The strategy to inch toward victory in Afghanistan should begin with a simple mantra: First, do no negotiations with terrorists.
Yet floating a pie-in-the-sky peace deal with the Taliban kept compromising the Obama administration’s position on Afghanistan and the entire war on terror, and now the Trump administration risks falling into the same trap.
“Perhaps,” President Trump said when unveiling this White House’s strategy, “it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
The terror group that President Obama declined to designate a terror group has signaled over and over again to Mr. Trump that they want to play ball. And it should be America that is on the offensive against all terrorism in Afghanistan — not just the Islamic State, or ISIS — especially as Taliban alliances and operations grow in scope and scale.
Those ops include the Taliban suicide bombing earlier this month that killed two U.S. soldiers. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the July death of a U.S. soldier in a counterterrorism operation. They also claimed a June attack in which a Taliban member who joined the military killed three U.S. service members.
They are emboldened, enjoy long-term relationships with terrorist kin, and have been publicly needling Mr. Trump since Election Day in a series of published challenges. The Taliban’s warm-weather offensive put into motion, as they pledged in spring, a “twin-tracked political and military approach” to regain power targeting “foreign forces and their internal allies” with “conventional attacks, guerrilla warfare, complex martyrdom attacks, insider attacks, and use of IEDs.”
Iran supplying the Taliban has been worrisome enough, but reports from U.S. and Afghan officials of increased Russia involvement up the ante.
Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that the Taliban serve as Russia’s vehicle to exert influence over Central Asia and “undermine” the United States and NATO, while Kremlin ally Iran fears successful democracy in Afghanistan “will be a threat to them.” That same month, Afghan Ambassador to Russia Qayyum Kochai told The New York Times that Russia seeks to overtake Pakistan as the chief sponsor of the Taliban. Both the Taliban and Russia have denied their “bromance.”
Taliban outreach to Mr. Trump has tried to appeal to the president’s ego, stressing that he could be the president remembered for forging “peace” by withdrawing troops and telling him that he knows better than “stooges” giving him advice. “You must also not hand over the Afghan issue to warmongering generals but must make a decision where history shall remember you as an advocate of peace,” the group said in an open letter days before the president’s strategy announcement, slamming “a number of warmongering congressmen and generals” for trying to lead Mr. Trump astray.
Their public challenges and bloody attacks have been the Taliban’s way of trying to put their thumb on the scale first.
Will Mr. Trump, as the Obama administration did ad nauseam, encourage a political deal with a group that kills Americans, Afghans and anyone else who gets in the way of reinstating their lost Shariah state? Will he shift from the Obama administration’s insistence that the Taliban are just an “armed insurgency” not qualifying as a foreign terrorist organization? Will he declare “mission accomplished” when ISIS, just one of many terror actors operating in the country, is run out of Khorasan?
The Taliban aren’t simply an Islamist insurgency just concerned with the governance of their home turf, despite their protests to the contrary, but a terror group receiving intensive training from ally al Qaeda and paying it forward. Afghan officials have, for instance, said the Taliban are interested in Kunduz province for the purpose of training Tajik and Uzbek jihadists before funneling them back to their home countries or beyond.
Our administration must recognize that, as we painfully learned on Sept. 11, 2001, what happens in Afghanistan doesn’t stay in Afghanistan — especially as Iranian and Russian arms target U.S. soldiers and as the once-cloistered Taliban have enthusiastically embraced the era and alliances of modern, global jihad.
• Bridget Johnson is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and D.C. bureau chief for PJ Media.