August 14, 2022

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What Should the U.S. Expect from the ‘New’ Taliban Regime?


As the U.S. works towards getting extra 11,000 Americans, diplomats and Afghan allies overseas, what sort of Taliban ought to the U.S. anticipate to take care of in Afghanistan?  So far, there have been assurances from the Taliban {that a} new regime will not be as brutal as regimes previous, however few who’ve labored with the Taliban imagine the assurances.  How would possibly the regime work with, or shelter teams like al-Qaeda, which is the rationale why the U.S. entered into Afghanistan after 9/11.  And how would possibly a massive-scale exodus of Afghans influence neighboring nations?

The Cipher Brief sat down with the previous National Intelligence Manager for Iran at ODNI, Norman T. Roule to get his expert-level perspective.

Norman T. Roule, Former National Intelligence Manager for Iran, ODNI

Cipher Brief Expert Norm Roule served for 34-years within the Central Intelligence Agency, managing quite a few applications referring to Iran and the Middle East. He served because the National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I) on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from November 2008 till September 2017.  As NIM-I, he was the principal Intelligence Community (IC) official liable for overseeing all elements of nationwide intelligence coverage and actions associated to Iran, to incorporate IC engagement on Iran points with senior coverage makers within the National Security Council and the Department of State.

The Cipher Brief: How would you characterize the worldwide group’s response to the Taliban victory in Afghanistan?

Roule:  Historians of the long run will possible describe the response to the Taliban victory as an odd mixture of apathy and confusion.

In phrases of apathy, there’s extraordinary irony in the truth that after spending a lot blood and treasure to defeat Da’esh efforts to ascertain an extremist Islamic Republic in Syria and impose its oppression over Iraqis and Syrians, the worldwide group failed to forestall the creation of an Islamic Republic in Afghanistan. Many of the arguments behind our involvement in Syria – from a refugee disaster to the necessity to deny worldwide Islamic militants a house to beginning new terror teams – apply to Afghanistan. Whether or not one supported this resolution, it’s exhausting to keep away from pondering that this episode will embolden militants worldwide.

In phrases of confusion, we appear to be unable to just accept that nobody can predict the course and tempo of crowd dynamics that so rapidly eroded Afghan resistance. We reside in a world the place individuals acknowledge their incapability to foretell who will win our presidential elections however insist the Intelligence Community can someway predict the day occasions will happen in a denied setting. But such a worst-case chance ought to have been a part of the planning deck and resourced on the bottom accordingly.

The Cipher Brief: How would you anticipate the worldwide group to reply within the coming days?

Roule: Absent a Taliban assault, operations on the airport ought to proceed extra easily as our response structure grows. Beyond that, a lot will depend on how the Taliban act within the coming weeks. The group isn’t a monolith. Their success was extremely possible as a lot a shock to them as anybody. As they outline their path and select their leaders, there might be inner debates, jockeying for energy, and maybe some violent infighting.

In phrases of indicators of the regime’s path, we could need to contemplate the next questions:

First and foremost, how will the Taliban reply to our ongoing evacuation? Thus far, they appear prepared to allow us to go away untouched, most likely believing that the earlier we get out, the better will probably be for them to take management. At the identical time, worldwide media protection of the evacuation will impose a strategic embarrassment on Washington.

Second, to what extent have the Taliban modified? They definitely perceive that diplomacy performed a job of their victory. Some of their leaders have spent a whole bunch of hours with international diplomats and traveled to a number of international capitals. How will these leaders merge such experiences into governance with extra insular colleagues? They are prone to speak initially about compromise relating to girls’s rights and inclusion of opponents within the authorities, however this might be one other effort to purchase time. The worldwide group has few strain factors over the group. How this performs out might be a very good indicator of how they plan to run the nation.

Next, how will they deal with the difficulty of al-Qaida and different terrorists? We can not overlook the deep connections between the Taliban and al-Qaida. If they imagine the worldwide group will restrict its response to demarches, press statements, and empty sanctions, many within the group have a propensity to permit al-Qaida to reorganize.

Last, I’d have a look at the refugee concern. They are prone to welcome exterior assist and permit no less than some humanitarian teams to stay in nation. Doing so requires no political concessions, addresses a home headache, and supplies a chance for corruption. Humanitarian teams additionally provide a lever the Taliban can use in opposition to the West, i.e., chorus from criticizing us, or we are going to block your humanitarian operations. The Houthis have executed this with nice impact in Yemen.


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The Cipher Brief: How do you assume will China, Russia, and different adversaries will reply to the withdrawal? 

