Withdrawal can’t sweep away terrorists or their ambitions

MEMBERS OF TALIBAN forces sit at a checkpoint in Kabul earlier this month.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Published in the Jerusalem Post on August 26, 2021.

by Eric R. Mandel

The 24/7 coverage of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has neglected to focus on four key points that will have lasting consequences and need to be addressed.

The first is the arsenal of weapons left behind for the Taliban and other jihadist organizations by America’s hasty exit and the disintegration of the Afghan armed forces.

The second is the underreported danger from releasing five thousand “high-value” al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban terrorists into the hands of the Taliban from Bagram prison.

The third is America’s mistaken notion that American itself can decide to end its forever wars on terror simply by leaving Afghanistan. They should ask the Israelis how well unilateral disengagements worked for them in Gaza and Lebanon.

Finally, is the need to recognize how compromised American intelligence will be going forward to prevent another major terror attack. There will be no human intelligence or any ally left in Afghanistan going forward.

Not only have we given the terrorists another failed state to plan regional and international attacks, but we have armed them too. According to an article in Forbes magazine, the US left behind a massive treasure trove of weapons that could sustain not just a terrorist force but even a real army for a decade.

“America left behind 75,000 war vehicles… Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles and armored personnel carriers… 1,000 mine-resistant vehicles cost up to $767,000 each – 208 airplanes and helicopters, including 20 A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft. The A-29’s cost $21.3 million each. Black Hawk helicopters… costing up to $21m. Six hundred thousand rifles, machine guns…25,000 grenade launchers and 2,500 howitzers – the modern-day canon.”

The war on terror is not over just because President Biden says it is. According to Matthew Continetti, writing in the National Review, “Afghanistan is just one front in a global conflict that the United States did not initiate and cannot wish away… When participants in the worldwide Salafist-jihadist movement look at the developments of the last week, they don’t see reasons to quit their mayhem. They see the chaos, panic, violence, disorder and American retreat as a vindication of their ideology and a spur to further action.”

With the American withdrawal, American intelligence is blind, lacking HUMINT, human intelligence, a key component of effective prevention against terrorist attacks. The newly created Afghan terror sanctuary will challenge our analysts to get ahead of any new terror threats emanating from the region.

Unless you are an isolationist, American security interests extend worldwide. Our careful surveillance has prevented attacks on our friends and homeland for the last 20 years, something underappreciated, as preventing attacks receives much less news coverage than successful terror attacks.

Today’s al-Qaeda, Islamic State and every jihadist non-state terror variant are all transnational groups who have mastered social media for recruitment and planning. They will move wherever states fail, to plot their next attack. All these Islamist groups hate the US and want to bring medieval Islamic rule in one form or another everywhere.

International terrorist organizations will continue to probe and poke at the lion to see just how far they can go. The terrorists are counting on the lack of America reacting to attacks on regional allies like India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Israel is the only player in the region that acts effectively and repeatedly against jihadists, whether in Syria, Iran or Lebanon. When Israel strikes Islamists, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, Hamas or Hezbollah, the moderate Sunni states quietly cheer.

The administration needs to learn quickly that jihadists are now empowered to act against what they perceive to be a weak American President who talks but won’t act against terrorism. His choice not to respond to Iran’s recent confirmed terror attacks in international waters has only reinforced their case.

In his press conferences, Joe Biden has doubled down that America has no national security interest in remaining in Afghanistan. But Islamists, whether of the Sunni or Shi’ite variety, will have the last say. They have been reenergized and given a significant morale boost knowing America is in retreat and won’t act in response. Terrorism is alive and well throughout the Middle East.

Is President Biden up to the task? 

Tevi Troy points out in a Wall Street Journal article, that President Biden seems to have surrounded himself with yes men. If Troy is correct, his remedy is for Biden to act like JFK after the Bay of Pigs disaster to create a mechanism within his policy teams that encourages dissenting opinions. 

Biden needs to listen, because his instincts on foreign policy have been more wrong than right despite decades on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Even back in 1992, according to The New York Times, Senator Joe Biden wanted to outsource American security to the United Nations. The United States should pursue “the next big advance in civilization… collective power through the United Nations.” You can imagine how that would have worked out.

It is challenging for any president to realize that there have been profound mistakes. The great ones like Abraham Lincoln had humility and were open to new ideas, even if they were not popular. That is what a President is supposed to do. His predecessor was rightly criticized for not listening to his advisers or contrary opinions. Will Biden continue to make the same mistake?

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