Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is author of the forthcoming book “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.” The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
The two top officials in Afghanistan are meeting Friday with President Joe Biden at a moment when much of their country is in danger of being swallowed up by the Taliban.
The meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, comes after a report by the US Congressional Research Service released earlier this month that concluded, “By many measures, the Taliban are in a stronger military position now than at any point since 2001.”
In the past days, the Taliban have launched a major offensive in northern Afghanistan far from their traditional strongholds in the south and east of the country.
Habiba Sarabi, an Afghan government negotiator engaging in talks with the Taliban, told CNN, “With the imminent removal of all United States forces in just a few weeks, the Taliban are moving rapidly, resulting in a swift deterioration in the security environment. We were caught off guard by the scale and scope of setbacks in the north.”
The United States has contributed to the deteriorating security situation by consistently saying for more than a decade that it is leaving Afghanistan, which has undermined the Afghan government and strengthened the resolve of the Taliban who have won at the negotiating table from the Americans what they failed to win on the battlefield.
Without swift action by the Biden administration we could see in Afghanistan a remix of the disastrous US pullout from Saigon in 1975 and the summer of 2014 in Iraq when ISIS took over much of the country following the US pullout from the country three years earlier. That withdrawal was negotiated by then-vice president Biden.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, assesses that the Taliban now control 25 per cent of the Afghan population, while the government controls 40 per cent of the population, and just over a third of Afghans live in regions that are contested between the Taliban and the government
The Taliban have seized 50 of the country’s 370 districts since May, according to the United Nations.
The premise of the many years of US-Taliban negotiations has been that the United States will draw down militarily in exchange for the Taliban severing relations with al-Qaeda – the terrorist organization it harbored at the time of the planning and execution of the terrorist attacks against the US on September 11, 2001.
This has been, to put it charitably, a charade, according to the United Nations, which reported just this month that the two groups remain “closely aligned and show no signs of breaking ties.” The UN report notes that Taliban-al Qaeda ties have actually “grown deeper.”
Meanwhile, US presidents going back to Barack Obama have consistently said the United States is leaving Afghanistan, but in the end, Obama left 8,400 troops when he completed his second term. Donald Trump also wanted to go to zero, but he left at least 2,500 soldiers.