Afghanistan must become a haven for extremists

Both Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHouse Freedom Caucus elects rep. Scott Perry as new chairman Meadows ‘between a rock and a hard space’ with Trump, panel On The Money on January 6 – Biden closes infrastructure week MORE and Joe Biden has trumpeted assurances their administrations received from the Taliban that al Qaeda and ISIS will not attack America from Afghanistan. But the Taliban’s ideological beliefs are in line with Salafi jihadist groups that use violence to advance their goal of enforcing a fundamentalist understanding of Islam. These beliefs led the Taliban to protect Osama bin Laden in 2001 – even though the group officially disagreed with his actions – and to defy the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

Twenty years later, the Taliban are smarter, but members’ core beliefs remain the same.

The danger of these Salafi jihadist beliefs is that they do not stop at Afghanistan’s borders. The Islamic Emirate of the Taliban is not the end of the project; it is rather the beginning. The vision has always been global, and the Taliban has hosted those seeking to copy the success of the Islamic Emirate elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Thousands of foreign fighters are in Afghanistan, attracted by the decades-old Salafi jihadi reserve. A complex network of alliances, partnerships and competitors runs through the country, a network that the Taliban can influence but not control. The mix includes transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State, but also the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network – a longtime Taliban and al-Qaeda bedfellow. Less well-known groups include the Islamic Movement in Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party. Each of them is capable of creating radicalized recruits for terrorist attacks against the West, and no one has promised not to recruit and train in their Taliban-supplied shrines.

Al Qaeda may limit its activities in Afghanistan, but it does not erase the benefits of its sanctuary. Al Qaeda’s General Command urged supporters to “abide by the decisions” of the Islamic Emirate and support the Taliban’s commitment in its statement announcing the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan. However, Al Qaeda is already an expert in the game of separating attack cells to protect parts of its network. It will not give up its global jihad.

Islamic State in Afghanistan – known as ISIS-K or Islamic State-Khorasan province – completely rejects the Taliban’s agreement with the Americans. Its deadly suicide bombing in Kabul, which killed 13 Americans along with more than 170 Afghans, illustrates the rift between ISIS-K and the Taliban. Islamic State is recruiting among the disgruntled members of the Taliban and building the most radical jihadists within its ranks, and it has survived the combined pressure of the United States and the Taliban.

In short, it is inevitable that jihadists will flock to the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. The attraction reflects the one that drew foreign fighters to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: a fundamentalist interpretation of sharia rules over society. Those with Salafi jihadist tendencies will not be able to ignore the religious obligation of observant Muslims to emigrate, making Afghanistan a melting pot for the future mujahideen.

These alien warriors will not stay under the Taliban forever. They will return to their home countries or the next battlefield for jihad better trained and networked for their fight. Some will focus on attacking the United States. The Taliban can no more prevent a future terrorist attack than when they tried to deter bin Laden from such persecution 20 years ago.

By announcing the “end” of the war in Afghanistan – and both explicitly and implicitly resting its faith in the good offices of the Taliban – President BidenJoe BidenBiden reiterates commitment to ‘one China’ policy on Taiwan in conversation with Xi Biden raises human rights with China’s Xi during a four-hour meeting with Biden, Xi holds ‘sincere’ discussion amid high tensions MORE seems to have forgotten an important lesson from 9/11: Territorial terrorist reserves are a direct threat to US national security.

Katherine Zimmerman is a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Advisor to AEI’s Critical Threats Project. Follow her on Twitter @KatieZimmerman.

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