Officials Try to Sway Biden Using Intelligence on Potential for Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan


As President Joe Biden signaled this week that he would let a May 1 deadline move with out withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, some officers are utilizing an intelligence evaluation to argue for prolonging the army mission there.

U.S. intelligence companies have instructed the Biden administration that if U.S. troops go away earlier than a power-sharing settlement is reached between the Taliban and the Afghan authorities, the nation may fall largely beneath the management of the Taliban inside two or three years after the withdrawal of worldwide forces. That may doubtlessly open the door for al-Qaida to rebuild its power inside the nation, in accordance to U.S. officers.

The categorized evaluation, first ready final yr for the Trump administration however not beforehand disclosed, is the newest in a sequence of grim predictions of Afghanistan’s future that intelligence analysts have delivered all through the two-decade-long warfare.

But the intelligence has landed in a modified political atmosphere. While former President Donald Trump pushed for a withdrawal of all forces even earlier than the phrases of the peace deal required it, Biden has been extra cautious, saying Thursday that he doesn’t view May 1 as a deadline he should meet, though he additionally mentioned he “could not picture” troops being within the nation subsequent yr.

The resolution looms as one of probably the most important of Biden’s younger presidency. He lengthy argued whereas vp for a minimal presence in Afghanistan however has been mentioned to have privately described as haunting the chance of permitting the nation to descend into collapse.

Some senior Biden administration officers have expressed skepticism of any intelligence prediction of a resurgence of a weakened al-Qaida or of the Islamic State group. Taliban commanders stay opposed to the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and al-Qaida, which has little present presence within the nation, may regroup as a substitute in any quantity of different lawless areas world wide.

Also left unanswered by the intelligence warning is the query of whether or not Afghanistan may actually prosper if U.S. troops stay indefinitely. Their presence would most definitely stop a collapse of the nation’s personal safety forces and permit the federal government in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to retain management of its main cities, however the Taliban are nonetheless probably to regularly broaden their energy in different components of the nation, together with curbing the rights of ladies.

A Taliban spokesperson mentioned Friday that the group was dedicated to final yr’s peace settlement “and wants the American side to also remain firmly committed.” If troops usually are not withdrawn by May 1, the spokesperson promised, the Taliban would “continue its jihad and armed struggle against foreign forces.”

Biden administration officers insisted no last resolution had been made. Nevertheless, with the deadline looming, administration officers are jockeying to affect Biden and his prime nationwide safety officers. While Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not signaled what course of motion he prefers, some Pentagon officers who consider U.S. forces ought to keep longer have pointed to the intelligence evaluation predicting a Taliban takeover of the nation.

Some army commanders and administration officers have argued that any set date for withdrawing the roughly 3,500 U.S. troops who stay, whether or not it’s May 1 or on the finish of the yr, will doom the mission. The solely manner to protect hard-fought positive aspects in Afghanistan, they mentioned, is to preserve the small U.S. presence there lengthy sufficient to pressure an enduring deal between the Taliban and Afghan authorities.

These officers have used the intelligence evaluation to make the purpose {that a} withdrawal this yr will lead to a fall of the present authorities, a pointy erosion of ladies’s rights and the return of worldwide terrorist teams. A rush to the exit, some officers mentioned, will solely drag the United States again into Afghanistan quickly after leaving — a lot as was the case in Iraq in 2014, three years after the Obama administration pulled troops out of that battle.

The White House has held a sequence of conferences on Afghanistan, and extra are to come. On Thursday, the president mentioned he was ready for briefings from Austin, who met just lately with Afghan officers, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who conferred this week with NATO allies, for their bottom-line recommendation on what he ought to do.

For many Biden administration officers, the problem that has resonated probably the most clearly is the risk {that a} Taliban takeover may pose to Afghan ladies. While some former intelligence officers predict the Taliban will initially take care not to roll again ladies’s rights altogether — at the very least in main cities — in the event that they take over your entire nation, it will likely be tough to assure protections for ladies, corresponding to schooling for ladies and entry to well being care.

