President Joe Biden is either not being briefed on what is going on in Afghanistan, or more likely choosing not to believe what he is being told. In an unscripted aside at the end of a press conference on Friday he said, ‘Remember what I said about Afghanistan? I said al-Qaeda would not be there. I said we’d get help from the Taliban. What’s happening now? What’s going on? Read your press. I was right.’
The president was not right. In fact, he was wrong. What he was referring to was a commitment by the Taliban to support operations against international terrorists operating in Afghanistan. Not only has that commitment been broken, but links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda are said to be ‘strong and symbiotic,’ with al-Qaeda now ‘rebuilding operational capability’ from its base in Afghanistan. So close are the ties that the Afghan ministry of defence now uses al-Qaeda training manuals.
This has all been outlined in a UN report published last month which could not have been clearer:
Promises made by the Taliban in August 2021 to be more inclusive, break with terrorist groups, respect universal human rights, grant a general amnesty and not pose a security threat to other countries seem increasingly hollow, if not plain false, in 2023.
Biden appealed to people to ‘Read your press’; that UN report was indeed reported in the press, including the (US-government funded) Voice of America news network only four days before he spoke. It was published under the headline: ‘Taliban flouts terrorism commitments by appointing Al-Qaeda-affiliated governors.’ It is hard to know how this was missed by his staff.
The disconnect between the president’s wishful thinking and reality is caused by his continuing need to justify the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and its consequences.