Taliban, Apparently Preparing for Takeover, Vows Safety for Foreign Diplomats

Members of the Taliban delegation attend the opening session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha on September 12, 2020. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP) (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images

A spokesman for the Taliban jihadist organization issued a statement Wednesday assuring diplomats from foreign countries that the Taliban does not “pose any threats to them” and encouraging them not to vacate Afghanistan.

The statement followed an announcement from the government of Australia that it planned to shut down its embassy in Kabul in anticipation of the full withdrawal of American and NATO forces from the country. President Donald Trump negotiated an agreement with the Taliban, and including the legitimate government of Afghanistan, in which American forces would vacate the country by May 1, 2021, in exchange for the Taliban agreeing not to attack American forces and to cut ties with al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups. President Joe Biden broke the agreement, maintaining a prolonged presence in the country, but has promised all troops will leave by September 11 of this year.

The Taliban does not consider the government of Afghanistan legitimate and instead considers itself the Afghan government, referring to itself as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” American political observers who oppose the U.S. withdrawal from the country have long expressed concern that the Afghan government, and particularly its security forces, are too weak to fight off an attempted Taliban takeover without the presence of American forces there. The Taliban’s overtures to foreign governments may be a sign that it sees itself as soon being in a position to conduct diplomacy on behalf of the country.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan assures all foreign diplomats and staff of humanitarian organizations that (we) will not pose any threats to them,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said Wednesday in a statement to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). The statement appeared to be a response to Australian officials shutting down their Kabul embassy, explicitly referencing concerns for the security of diplomats.

“It is Australia’s expectation that this measure will be temporary and that we will resume a permanent presence in Kabul once circumstances permit,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said of the decision, according to Afghanistan’s Khaama Press. Australia retains about 80 troops in the country, which it intends to withdraw, and will shut down the embassy on May 28, according to the Khaama report, because “security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence.”

The Taliban statement appeared to be an attempt to contrast Taliban rule with the Afghan government, offering security in response to Australia’s statement that it received no guarantees of protection for its diplomats.

A survey published in February revealed the Taliban controlled over half the country at the time in geographic terms, and had control over territory containing over 59 percent of the Afghan population, significantly less than the 70 percent the Taliban claimed to control at the time. The Taliban has persisted throughout the two-decade war by funding itself through opium cultivation and consistently attacking Afghan forces. It has also engaged in a prolonged campaign of terrorist bombings and other attacks against Afghan civilians and U.S. and NATO forces.

Taliban terrorists largely abstained in the aftermath of the Trump-era peace deal from attacking American forces, instead focusing on targeted attacks on the Afghan military. In light of Biden’s decision to prolong America’s military presence in the country, a Taliban spokesman stated that jihadists would shift focus and again attack American forces if they remained in the country past May 1.

“[The] violation in principle has opened the way for [the Taliban] to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces [the United States],” a spokesman wrote in the immediate passing of the May 1 deadline. Taliban jihadists reiterated this week their opposition to the presence of American forces anywhere near Afghanistan, threatening neighboring countries not to harbor them in a statement Wednesday.

“We know through media outlets that the United States is interested stay [sic] in our neighbourhood after withdrawing from Afghanistan,” an official statement from the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” read.  “We urge neighbouring countries not to allow anyone to stay in their country. If such a step is taken once again, it will be a great and historic mistake and disgrace that will be inscribed in history.”

The Taliban vowed to “not remain silent in the face of such heinous and provocative acts.”

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, told the House of Representatives in April that Washington is indeed considering such an arrangement to ensure America’s ability to target jihadists who pose a threat to the homeland.

“Targeted raids — although those are inherently dangerous, but you could still do it,” McKenzie said. “You could do it with manned aircraft. There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options.”

The Biden administration has encouraged the Taliban to cooperate with the government of Afghanistan in light of its imminent military exit from the country, and particularly in light of the growing presence of the Islamic State there. The Islamic State, formerly “al-Qaeda in Iraq,” splintered from its parent group in 2013 following growing disagreements with its then-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the leadership of the greater al-Qaeda organization. The Taliban is allied with al-Qaeda but competes for territorial control with the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K).

Following the bombing of a girls’ school in Kabul this month, for which the Taliban and Afghan government blamed each other, State Department spokesman Ned Price urged them to work together.

“We are still looking into what or who is responsible, but I would note that ISIS has been responsible for similar attacks on Shia communities in Kabul in the past,” Price said. “We note the Taliban has denied involvement in the attack … We call on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to engage seriously in the ongoing peace process to ensure the Afghan people enjoy a future free of terrorism and of senseless violence.”

Afghanistan Tolo News reported Monday that the two sides may have taken the advice, holding a secret meeting on Sunday in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office.

“The meeting was deemed to be a positive sign for towards peace process, as people in the country continue to suffer,” Khaama, citing Tolo, reported.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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