Taliban leader: Come on, Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with 9/11

Does anyone get the feeling that the Taliban might not be terribly serious about its commitment to refrain from housing radical Islamist terrorists? Two different American administrations rolled the dice on the prospect that the Taliban’s defeat after 9/11 taught them a lesson about complicity in attacks on the US and the West. However, when NBC News correspondent Richard Engel posed that question to Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson scoffed at the notion that Osama bin Laden had anything to do with attacks on the US.

“There is no evidence even after 20 years of war, we have no proof he was involved,” Mujahid declared. “There was no justification for this war. It was excuse for war.” Alrighty then:

RICHARD ENGEL: This war started when Osama Bin Laden, the guest of the Taliban, organized 9/11 attacks. Can you guarantee that this country will never again be a base for terrorism?

TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: When Osama Bin Laden became an issue for the Americans he was in Afghanistan. Although there was no proof he was involved, now we have given promises that Afghan soil won’t be used against anyone.

RICHARD ENGEL: You still don’t think that Osama Bin Laden carried out 9/11?

TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: There is no evidence even after 20 years of war, we have no proof he was involved.

RICHARD ENGEL: So it sounds like even now after all of this, you’re accepting no responsibility?

TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: There was no justification for this war. It was excuse for war.

Ahem. Bin Laden himself didn’t shy away from bragging about his role in 9/11. In 2004, he sent out a video taking credit for the attack, a video that emerged about a week before the US presidential election. He claimed justification on the basis of American interference with the Islamist “state,” and warned more attacks would follow:

The militant Islamic group decided “we should destroy towers in America” because “we are a free people… and we want to regain the freedom of our nation,” said bin Laden, dressed in yellow and white robes and videotaped against a plain brown background.

In the 18-minute message, parts of which were played on Qatar-based Al-Jazeera just four days before the American presidential election, bin Laden accused U.S. President George W. Bush of negligence on the day 19 suicide hijackers took over four American passenger jets.

He also threatened new attacks if the policies of the U.S. government do not change.

According to translators, bin Laden told American voters: “Your security is not in the hands of [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry or Bush or al-Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands.

This wasn’t the only time that bin Laden or others in al-Qaeda took credit for 9/11 and other attacks on the West. That testimony is in every sense of the word “evidence,” and also “proof.” Or does Mujahid consider bin Laden a liar?

The answer is that Mujahid and the Taliban don’t care, and never did. They partnered with al-Qaeda and bin Laden because they shared the same expansionist Islamist goals. That’s why the sudden White House spin about ISIS-K being a “sworn enemy of the Taliban” is mostly nonsense. At the moment, they’re rivals for leadership of that movement, but the Taliban’s win in Afghanistan will likely bring that rivalry to a close. They have more in common than not, and once the civil war in Afghanistan ends — and it’s almost over now — they will combine resources, allowing the Taliban to consolidate control in Afghanistan while allowing these groups to operate under their protection to attack the rest of the non-Islamist world.

This might have happened at some point even with an expert drawdown that didn’t create an immediate collapse of the Afghan army. But the utter incompetence and pusillanimity of American leadership at the moment has erased any deterrent value we might have gained from our 20-year mission in keeping the Taliban marginalized. Mujahid is laughing in our faces, knowing that we won’t do anything about it when he starts setting up AQ training camps again.

Addendum: Engel has guts in sticking around for this, so I can’t blame him for not asking a follow-up about bin Laden’s video. Let’s hope Engel gets out soon, though, because Mujahid may not care much about propagandizing for the Western press after the next few days, which will make correspondents like Engel targets rather than resources.