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Is the Taliban Making a Pledge It Cannot Keep?

Militant Organizations Won’t Stop Using Afghan Territory for Terrorism

U.S. soldiers on a mission in Afghanistan, January 2019 U.S. Army / REUTERS

In Doha in late January, the United States and the Afghan Taliban agreed in principle to the contours of a peace deal. Under its terms, the Taliban would guarantee that Afghan territory will never be used by terrorists. The concession is critical to the United States, but while some commentators have heralded the Taliban’s promise as a major breakthrough, analysts have noted that the group has made, and failed to keep, similar assurances in the past. Questions remain about whether the Taliban is genuinely willing to break with al Qaeda—the very prospect at which the group balked back in 2001, prompting the United States to invade.

The terrorist landscape in South and Central Asia extends far beyond al Qaeda. The Taliban has been fighting the Islamic State’s affiliate in the region, the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK), inflicting serious losses without succeeding in eradicating this rival. Since 2002, the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan has been a unifying cause for militant organizations in the region. At least 18 terrorist groups operate in Afghanistan. The Taliban exercises some influence over the activities of 14 of them, providing entrée to the insurgency in exchange for manpower and expertise. These groups will expect a payoff in the event of a Taliban victory and will likely seek to continue using Afghan territory as a base for terrorist activities. If the Taliban proves unwilling or unable to prevent the country from becoming a free-for-all for militant organizations after the U.S. withdrawal, the United States, as well as Pakistan, India, and the Central Asian states, will be threatened.

THE THREAT TO THE UNITED STATES

From the United States’ standpoint, the Taliban’s most important affiliation is with al Qaeda, which continues to prioritize striking the United States homeland. The Taliban has never successfully curtailed al Qaeda’s activities. Rather, it supplied the group a safe haven in Afghanistan while its leadership planned and executed attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000; and the

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