The Taliban is playing Obama

Afghani soldier by

A soldier loyal to northern Afghani warlord General Rashid Dostum sits atop a mobile rocket launcher just north of Kabul on Oct 17, 1996 in Charikar, Afghanistan.

Article Highlights

  • The Taliban's objective is not to share power with the Afghan government. It is to replace the Afghan government.

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  • The Taliban knows Obama wants to leave Afghanistan and close Guantanamo Bay — and they want to help him do both.

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  • The idea that anything can come of these negotiations with the Taliban is pure folly.

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Is history repeating itself?

In 1998, the Clinton administration sat down at the negotiating table with the Taliban and secured a promise that the Taliban would “not allow terrorists to use Afghanistan as a base for terrorism.” A few months later, al-Qaeda blew up U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Three months after those attacks, the Clinton team was back at the table with the Taliban. According to declassified records, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright agreed “to engage in a serious and confidential dialogue with the Taliban through the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.” While those negotiations were underway, another meeting was taking place in Afghanistan, as Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed sat down in Tora Bora to plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

See a pattern here?

Now in 2013, the Taliban has once again promised, in a statement announcing the opening of its new political office in Qatar, that it “does not wish to harm other countries from its soil and neither will it allow others use Afghan soil to pose a threat to the security of other nations.”

Don’t believe a word of it.

Taliban leaders are not interested in sharing power. Their goal is to get the United States out of the way so they can take over Afghanistan.

So why are the Taliban negotiating? Simple. It knows that Barack Obama wants to leave Afghanistan and close Guantanamo Bay — and they want to help him do both.

Taliban leaders have three objectives:

First, they want Obama to free five senior leaders held at Guantanamo Bay. They include a deputy defense minister who has been accused of war crimes by the United Nations and, according to the U.S. military, has “operational associations with significant al-Qaida and other extremist personnel.” They include a deputy minister of intelligence who, according to the U.S. military, “utilized his office to support al-Qaida” and “arranged for al-Qaida personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff.” They include an interior minister who was “directly associated with Usama bin Laden” as well as Hamas and deceased al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Why does the Taliban want these people back? So that they can rejoin the fight to take over Afghanistan. The Taliban heard Obama complain in his National Defense University speech how “we must spend another $200 million to keep Gitmo open at a time when we’re cutting investments in education and research here at home.” They think he will be more than willing to free them — especially in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier.

Second, Taliban leaders want to speed the withdrawal of U.S. troops. They heard Obama declare in his NDU speech that “the Afghan War is coming to an end.” They know Obama is eager for a complete, or near-complete, withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2014. They want to give the president cover to withdraw on time and to leave as few troops behind as possible.

Third, they want to use their Qatar office as a base of operations in the Persian Gulf. From the headquarters Obama allowed them to open in Doha, they can raise funds across the Gulf, link up with other radical jihadist groups and legitimize themselves by engaging other countries diplomatically. Already, they have sent a diplomatic delegation to Iran for a meeting that a Taliban spokesman described “as a meeting of two governments.”

We’ve allowed them to do all this while getting no concessions whatsoever in return. The Taliban has not cut ties with al-Qaeda (something former secretary of state Hilary Clinton once said was an “unambiguous red line”). It has not recognized the Afghan government. It has not renounced violence.

Quite the opposite, it has escalated violence. On the same day it opened its office in Qatar to “negotiate” with the United States, the Taliban launched a rocket attack on Bagram Air Base that killed four U.S. soldiers. How’s that for a confidence-building measure?

The Taliban delegation in Qatar includes members of the Haqqani network — a group that the Obama administration just designated a terrorist organization. Are we really going to sit down with representatives of a group that, according to our State Department, was responsible for the September 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, among other terrorist attacks? What’s next? Opening talks with Ayman Zawahiri?

The idea that anything can come of these negotiations is pure folly. The Taliban have no incentive to make concessions. They know that America is leaving Afghanistan. They know that Obama cannot wait to get out. Their objective is not to share power with the Afghan government. It is to replace the Afghan government.

Negotiating with us helps them achieve that goal.

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About the Author


Marc A.
  • A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program, Courting Disaster (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about U.S. foreign and defense policy issues for The American and the Enterprise Blog. He appears every Sunday on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" and makes frequent appearances on other TV and talk radio programs.

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