In Afghanistan, we’ve opened the gates of hell
The Afghanistan fiasco is the worst strategic blunder since 1938: the year that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waved around a copy of the Munich Agreement and proclaimed “peace in our time.” Chamberlain’s failure to understand the enemy gave Germany the space it needed to invade Poland — the event that marked the start of World War II. Chamberlain resigned in 1940 when his political support evaporated. Winston Churchill assumed power, ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
President Joe Biden’s debacle will have no such savior; the Islamic jihad isn’t that kind of war. Instead of getting us out of Afghanistan, and bringing peace in our time, he’s opened the gates of hell. In one disastrous and grossly ill-conceived strategic move, Biden has armed and empowered the Taliban and elated every Muslim fanatic from Morocco to Mindanao. Not since 9/11 have events so galvanized our enemies — U.S. forces abandoning the field; the Afghan military laying down arms; and the Taliban reestablishing their Islamic Emirate.
Of greater consequence, Biden has handed over to our enemies the geographical heart of Khorasan — the historic Islamic cultural, intellectual and theological center that was overthrown by the Mongols in the 14th century. It included parts of what today are six Asian countries stretching from Iran to Kyrgyzstan. For the Salafi jihadists, the heart of Khorasan is Afghanistan. And for the last several years, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) has been establishing a center of operations there for its global Islamic caliphate.
ISIS-K isn’t alone. The Afghanistan-Pakistan region hosts the largest collection of terrorist organizations in the world, including 20 of 61 groups designated by the U.S. State Department as foreign terrorist organizations. All of them — including Al Qaeda and the Islamic State — are now celebrating this epic victory over the infidels.
We don’t need a blue-ribbon beltway panel to see what comes next. Afghanistan is evolving before our eyes into the Asian epicenter of the global Islamic jihad — exactly what we set out 20 years ago to stop, and did stop for 20 years. Now, we’re left watching the slow train wreck that U.S. strategy set in motion.
After 20 years of fighting, the Taliban are meaner, harder, more fanatical and more experienced than they were a generation ago. They’re also far better equipped, with vast stores of military equipment left behind in the U.S. bug-out. Moreover, they’re enjoying a bumper crop of fanatical recruits. The Afghan prisons are wide open, with the worst of the worst now running loose and gunning for revenge — thousands by one estimate, just from the Bagram Air Field prisons alone.
Terrorists freed from Gitmo are helping lead the new Islamic Emirate. Gholam Ruhani, Gitmo Prisoner No. 3, goaded America in a victory speech from the presidential palace on Aug. 15. Mulla Khairullah Khairkawa, freed by former President Barack Obama as one of “the Taliban Five” in exchange for U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, is now described as the mastermind of the overthrow. Late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) described these five — the only Gitmo “forever prisoners” released without the parole board’s approval — as the hardest of the hard core, and the highest risk of those incarcerated.
But the biggest problem is the influx of jihadist groups now rushing in to make Afghanistan a safe haven and a base for international operations. The vanguard is already bleeding in from Pakistan. In addition to ISIS and Al Qaeda, among the first to arrive has been the Pakistan-based Haqqani network — a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization that helped enable bin Laden in the lead-up to 9/11.
Since then the Haqqani network has been cultivating links with Al Qaeda and other jihadist organizations while building a reputation as the most lethal terrorist network that ever operated in Afghanistan. Its head, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is one of the top three deputies in the new Taliban leadership. Khalil Haqqani is in charge of Kabul security, and collaborating with the leaders of other terrorist organizations like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Those who are celebrating an end to “the war in Afghanistan” haven’t been paying attention. Afghanistan has never been more than just one theater in the real forever war — the global Islamic jihad. That war will end when the Salafists end it. For now, the loss of Afghanistan marks the start of a far more dangerous phase of the conflict.
Fourteen centuries of war between Islam and the West just got ramped up on steroids.
Jeff Goodson is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer. In 29 years with the U.S. Agency for International Development, he worked on the ground in 49 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, eastern Europe and the Middle East. He deployed to Afghanistan three times for a total of 31 months, serving as USAID Chief of Staff in Kabul from 2006-2007 and Director Development at ISAF Headquarters under General David Petraeus and General John Allen from 2010-2012.