Roule: Chinese propagandists have aggressively exploited our evacuation from Afghanistan. Its media is already claiming that these occasions present Taiwan that “once war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours, and the US military won’t come to respond.” China’s press has additionally reportedly introduced that the U.S. won’t stand by Hong Kong activists.

Beijing, Tehran, and their proxies will possible level to the withdrawal as proof that the U.S. is a declining energy, unwilling or incapable of defending its mates. It might be misplaced on nobody that whereas the U.S. has deserted Afghanistan, Russia, China, and Iran haven’t wavered in assist of their – admittedly few and in any other case remoted – allies.

In a worse case, if our adversaries imagine the withdrawal displays a scarcity of nationwide resolve, they could be tempted to check our will on different points. In this case, a miscalculation might result in a traditional struggle in one other theater.

The Cipher Brief: What would you say to those that say that the withdrawal demonstrates that the U.S. will solely concentrate on strategic pursuits?

Roule:  Certainly, this argument has an attraction. It is true that our strategic adversaries like nothing higher than the U.S. expending sources and diplomatic power in such areas as Afghanistan, partly as a result of we’re, in essence, defending their pursuits without spending a dime. But it does beg two questions.

First, what’s going to occur in a different way subsequent yr relating to China, Russia, efforts to fight local weather change, and cyber actors, now that we’re out of Afghanistan? Second, what precisely is a U.S. strategic curiosity that we might shield? Estonia? Bahrain? Taiwan?

This argument additionally glosses over how others reply to such a posture. If a rustic perceives itself outdoors the worldwide group’s safety, it can possible accommodate an aggressor. Our subsequent name for a coalition of the prepared will possible meet with much less enthusiasm.

U.S. affect will depend on the respect proven to us in a number of arenas. The echoes of this localized respect change into self-reinforcing. We ought to take into consideration what occurs to collective worldwide safety if these echoes are silenced.

Last, this argument inherently argues that values are strategic pursuits. Unless violence straight touches Americans, we are going to restrict our response to diplomacy and public statements. Such protests are unlikely to cease these behind a future Srebrenica bloodbath or the Rwandan genocide. Indeed, one could make a case that such a response would possibly even encourage such occasions.

The Cipher Brief: How can the U.S. now greatest show its nationwide resolve?

Roule:  As the saying goes, one of the best ways to show nationwide resolve is to show nationwide resolve. Fair or not, this episode will tar the Biden administration. It doesn’t assist that some allies reportedly have complained that the U.S. didn’t sufficiently seek the advice of with them on its resolution to withdraw. Public criticism of the withdrawal resolution by a few of our closest European companions is rising. Adversaries will now contemplate their motion by way of the lens of Afghanistan, a lot because the post-Vietnam malaise inspired Soviet aggression within the Seventies.

I’m not saying that we are able to’t reverse this example. The U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon in 1984 precipitated many to query U.S. resolve. Although it did sign an finish to U.S. (and worldwide) efforts to eradicate Hezbollah, Reagan’s actions in different arenas (to incorporate Afghanistan) restored the picture of U.S. nationwide resolve. Difficult diplomacy and an illustration of our willingness to make use of army energy when wanted lay forward.


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The Cipher Brief: What does the return of the Taliban imply for al-Qaeda?

Roule:  There is little purpose to imagine the Taliban-Al-Qaida relationship won’t resume, though al-Qaeda is a fragmented and a pale model of its authentic stature. Nonetheless, it’s simple to think about the delight of its remaining management and cadres. Elements in Iran will possible search to return to Afghanistan, maybe assuring Iran that in alternate for tolerance of periodic transit of Iranian territory, the group will use its affect with the Taliban to guard Iran’s pursuits. We ought to look ahead to any indicators of a return to Afghanistan by Zawahiri’s deputy, Sayf al-Adel, who’s at the moment in Iran with different members of the group’s management council.

But al-Qaeda isn’t the one actor on this stage. Its chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has not appeared for months and has far much less affect than Osama Bin Laden. Afghanistan additionally hosts al-Qaeda within the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), ISIS, and different teams. The Taliban have emptied Afghanistan’s prisons which held deeply dedicated and harmful militants who could gravitate to no matter new militant management would possibly come up. But a deadly menace to Americans is bound to look. The solely questions are its dimension, targets, and attain.

The Cipher Brief: What does the U.S. withdrawal imply for China and Russia?

Roule: Both nations have sought to undercut U.S. affect in Afghanistan. They will every be delighted with the rhetorical violence of our inner debate over the withdrawal. But additionally they loved the steadiness our engagement offered in a rustic so near their borders.

