Whatever William Burns offered, it wasn’t enough. And in fact, the effort to push the deadline for US withdrawal might have backfired on our Afghan allies:
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban spokesman says US must complete evacuations from Afghanistan by Aug. 31 withdrawal date, 'no extensions.'
— Josh Caplan (@joshdcaplan) August 24, 2021
The Taliban also announced that they would no longer allow Afghans to leave:
“We are not in favour of allowing Afghans to leave”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid adds it would be a “violation” of the agreement to allow evacuations of foreign nationals beyond 31 August
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) August 24, 2021
They have altered the deal. Pray they don’t alter it any further. This reminds me of the classic Robot Chicken spoof of The Empire Strikes Back. In this situation, the US should be Darth Vader, but instead we’re playing Lando Calrissian. For the moment, anyway.
On the other hand, NBC’s Richard Engel thinks that the Taliban’s sudden interest in on-the-ground comity is due to their hope that the deadline doesn’t become an issue. They also want to impose order to keep Afghans — especially those against whom they seek revenge — escaping their authority:
Seems Taliban doing what they can to speed up the US withdrawal, get the Americans out, and stop the exodus from the airport.
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) August 24, 2021
For the moment, it’s in the Taliban’s interest to keep things calm. A splinter of the former US-allied government controls the Panjshir region and wants to set up a national resistance from that base. The Taliban have sent several hundred soldiers to take the ground, but it’s close enough to Kabul that any losses in Panjshir could touch off a rebellion in the capital. If they have to fight the US and the native population at the same time, the Taliban might end up having to conduct a tactical retreat while the US completes its evacuations.
Biden still has to decide whether to force the issue, and our allies aren’t going to make it easy for Biden today:
All that has prompted a diplomatic pressure campaign on Mr. Biden to keep American troops at the airport for a while longer. British and French officials said they would ask Mr. Biden to extend the evacuation on Tuesday during a virtual meeting of leaders of the Group of 7 countries, convened by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
A delay of a few days, they said, would still allow Mr. Biden to pull out the last American soldier by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that led the United States into war in Afghanistan.
“We are concerned about the Aug. 31 deadline set by the United States,” said the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, on a visit to the United Arab Emirates. “More time is needed to complete the current operations.”
Perhaps Biden will alter the deal further. Don’t expect Biden to alter it enough to save our Afghan partners, however. Stay tuned.