(CNSNews.com) – Nineteen years, nine months and three days after its “Islamic emirate” was toppled by U.S.-led forces, the fundamentalist, misogynistic, al-Qaeda-allied Taliban swept back into Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday, the culmination of a four-month charge facilitated by President Biden’s decision to abandon a “conditions-based” withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces.
Jihadist fighters entered the presidential palace, deserted earlier as President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country. From an unknown destination – some reports speculated Tajikistan – Ghani posted a message saying he had faced a “hard choice” but decided that his departure would reduce the likelihood of bloodshed.
“Taliban have won the judgement of sword and guns and now they are responsible for protecting the countrymen’s honor, wealth and self-esteem,” he said.
Talks were reportedly underway overnight on a “transfer of power.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul was being evacuated, diplomats and staff airlifted by helicopter to an outpost at the international airport. Other foreign embassies were also withdrawing staff.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a round of Sunday talk shows insisted the U.S. Embassy would continue to function – but at the airport location.
He pushed back on suggested comparisons with the ignominious U.S. departure from South Vietnam in 1975, telling both CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week” that what the world was witnessing was “not Saigon.”
Blinken reiterated that U.S. forces had gone into Afghanistan 20 years ago to “deal with” al-Qaeda following the 9/11 terrorist attack. That mission was successful and Osama bin Laden had been brought to justice.
He said the Biden administration had inherited from its predecessor both a May 1, 2021 deadline for troop withdrawal – in a U.S.-Taliban agreement negotiated and signed in Doha in February 2020 – and a situation in which the Taliban was at its “strongest position” since 2001.
Had Biden not gone along with the withdrawal plan, he said, the Taliban would after May 1 have resumed its attacks on U.S. and coalition forces – which had stopped after the Doha agreement was signed.
“Come May 2, if the president had decided to stay, all gloves would have been off,’ Blinken told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We would have been back at war with the Taliban attacking our forces. The offensive you’ve seen throughout the country almost certainly would have proceeded. We would have had about 2,500 forces in country with air power that would not have been sufficient to deal with the situation, and I would be on your show right now explaining why we were sending tens of thousands of forces back into Afghanistan to restart a war that we need to end.”
Chuck Todd pointed out that Biden has walked away from other decisions he inherited from the Trump administration that he considered “bad.” Why he hadn’t waited another six months before withdrawing, Todd asked, noting that fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal and the Taliban customarily retreats during the winter.
Blinken doubled down, saying the idea that U.S. forces could have maintained the status quo beyond May 1 was “a fiction.”
Pushing back at the blame-Trump talking points, Heritage Foundation vice president for foreign and defense policy studies James Jay Carafano said Biden “can make all the excuses and spin all the narratives he wants, but a narrative can’t stop a bullet.”
“The situation did not collapse until he withdrew troops – and it is impossible not to conclude this happened because of what he decided.”
Carafano placed the decision in the broader context of the “Obama-Biden foreign policy,” recalling the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 – and resulting rise of ISIS – and a response to the Libya crisis which, he said, included “the spiraling decline in the security situation until our diplomatic facilities in Benghazi were smoking ruins.”
It was a foreign policy whose default was “accommodation and appeasement,” he argued, saying Biden was following the same path, citing as examples his handling of the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline and attempt to return to the Iran nuclear deal.
‘Everything … must be follow our religious values’
During its rule of most of Afghanistan – from the mid-1990s until November 2001 – the Taliban imposed a harsh interpretation of shari’a, with women’s lives governed by restrictions described at the time by the State Department as “widespread, institutionally sanctioned, and systematic.”
Girls were denied schooling and women mostly forbidden to work outside the home. Women were “subjected to rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage.”
Advances made by Afghan society, and especially women, after the two decades since have been significant, with girls’ schooling made widely available and women rising to positions of leadership across many fields.
As recently as July, however, the Taliban in a statement repudiated what it called “non-Islamic forms of governance.”
“Everything from politics, economics, culture and education to social life must be follow our religious values,” it said at the time. “This is because Afghans do not desire the elimination of military aggression alone, but also the termination of western political, cultural and ideological invasion.”
In a statement on Sunday the Taliban pledged to protect foreign embassies, undertook not to enter people’s homes or target private property, and said no one should fear for their lives or leave the country.
It also said it was offering “amnesty” to anyone who worked with the “corrupt” government or “invaders.”
The group implied that abuses that have taken place were perpetrated by the government and intelligence agencies in a bid to tarnish the Taliban, alleging a conspiracy in which its enemies were putting out fake statements in its name and spreading propaganda.
The Taliban attributed the speed of its takeover to “the help of Allah the Almighty and our nation’s great and broad support.”
“The Taliban’s success in ‘defeating’ the world’s most powerful nation will likely supercharge the global jihadist movement, including al-Qaeda and ISIS,” said John Hannah, senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, who served as national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
The Taliban agreed in the Doha agreement not to allow Afghanistan’s territory to be used by groups bent on attacking the U.S. or its allies. But it has not publicly repudiated or severed the ties with al-Qaeda that triggered the U.S. invasion in the first place.
“Al-Qaeda still owes the Taliban an oath of allegiance – that relationship was never going to be broken by negotiations with the West,” according to Charles Lister, director of the countering terrorism and extremism program at the Middle East Institute.
“Al-Qaeda strategists will have rarely been so happy since 9/11. That a Taliban victory looks possible before 9/11’s 20-year anniversary will be celebrated by jihadists worldwide,” Lister wrote last week.
“It is impossible to understate how significant this is likely to be for the jihadist movement worldwide – it will be reaped for years, if not decades, to come.”