Both nations have developed relations with the Taliban. I imagine every hosted a Taliban delegation in current weeks. It shouldn’t be misplaced on us that neither nation felt compelled to withdraw its personnel from Kabul. That’s a fairly good signal of their confidence within the relationship.

Outside of Afghanistan, every will use the withdrawal to extend their affect with Central Asian actors – together with Turkey. Coordination on terrorism and narcotics points will come most simply. For instance, Uzbekistan will fear that the Taliban will renew assist of the violent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has lengthy maintained a presence in Afghanistan.

China’s considerations might be threefold. Beijing will use financial and diplomatic inducements to make sure that the Taliban don’t encourage unrest amongst China’s oppressed Uighur inhabitants, not to mention assist the East Turkistan Islamic Movement or different Chinese militants in Xinjiang province. Next, Beijing will need to discover the Belt and Road entry Afghanistan provides. Last, China will possible take a look at whether or not it may obtain a commercially viable deal to mine Lithium and different minerals. In that mine operations require a few years to develop and an enormous quantity of capital to assemble, such preparations are prone to be few given Afghanistan’s unpredictable political and safety setting.

As for Russia, the U.S. withdrawal provides an opportunity for higher affect in Central Asia. We ought to look ahead to indicators of latest Russian army bases within the area. Moscow’s concern that Afghanistan will as soon as extra change into a sanctuary for anti-Russian terrorists may even drive its relationship with the Taliban.

The Cipher Brief: What about Iran and Pakistan?

Roule: Iran has lengthy maintained a relationship with Taliban parts. Reportedly, this concerned sanctuary and provision of some weaponry. Tehran’s targets had been to hedge its bets in Afghanistan, affect the enemies of the U.S., and shield the Shi’a of Afghanistan.

On the final level, Iran could have a lot work to do. Taliban personnel reportedly tore down Shi’a posters as they entered Kabul. Tehran should now cope with the implications of refugees and the rise of warlords on its border.

The present head of Iran’s Qods Force, Esmail Qaani, has appreciable expertise on Afghan points, and I anticipate he’ll play a outstanding function in Iran’s response. We ought to watch to see how the Qods Force deploys its seasoned Afghan Fatemiyoun proxies from Syria.

Pakistan’s long-time relationship with the Taliban will give it extra affect over the group than different nations. But Islamabad additionally might be on the receiving finish of a flood of refugees, renewed militant terrorism in its loosely-controlled border areas, and Western strain for its assist of the Taliban. Ties to the Taliban may complicate Islamabad’s relationship with India and China.

The Cipher Brief: What does this imply for the U.S. intelligence group?

Roule: The counterterrorism cadre of the US intelligence group and its companions have achieved extraordinary successes within the final years. But their work is now extra sophisticated however no much less pressing. For instance, our withdrawal has decreased assortment streams and potential entry when the Afghanistan-based terrorist menace has solely begun to develop. This problem arrives as we shift counterterrorism sources from al-Qaeda to home extremists, cyber threats, and China.

The Cipher Brief: Any last feedback?

Roule: If I could, I wish to shut with a few transient feedback.

First, we have to do every part we are able to to assist personnel on the bottom in Afghanistan. They – and their assist groups at residence – are attempting to revive order in the course of a hurricane. We are watching heroism at its greatest.

Next, the narrative of Afghanistan is unsurprisingly partisan. But politics shouldn’t obscure the reality. For greater than twenty years, 1000’s of American and coalition companions volunteered to threat their lives in Afghanistan. We didn’t come to colonize. We didn’t steal Afghan sources. The operational targets had been to deliver Bin Laden to justice, destroy al-Qaeda, and stop Afghanistan from turning into a haven for the group sooner or later. We additionally labored to rework Afghan society. The want for this final effort wasn’t obvious on the outset of our invasion. But it was possible unavoidable if we hoped to fulfill our values and allow Afghan society to confront its militant inhabitants. This effort represents one of the best of our values, and we owe all who served on this enviornment our most profound respect. Afghans who’ve participated of their nation’s efforts through the previous 20 years will endure large struggling. But they continue to be Afghanistan’s greatest hope they usually deserve our assist. Last, we have to finish the fiction that Afghans didn’t battle for his or her nation. Tens of 1000’s of Afghans had been killed and wounded within the battle in opposition to al-Qaeda. Many concerned on this battle are reportedly being sought door-to-door by the Taliban. Discounting their efforts could serve a political narrative, nevertheless it does them a horrible injustice.

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