“Any agreement must preserve their gains if Afghanistan wants to ensure the international community’s continued political and financial support,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, instructed the Security Council this week. “We will not give an inch on this point.”

The Biden administration is making a last effort earlier than May 1 to present progress in slow-moving negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan authorities in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban, in accordance to U.S. officers, are stalling.

The administration is pushing the 2 sides to take part in a peace convention in Turkey to exhibit progress. Simultaneously, the American and Taliban negotiators proceed to attempt to cement a 90-day discount in violence, however to this point, each side have hesitated to agree.

The categorized intelligence evaluation of the Taliban largely taking management assumes that the Afghan authorities and the Taliban fail to attain a political settlement and {that a} civil warfare would erupt after the U.S. exit.

Administration officers warned that making any intelligence estimate is difficult, that predictions concerning the future are all the time imprecise and that varied elements affect the evaluation.

For instance, intelligence estimates rely on whether or not worldwide funding for the Afghan authorities stays in place. The more cash the United States and its allies present Afghanistan, the longer the federal government in Kabul ought to give you the chance to retain management of some of the nation. But some officers mentioned that historical past reveals that when U.S. troops are withdrawn, Congress strikes rapidly to lower monetary help for associate forces.

There can be a debate in Washington concerning the seriousness of the risk of a return of terrorist teams. For now, the quantity of Qaida and Islamic State militants in Afghanistan could be very small, a senior U.S. official mentioned.

Some senior lawmakers with entry to the categorized assessments mentioned that it was not sure that if the United States withdrew that al-Qaida may rebuild a base in Afghanistan from which to perform terrorist assaults towards the United States.

“What is that threat really going to be?” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chair of the House Armed Services Committee, mentioned this week throughout a digital convention on Afghanistan. “This isn’t the 1990s when al-Qaida set up camps, and they had the Taliban, and no one was paying attention to them.”

Smith mentioned maintaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan really elevated the chance to Americans there, incurred larger monetary prices and handed a propaganda victory and recruiting software to the U.S.’ enemies.

Some counterterrorism officers consider that al-Qaida would favor to reestablish its headquarters in Afghanistan, ought to U.S. troops withdraw. But different officers mentioned al-Qaida’s management is perhaps simply as probably to look to Africa or the Middle East.

While U.S. intelligence officers have been principally targeted on the risk of al-Qaida, senior army officers have additionally raised the prospect of a development within the energy of the Afghanistan arm of the Islamic State.

But in recent times, the Taliban have been at odds with the Islamic State. The two teams have fought, and the Taliban have for probably the most half pushed again Islamic State forces.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where ISIS and the Taliban would strategically cooperate or collaborate in Afghanistan,” mentioned Lisa Maddox, a former CIA analyst. “The Taliban is an ideological organization, and that ideology is Afghan-centric and not aligned with ISIS’ overarching goals.”

The intelligence estimate predicted that the Taliban would comparatively swiftly broaden their management over Afghanistan, suggesting that the Afghan safety forces stay fragile regardless of years of coaching by the U.S. army and billions of {dollars} in U.S. funding.

Offensives final yr in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, two areas within the nation’s south the place the Taliban have lengthy held sway, demonstrated that police and native forces are unable to maintain floor, prompting elite commando forces and common military troops to take their place — a tactic that’s probably unsustainable in the long term.

Afghan safety forces nonetheless rely closely on U.S. air help to maintain territory, which U.S. army leaders acknowledged this week. It is unclear whether or not that U.S. air energy would proceed if U.S. forces left Afghanistan, maybe launched from bases within the Persian Gulf, though the Pentagon has drawn up such choices for the White House.

“The capabilities that the U.S. provides for the Afghans to be able to combat the Taliban and other threats that reside in Afghanistan are critical to their success,” Gen. Richard D. Clarke, head of Special Operations Command, instructed the Senate on Thursday.

(Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul, Afghanistan. Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Kabul.)


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