Three days before the bloody carnage at Kabul airport, CIA director William Burns held a secret meeting with a top Taliban commander in the Afghan capital. That is only one of several suspicious events this week in the countdown to the dramatic U.S. evacuation.
At least 13 US troops guarding an entrance to Kabul airport were killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack. Dozens of Afghans waiting in line for evacuation by military cargo planes were also killed. A second blast hit a nearby hotel used by British officials to process immigration documents.
It was not the main ranks of the Taliban who carried out the atrocities. The militant group which swept into power on August 15 after taking over Kabul has ring-fenced the capital with checkpoints. The explosions occurred in airport districts under the control of the US and British military.
A little-known terror group, Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K), claimed responsibility for the bombings. IS-K was barely reported before until this week when the US and British intelligence services issued high-profile warnings of imminent terror attacks by this group at Kabul airport. Those warnings came only hours before the actual attacks.
President Joe Biden even mentioned this new terror organization earlier this week and pointedly claimed they were “sworn enemies” of the Taliban.
How is an obscure terror outfit supposed to infiltrate a highly secure area – past “sworn enemy” Taliban checkpoints – and then breach US and British military cordons?
How is it that U.S. and British intelligence had such precise information on imminent threats when these same intelligence agencies were caught completely flat-footed by the historic takeover of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15?
When the Taliban swept into the capital it marked the collapse of a regime that the Americans and British had propped for nearly 20 years during their military occupation of Afghanistan. Could their intelligence agencies miss foreseeing such a momentous event and yet less than two weeks later we are expected to believe these same agencies were able to pinpoint an imminent atrocity requiring complex planning?
What is the political fallout from the airport bombings? President Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are adamant that the evacuation from Kabul will be completed by the deadline on August 31. Biden said the atrocity underscores the urgency to get out of Afghanistan, although he threw in the token vow that “we will hunt down” the perpetrators.
To be sure, the president is coming under intense political fire for capitulating against the Taliban and terrorists and for betraying Afghan allies. Some Republicans are demanding his resignation due to his overseeing a disaster and national disgrace. It is estimated that up to 250,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. military occupation will be left behind and in danger of reprisal attacks.
There seems a negligible chance that the deaths of 13 US troops – the largest single-day killing of Americans in Afghanistan since a Chinook helicopter was shot down in August 2011 with 38 onboard – will provoke an extension of the Pentagon’s mission in the country. Even after the bombings this week, the Pentagon advised Biden to stick to the August 31 deadline. The Taliban have also stated that all US and NATO troops must be out of the country by that date.
Polls were showing that most Americans agreed with Biden’s pullout from Afghanistan – the longest war by the US was seen as futile and unwinnable.
The sickening bomb attacks this week will only underscore the public sense of war-weariness.
Hawkish calls for returning large-scale forces to Afghanistan have little political resonance.
This brings us back to the secret meeting earlier this week between the CIA’s William Burns and Taliban commander Abdul Ghani Baradar.
The Washington Post reported that Biden sent Burns to meet with Baradar in Kabul. It was the most senior contact between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the latter’s takeover of Afghanistan on August 15.
The details of the discussion were not disclosed and some reports indicated other Taliban figures were not aware of the meeting.
Baradar is one of the founding members of the Taliban. He was captured by Pakistan intelligence and the CIA in 2010. But at the request of the United States, Baradar was released from prison in 2018. Thereafter he led the Taliban in negotiations with the US on finding an end to the conflict. Those talks culminated in a deal in February 2020 with the Trump administration agreeing to troop withdrawal this year. Biden has stuck to the pullout plan.
From his career path, there is good reason to believe that Baradar is the CIA’s man inside the Taliban. Let’s say at least that he has the agency’s ear.
Why else would CIA chief Burns meet Baradar at such a crucial time in the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan? To get Taliban assurances of security measures safeguarding American troops as they exit? That obviously didn’t happen.
What else then?
Could an atrocity have been arranged by some of Baradar’s men at the request of the CIA?