It looks rather like the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks next month will be remembered less for the US finally extricating itself from its longest war than the Taliban regaining vast swathes of territory in the country.
In recent days, the US has ramped up fierce air strikes in support of Afghan government troops as Taliban forces advance on critical provincial capitals Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah. The defense official told Starr that there was deep concern that the ultra-fundamentalist militia could take some of its target cities and trigger a collapse in confidence in the Afghan government.
Since President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of all US troops
from the country earlier this year, the Taliban has clearly been emboldened, raising fears that it could seize all of the country and crush democratic rule from Kabul.
Such a scenario would not only roll back gains, such as they are, from 20 years of Western involvement in the country. They would again expose its people to feudal-style rule and mean a return to discrimination against women and girls. It would also expose Biden to accusations he deserted Afghans for his own political ends and present him with a genuine foreign policy disaster, just as the pandemic he had hoped was over renews its assault on the US .
So, could the President change his mind?
It doesn't seem very likely. Biden has long been skeptical of a prolonged troop presence in Afghanistan. And there's no public yearning for America to stay for decades on end — like it did in South Korea for instance. And to be blunt, the reasoning the President spelled out in April when he decided to leave is about what is best for the US and not Afghans.
"We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021," Biden said.
Kristina Timanovskaya didn't get to run her race at the Olympics, but she's now a champion anyway
— of under-fire democracy in her native Belarus.
The sprinter refused an attempt by her team bosses to send her home from Tokyo to Minsk
, saying she feared she was being persecuted for political reasons. When she finally gets back on the track in future, it could be in Poland since the government in Warsaw granted her a humanitarian visa. Her stand earned her strong backing from the United States and the European Union and further highlighted a diplomatic tussle over Belarus between the West and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Olympian drama follows the Minsk government's forced landing of a Ryanair flight and arrest of an opposition journalist as well as deepening repression against political activists in the ex-Soviet state. President Alexander Lukashenkho
is meanwhile lurching towards tyranny after what was widely seen as a stolen election last year.
Timanovskaya's apparent defection was hailed by exiled Belarussian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — who has been on a tour of Western capitals, including Washington and last week met Biden at the White House.
"No doubt, Kristina Timanovskaya is our hero; she found the courage to speak out and faced repressions for her bravery," Tikhanovskaya told CNN's Jim Sciutto, but raised fears for the runner's safety even outside her country.
"Unfortunately, this case is also a sign that not a single Belarusian who has left the borders of Belarus is safe," Tikhanovskaya said. "On the other hand, this is also a sign that the regime is fragile, insecure. If you are really in control of the situation, you don't chase athletes for their comments on Instagram."