By Don Keelan
As if we all don’t have enough crises to confront — Covid-19 and the Delta variant, wildfires, climate change, increase in crime statistics, economic issues from material and labor shortages — we now have the fall of Afghanistan and looming expectations of Taliban retribution.
From the list of issues we already worry about, we can add that, once again, America will have to deal with a potentially devastating terrorist attack. Furthermore, we should not discount that an attack could come on or near the 20th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The fall of the Afghan government was expected, according to the experts. What shocked the President and those surrounding him is how quickly the fall took place. This surprise raises three significant questions.
Of course, the first is why the President and his advisors were deaf to the military field commanders and our NATO partners? The list of experts must be enormous and their expertise ever so costly, but all failed miserably, as was the case in September 2001.
The second question is, what form of Taliban retribution can we expect? Twenty years ago this fall, the U.S. and its Allies went into Afghanistan with an overwhelming force and, along with the Afghanistan Northern Alliance, crushed the Taliban bringing an end to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. For the next 10 years until May 2010, al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden (he escaped the invasion forces) created numerous off-shoots of al-Qaeda in Somalia, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Chad/Mali, and Yemen, among other places.
Even with bin Laden’s capture and death, the Taliban subsidiaries continue to proliferate. The picture becomes even direr now that the Taliban can openly work with nuclear-armed Pakistan, their safe-keeper since 9/11.
The third question is, what message does America’s unceremonious withdrawal from a country we invested so much treasure tell our friends and Allies, many of whom directly depend on us for their defense?
Let there be no doubt: as soon as the first C-17 USAF plane lifted off from the Kabul airport, China and Russia were working the phones describing how America “protects” its friends.
I will leave it up to the historians to decipher what took place on August 16, 2021, in Kabul. However, historians cannot tell us what will occur next. It is disconcerting that the army of intelligence experts might be unable to tell us either.
The Taliban will seek revenge for what they encountered in 2001. They are now in an even stronger position to carry out more devious attacks than what took place in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, PA.
However, retaliation can be avoided or at the least interrupted if our leaders begin to focus on their first and primary responsibility: the safety of the United States and its people.
The endless discussion of racism, climate change, budget-busting spending programs, Trump’s Presidency, and other issues must be placed in order of priority: below our national security. What took place in Afghanistan will not be confined to its borders, 8,000 miles away. The terrorists have been waiting a long time. The adage is, “while we had the watch, they have the time.”
As we come to the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, let’s put ourselves back in time to the days and weeks that followed: when we said, we will never forget. We have forgotten, and we need to remember those tragic weeks after September 2001. I can’t imagine, nor would I wish to witness, thousands of Americans running down the tarmacs at Kennedy, O’Hare, and Logan airports.
When will the U.S. come to adopt what the late George Shultz (former Secretary of State) once said and which was recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table”?
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.