But, in recent years, Taliban leaders have drawn especially close to Al Qaeda. (There are basically two branches of the Taliban-Pakistani and Afghan-but both are currently headquartered in Pakistan, and they are quite a bit more interwoven than is commonly thought.) Today, at the leadership level, the Taliban and Al Qaeda function more or less as a single entity. The signs of this are everywhere. For instance, IED attacks in Afghanistan have increased dramatically since 2004. What happened? As a Taliban member told Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau of Newsweek, “The Arabs taught us how to make an IED by mixing nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel and how to pack plastic explosives and to connect them to detonators and remote-control devices like mobile phones. We learned how to do this blindfolded so we could safely plant IEDs in the dark.” Another explained that “Arab and Iraqi mujahedin began visiting us, transferring the latest IED technology and suicide-bomber tactics they had learned in the Iraqi resistance.” Small numbers of Al Qaeda instructors embedded with much larger Taliban units have functioned something like U.S. Special Forces do-as trainers and force multipliers.

Meanwhile, the Taliban, like Al Qaeda, has tried to attack the West. According to Spanish prosecutors, the late and unlamented leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, dispatched suicide bombers on a botched mission to Barcelona in January 2008. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar confirmed this in August during a videotaped interview in which he said that those bombers “were under pledge to Baitullah Mehsud.” The point is not that the Taliban is going to mount a widespread campaign of terrorism in the West-it isn’t-but simply that the Taliban’s approach to combat has increasingly merged with Al Qaeda’s…

[T]he last time the Taliban controlled a state, it was not so interested in realpolitik; after September 11, the group made clear that it was prepared to lose everything (and it did) rather than betray bin Laden. Since then, the Taliban’s leadership has grown more closely aligned with Al Qaeda’s worldwide goals-not less. Today, the Taliban seems to view itself as the vanguard of a global movement that is waging God-sanctioned holy war against the infidels. Foreign policy realists want to gamble that this group, once back in power, will suddenly transform into an ultra-rational clique of Henry Kissingers. Anything could happen, I guess. But, given everything we know about the Taliban, is that really a wise wager to make?