Saigon, here we come. As if our rapid abandonment of the government in Kabul wasn’t disgraceful enough, now the New York Times reports that we’re begging the Taliban to leave our embassy alone when they come for everyone else. The Biden administration says that they have no immediate plans to withdraw the 4,000 people working at the embassy, but that might change in a hurry depending on the tender mercies and diplomatic goals of the marauding Islamist army taking aim at the capital:
American negotiators are trying to extract assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the U.S. Embassy in Kabul if the extremist group overruns the capital in a direct challenge to the country’s government, two American officials said.
The effort, led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American envoy in talks with the Taliban, seeks to stave off an evacuation of the embassy as the fighters rapidly seize cities across Afghanistan. The Taliban’s advance has put embassies in Kabul on high alert for a surge of violence in coming months, or even weeks, and forced consulates and other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the country to shut down.
American diplomats now are trying to determine how soon they may need to evacuate the U.S. Embassy should the Taliban prove to be more bent on destruction than a détente.
In a last-ditch effort to save ourselves while our allies get annihilated, Zalmay Khalilzad has begun to offer money as a ransom of sorts:
Mr. Khalilzad is hoping to convince Taliban leaders that the embassy must remain open, and secure, if the group hopes to receive American financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government. The Taliban leadership has said it wants to be seen as a legitimate steward of the country, and is seeking relations with other global powers, including Russia and China, in part to receive economic support.
Two officials confirmed Mr. Khalilzad’s efforts, which have not been previously reported, on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate negotiations. The State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, declined to comment on Wednesday, but said funding would be conditioned on whether future Afghan governments would “have any semblance of durability.”
“Legitimacy bestows, and essentially is the ticket, to the levels of international assistance, humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people,” Mr. Price said.
In case no one remembers, legitimate and humanitarian are two adjectives that in no way described the Taliban’s totalitarian theocracy pre-9/11. We have spent the last twenty years in military operations against the Taliban, which likely makes their interest in future American interventions somewhat limited. For that matter, why would we be interested in helping out the regime that partnered with al-Qaeda while the latter plotted the murder of almost 3,000 Americans in the 9/11 attacks?
Nevertheless, that’s the carrot that the Biden administration has been playing this week in an attempt to get the Taliban to act like politicians rather than bloodthirsty theocratic tyrants. Instead of mobilizing military support for the government in Kabul, Biden has tried to put together a coalition of diplomatic tongue-clucking:
The Biden administration has mounted a last-ditch effort this week to convince the Taliban, as it continues its relentless march across Afghanistan, that the world will reject it if it takes over the entire country by force.
In the largest such gathering since U.S.-Taliban talks began nearly two years ago, representatives from Russia, China, Afghanistan’s regional neighbors, European powers, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations have converged on Doha, Qatar, for U.S.-led meetings with the militants.
The hope is that sheer numbers and a unified stance — both during the Taliban meetings and in a tough joint statement to be issued after their last session Thursday — will disabuse the militants of any notion that there are cracks in international resolve to cut any Taliban government off from all diplomatic contact and assistance.
The Taliban don’t care about “international assistance.” They want nothing more than to re-establish their tyranny and tell the rest of the world to pound sand. Russia and China might try to curry favor with them, but that won’t last long. The shared border between Afghanistan and China will create enough friction over the treatment of Uighir Muslims that China will shortly deal with them as a threat rather than a potential ally. Russia has enough problems in Chechnya already, and a resurgent Taliban probably represents an even bigger threat there than China believes it has in Xinjiang.
When this pusillanimous effort fails, the Biden administration had better do some studying of America’s last forced exit from a capital that we pledged to support. And they’d better start getting more helicopters to Bagram, too.
Update: The collapse appears to be accelerating:
My God. This isn't even a slow motion disaster anymore. https://t.co/2tGOnwtQ7s
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) August 12, 2021
Not to mention these significant cities:
The Taliban captured two strategic cities on Thursday, leaving the Afghan capital of Kabul increasingly beleaguered and cut off from the rest of the country.
The city of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city and a major urban center in western Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Thursday evening local time, with the militant group taking control of the governor’s office and Herat police headquarters, according to Afghan officials.
That morning, the city of Ghazni, a provincial capital on the road to Kabul, also fell to the militant group after “long and intense fighting,” according to Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of Ghazni provincial council.
A Taliban spokesman tweeted Thursday that the city had been seized, including the governor’s office, police headquarters and prison. CNN cannot independently verify the Taliban’s claims.
Get the choppers ready in Kabul.