Kinder, gentler Taliban going house-to-house to forcibly disarm its subjects

AP Photo/Kathy Gannon

Looks like someone’s learning a lesson from the courage of Ukrainians, albeit the wrong one. In the midst of a rousing national defense against the Russian invasion, Ukrainians have used access to firearms to stymie a supposedly world-class military for days, successfully defending its major population centers.

The Taliban have taken note of that, and plan to strip their subjects of that power:

Guns drawn, half a dozen Taliban fighters crowded into the house of a Kabul laborer Saturday. As a commander watched, his men took knives to the cushions that lined the family’s sitting room, splitting them open and dumping the stuffing onto the floor. Others pulled family photos off shelves and tossed clothing out of closets.

“They said they were looking for weapons,” said the laborer’s wife, who listened to the exchange from a room in the back of the house. “They said, ‘We know you had relations with the former regime.’ But my husband never worked for the government.”

The wife, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. After finding nothing, the fighters beat the laborer’s adolescent son and confiscated a family car.

Such raids, part of a massive search operation launched in Kabul and surrounding districts Friday, according to the ministry of interior, mark a significant shift in how the group enforces security. When raids occurred in the past, they were generally not announced and largely conducted at night to reduce visibility. This operation is being carried out in broad daylight.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but don’t bet on it. The remarkable resistance in Ukraine has a long history in Afghanistan anyway, but the inspirational nature of the uprising against Russian invaders might spark more than a few memories in Taliban-controlled areas, too. The Taliban itself succeeded in outlasting both the Russians and the Americans in the last 40 years through the use of arms such as those they seek now, so they understand full well what an armed populace means — especially one that gets inspired by recent events against a long-hated enemy.

One has to wonder, though, whether firearms are the only target of this raid. Joe Biden abandoned 14,000 Americans in Afghanistan while bugging out in August. The pace of exfiltration ever since has been glacial at best, with the State Department more of an impediment to such efforts, even when performed by private organizations. State Department reporters have tried to keep that issue in play during briefings, but their media outlets have all but quashed the topic, with occasional coverage of abandoned Afghan allies rather than Americans.

Over the weekend, the Taliban began a hostage play with evacuations:

The Taliban will not allow any more Afghans to be evacuated until the situation improves abroad for those who have already left, their spokesman said Sunday. …

Thousands of people with similar links are still in Afghanistan, however, desperate to leave and fearful they may be targeted by the Taliban as “collaborators”.

Widespread retaliations have so far not been reliably reported, but the United Nations says more than 100 people with links to the former Western-backed regime have been killed by the Taliban.

“Initially we had said that the Americans… could take people whom they had any concerns about,” he said.

“But this is not a continuous promise.”

Ostensibly, the Taliban want better living conditions for its expatriates. However, the real issue at hand is the billions of dollars in assets from the previous Afghanistan government that the US has frozen after its collapse. The Taliban want that money and want foreign aid, and they’re getting more and more desperate as famine destabilizes an already fraught situation.

Thus, these raids likely have multiple purposes. The Taliban certainly wants a monopoly on the use of force while it re-imposes its 7th-century theocratic tyranny on Afghanistan. More pressingly, though, they need hostages for trading with the West in return for national assets and aid. Don’t think for a moment that they won’t seize Americans and American allies that turn up in these house-to-house raids for propaganda and financial purposes. If and when that happens, the Biden administration won’t be able to keep a lid on its exfiltration failures for long.