Afghanistan’s Fall Is a Message to US Allies
As the scenes of Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban continue to unfold following the US decision to withdraw its 2,500 remaining troops — and the ensuing disintegration of the Afghan National Army — the aftershocks continue to ripple throughout south and central Asia and the Middle East.
Hamas, the terror faction that rules the Gaza Strip, praised the Taliban’s takeover on Monday, describing it as a “victory that came as the culmination of more than 20 years of struggle.”
Hamas and the Taliban are both radical Sunni Islamist movements.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the second largest terror group in Gaza, which is closely aligned with Iran, also congratulated the Taliban, welcoming what it said was “the liberation of land from the Western and American occupation.” PIJ stated that “it has been the Muslim people which has performed the greatest jihadist heroics against all invaders over the course of their honorable history.”
In the aftermath of Afghanistan’s fall, “I would ask the question: Can America be trusted?” said Harold Rhode, a former long-time adviser on Islamic affairs to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Rhode said that the hasty withdrawal underlines a saying by the late historian of Islam, Bernard Lewis — “that the US has again proven to be a harmless enemy and unreliable ally. This is a message for all sorts of other allies of the US, including Israel and Taiwan.”
Rhode referred to the tens of thousands of Afghans who “threw their lot in with America” while endangering their lives. “America has abandoned them,” he said. “I have seen this happen in the past in our involvement in Iraq.”
Rhode clarified that it was the hasty and uncalculated nature of the withdrawal, rather than the withdrawal itself, which sent a troublesome message to US allies.
“It’s not a question of withdrawal, it’s how you do it. Maintaining the ability to remain just over the horizon to protect your interests is vital,” he said.
What is important now is for Washington to retain a capability to strike emerging jihadist security threats, such as those posed by ISIS or Al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan if these emerge, according to Rhode.
“Israel is doing this against Iran and Hezbollah and Syria, without going in on the ground,” he said. “The global jihadists will return to Afghanistan whether we want them to or not.”
Nevertheless, Rhode added, “all is not lost. These winners [the Taliban and ISIS] hate each other [and Iran hates them both and they hate Iran]. Our job should now be to find ways that encourage our enemies – all of them – to fight each other. That should not be too difficult, given their eternal enmity towards each other – i.e., their inability to put the past behind them.”
In addition, he said, any potential Chinese aspirations to build an alliance with the Taliban and to access rare earth metals in Afghanistan are unrealistic, and do not take into account the Taliban’s possible hostility to Beijing due to China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur citizens.
“If China thinks it will have a good relationship with the Taliban — good luck to them,” said Rhode.
Meanwhile, the rapid fall of Afghanistan is undermining the confidence of Sunni Gulf states in the US, Rhode cautioned, adding that this could result in an even further tightening of their relationship with Israel.
Professor Uzi Rabi, Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Radio Jerusalem on Tuesday that “the unbearable ease with which Afghanistan is collapsing and being kidnapped by the Taliban is astounding and frightening at the same time.”
The Afghan National Army’s rapid disintegration, following 20 years of training and equipment supplies from the US, is reminiscent “of similar phenomenon in Iraq, and testif[ies] to how hollow the Western presence in these countries are, and how vacuous and pointless it is,” said Rabi.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Israel Ziv, former head of IDF Operations Branch, told Israeli radio station 103FM that the collapse of Afghanistan will have repercussions regarding the Iranian threat, too.
“This is, in actuality, a demonstration of the collapse of the American strategy in the world,” said Ziv. He noted that after recent events, Israel must also “draw conclusions regarding the Iranian issue.”
He said that “there is no doubt that American thoughts about easing sanctions on Tehran, and allowing Iran to return to the normal economic system, are advancing the next global failure.”
Should Washington proceed with “the next withdrawal that they want to conduct in the face of the Iranians, the significance of that will be not only a strengthening of Iran,” Ziv cautioned, but also a strengthening of Houthi terror activity in Yemen, attacks on Saudi Arabia, and destabilizing activity in Syria and Lebanon, “and in every place where the Iranians have branches.”
Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) Senior Fellow Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
This article was originally published by the IPT.