the Senkakus did not come until Donald Trump’s presidency. U.S. President Joe Biden recently provided a Trump-type unambiguous assurance when he met Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, with their joint statement reaffirming that “Article V of the [1960] Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands.”

But can Japan really trust America’s security guarantee? The U.S., despite a mutual defense treaty with Manila, has sat back and watched China’s incremental encroachments in the Philippines’ maritime backyard, starting with the 2012 capture of Scarborough Shoal. The lack of U.S. response to the Scarborough capture came as a wake-up call for Tokyo.

When China in 2013 unilaterally established an air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) covering the Senkakus, Japan received a second wake-up call. Washington, instead of demonstrating its disapproval by postponing then-Vice President Biden’s trip to Beijing, advised U.S. commercial airlines to respect China’s ADIZ.

Such fecklessness has allowed China to turn its contrived historical claims to the South China Sea into reality without penalty. The crackdown in Hong Kong further highlights how an emboldened Xi is changing the status quo.

The U.S., however, is still following its old diplomatic playbook, despite its relative decline. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, during his recent visit to New Delhi, sought Indian help in Afghanistan but said nothing about China’s aggression against India that has turned the Himalayas into Asia’s biggest flashpoint.

Japan faces a clear choice: bolster its security or come under siege. Yet, paradoxically, a key obstacle to Tokyo building formidable military capabilities to independently deter China is the U.S.-imposed constitution. No other country in the world is bound by the kind of constitutional restrictions, including a prohibition on acquiring offensive capabilities, that the occupying U.S. imposed on a vanquished Japan.

Such constitutional constraints militate against U.S. interests today. After all, a more confident and secure Japan that can deter China on its own will aid regional security, including preventing Xi’s regime from seizing Taiwan. The U.S. must make amends by encouraging constitutional reform to “normalize” Japan’s security posture and help transform that country into a militarily independent power like Britain and France but without nuclear weapons.

Japan, while maintaining its security alliance with Washington, must build robust capabilities, including the ability to carry out offensive cyber and naval operations, so that it can, if necessary, defend itself alone. The worst option would be to take periodic comfort in U.S. security reassurances, like a spouse going through a midlife crisis seeking repeated assurances as to their partner’s commitment.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.”