U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan Thomas West on Monday hoped the Taliban would be “successful” in its battle against the Islamic State, and hinted the new rulers of Afghanistan needed to sever their ties with al-Qaeda if they desire international recognition.
“The Taliban have voiced very clearly and openly their desire to normalize relations with the international community, to see a resumption in aid, to see a return of the international diplomatic community to Kabul and to see sanctions relief. The United States can deliver none of these things on our own,” West told reporters by telephone from Brussels, where he delivered a briefing on Afghanistan to the NATO alliance.
“Allies are going to continue to play a heavy role in Afghanistan: Germany, the United Kingdom, France,” he elaborated. “We will all engage forthrightly and in a clear-eyed manner with the Taliban and with shared interests and objectives.”
West said the U.S. is “worried about the uptick in ISIS-K attacks, and we want the Taliban to be successful against them.” ISIS-K is the abbreviation widely used for the Islamic State’s operations in Afghanistan, which the terrorist organization refers to as “Khorasan.”
“I think they have a very vigorous effort underway against that group,” he said.
“When it comes to other groups – look, al-Qaeda continues to have a presence there that we’re very concerned about,” he added.
West said al-Qaeda is “an issue of ongoing concern for us in our dialogue with the Taliban.”
The Taliban alleges to have been attacked several times by Islamic State terrorists since the fall of Kabul in August, with actions ranging from wanton murders and targeted assassinations to military ambushes and mass-casualty bomb attacks. Most recently, at least 25 people were killed last week in a bomb attack against a military hospital in Kabul allegedly claimed by the Islamic State.
Many of these attacks appear to be designed to challenge the Taliban’s guarantees of safety for Afghan civilians. ISIS-K sympathizers have posted videos of some grisly killings and sent taunting messages to the families of victims.
The Taliban insisted last week that ISIS “does not exist” in Afghanistan, claiming Taliban forces immediately crush its cells whenever they reveal themselves, and ISIS is not actively recruiting any new members from the Afghan population. ISIS-K’s responsibility for the attack on the Kabul hospital was confirmed on the same day this claim was made.
The New York Times last week noted “growing unease among Western officials” that the Taliban cannot contain or defeat ISIS-K, and refuses to cooperate with the United States on counterterrorism efforts. Western governments also fear the Taliban could use an alleged escalating conflict with the Islamic State as the pretext for a bloody crackdown on dissidents.
As for al-Qaeda, there is little reason to suspect the Taliban will take strong action against their longtime allies to curry favor with the United States or Europe.
Officially, the Taliban claims there are no al-Qaeda militants currently operating in Afghanistan and says it will not allow al-Qaeda to launch terrorist operations against other countries from Afghan soil. However, many officials in the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” regime are members of the Haqqani Network, a vicious terrorist branch of the Taliban that has very deep ties to al-Qaeda. The Taliban’s interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a terrorist wanted by the FBI who handed out cash rewards to the families of jihadi suicide bombers a few weeks ago.
The Biden administration bizarrely claimed the Taliban had no connection with the Haqqani Network in August, shortly before the Taliban began naming a sizable number of people named “Haqqani” to high positions in its new government.
Foreign Policy pointed out in September that the Taliban has many other sub-groups and networks with close ties to al-Qaeda cells, so the Taliban high command would have trouble breaking with al-Qaeda even if it wanted to. It most likely does not want to, both for reasons of ideology and because the Taliban claims to need help fighting ISIS-K.
West hinted the Biden administration would like the Taliban to demonstrate that no funding will be diverted to al-Qaeda before the spigot of American foreign aid to Afghanistan is turned back on, and grumbled about the lack of diversity in the Taliban government as another obstacle to international recognition.
He praised the Taliban for honoring its “commitment to us to allow Afghans to whom we owe a special commitment and American citizens and LPRs [lawful permanent residents] out of the country, over the past several weeks in particular.”
Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow Thomas Joscelyn found West’s remarks disquieting in an interview with the Washington Examiner on Monday.
“I don’t think it’s in America’s interest to help prop up the Taliban regime, at all,” Joscelyn said.
“They’re talking about rooting for the Taliban against ISIS, [that] means they’re rooting for al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is embedded throughout the Taliban,” he warned.
“The U.S. has ended its role in a 20-year war in which nobody knew anything,” Joscelyn observed. “The fundamental, foundational observation about the war in Afghanistan is that nobody knew anything. We shouldn’t assume that they know anything now.”