Blinken Is Grilled on Afghanistan in Congress

The Taliban have agreed to deny refuge to terrorist groups as a condition of the US military withdrawal brokered by the Trump administration in February 2020. However, it is widely believed that the most senior leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, lives in Afghanistan. and senior CIA officials, including William J. Burns, the agency’s director, have admitted that their ability to gather information about terrorist activities there is now limited.

Prior to Mr Blinken’s testimony, the Biden administration’s top intelligence official said that even after the Taliban came to power, Afghanistan is not the most pressing terrorist threat facing the United States. Avril D. Haines, director of national intelligence, said the withdrawal of American troops and the collapse of the US-backed government had created challenges for intelligence gathering in the country.

But, she said, “in terms of homeland, the threat posed by terrorist groups, Afghanistan is not high on the list.”

Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputation and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here is more about their genesis and track record as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top Taliban leaders, men who for years have been on the run, in hiding, in prison, and dodged American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to rule, including whether they will be as tolerant as they say they are. A spokesman for the Times told the group the group wanted to forget their past but had some restrictions.

Her comments underscored one of the tenets of Mr. Biden’s decision to leave: that the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan had become a distraction from more immediate threats to the United States such as China, Russia, climate change and the coronavirus.

In light of that strategy, the overall decision to withdraw from Afghanistan “made a lot of sense,” said James F. Jeffrey, a former ambassador who worked closely with Mr. Blinken and other senior officials during the Obama administration and is now chairman of the Middle East program is at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington.

But, Mr. Jeffrey said, “the preparation for this matter and the lack of imagination of how quickly it would happen and how complete the collapse – that is a problem that you must point out to the administration.”

The diplomatic efforts that Blinken has promised to continue are mainly focused on putting pressure on the Taliban to ensure safe passage for people wanting to leave Afghanistan and to protect Afghan women and girls who have been denied education and work and were brutally treated in the worst case, when the Taliban last ruled from 1996 to 2001. On Monday, he admitted that the Taliban were “very wrong” in forming a government with women or ethnic minorities, as many countries demanded.

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