Taliban must get serious
The group needs to show its intent on peace before US troops can leave
Getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan would be quite a coup for President Donald Trump. It would give him a foreign policy advantage going into next year’s election — one no Democratic candidate could criticize.
But would it also be setting the stage for a bloodbath? Would it mean a return to the day-to-day brutality that was the Taliban regime prior to 2001? Of even more concern to Americans, would Afghanistan return to being a haven for Islamic terrorists?
Trump’s administration has been negotiating with the Taliban, who were ousted from Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America. Their unpardonable offense at that time had been hosting Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network.
But the Taliban had been engaged in vicious repression of their own people for many years. One example of their policies — stoning women to death for certain offenses against their rigid interpretation of Islam — is enough to show why the pre-2001 version of the Taliban can never be permitted to return to power.
U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has resulted in the deaths of about 2,400 Americans. More than 20,000 have been wounded. With the 20-year mark on our presence there approaching, many people here just want it to end.
That gives the Taliban — and Islamic extremists — an enormous advantage. To Trump’s credit, he has not yet announced a no-conditions withdrawal.
Political considerations may prod him toward trusting the Taliban more than he should, however. Being able to point next summer to an end to U.S. involvement would give Trump a tremendous boost among voters.
The Taliban know that, too.
Domestic politics needs to be removed from the equation, however. If the Taliban are allowed to regain power in Afghanistan, then resume their role as hosts for terrorists, a pullout now could be paid for in American blood later.
A terrorist attack Saturday provides an opportunity to test the Taliban. On that day, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 63 people and wounded 182 — men, women, children — at a wedding in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Taliban leaders condemned the atrocity as “forbidden and unjustifiable.”
Talk is cheap. If the Taliban are serious, they will cooperate actively with the United States and Afghan authorities in tracking down those responsible for the attack.
If they fail to do that, the Taliban will unveil themselves as no different than their predecessors in 2001. The ball, as we say, is in Taliban leaders’ court.