Can the Taliban be trusted? It’s a question that seems increasingly to divide the man on the street from those who rule over him, with politicians from countries across the globe insisting that cooperating with the Taliban is going to save lives, despite the fact that those same countries have been fighting against the Taliban for the past few decades.
On Sunday afternoon, the governments of dozens of countries, including the United States, released a statement emphasizing their commitment to ensure the safety of their nationals and allies in Afghanistan, despite the dangers involved. According to the statement, the Taliban has promised to enable them to complete their rescue missions: “We have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries.”
This was the same position taken by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, when he was interviewed by ABC’s Martha Raddatz in the wake of the latest developments. Raddatz asked whether the United States could “get all the American citizens who want to leave, and our Afghan allies who are at risk, out by the Tuesday deadline?”
“We’re doing everything possible to do just that,” Blinken responded, adding that, “We have about 300 American citizens left who have indicated to us that they want to leave. We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane, and get out of Afghanistan.” He did not relate to “Afghan allies,” and Raddatz pressed the question again:
“The administration keeps on saying the commitment to our Afghan allies doesn’t end on the 31st, but your spokesman said the airport will not be open on September 1st, and the Taliban obviously can’t secure its safety even when US forces are present, so how do you realistically think any American citizens or Afghan partners who are left behind will be able to fly out?”
Blinken’s response echoed what senior administration officials have been saying in recent days: The Taliban are going to help us.
“Just about 24 hours ago, a very senior Taliban leader spoke on television and on the radio throughout Afghanistan and repeatedly assured the Afghan people that they would be free to travel after August 31st. And he—”
At this point, Raddatz interrupted, challenging Blinken’s seeming trust of the terrorist organization the United States has been fighting for the past few decades: “But Secretary Blinken … you’re telling me we should trust what the Taliban said?”
“I’m not – no, I’m not – I’m not… I’m simply reporting what one of their senior leaders said…” Blinken said, adding that the Taliban leader has apparently promised not only that US citizens will be free to leave, but also “those who worked for Americans and any other Afghan for whatever reason.”
Challenged again, Blinken attempted to clarify, claiming that the fact that “114 countries have made it very clear that it is their expectation that the Taliban will permit freedom of travel going past August 31st.” He added that, “We have very significant leverage to … incentivize the Taliban to make good on its commitments.”
Blinken did not detail the form of leverage at his disposal, nor did he address claims made by senior Republicans who claim to have evidence that even at this stage, when there are still American boots on the ground in Kabul, both US citizens and their Afghan allies are not making it through the city to the airport.
According to a British source, a privately funded charter flight left Kabul on Sunday morning with empty seats, without 24 staff members of a British-run charity the plane had come to rescue. A campaigner involved in the rescue flight told press that the staff were “still in their homes” because the Taliban had told them they didn’t have the right paperwork.
“They are [among] thousands of Afghans … that have a right to leave the country, but actually have no safe passage out at the moment,” the campaigner said, adding that when they wanted to fill the seats with others who were already waiting in the airport, they were told that “there was no one they could find that could actually fill that aircraft. In fact, they had more air capacity than they had people, which probably tells you an awful lot about the final days of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
All the same, Blinken has promised that no one who wants to leave will be left behind. Given the track record of the United States in taking care of “its own” over the past decade and more, such a promise seems worth little.
According to the Associated Press, “Thousands of Afghans who aided US troops have spent years stuck in a backlogged and beleaguered US Special Immigrant Visa program.” One particular example is described by US Army veteran Spencer Sullivan, who described his struggle to save two Afghan men he worked with.
One of those men, translator Sayed Masoud, first applied for a visa in 2013 after receiving death threats for his work for the United States. The reply took two years in coming and was in the negative, allegedly because he had not been directly employed by the US government but had been hired by a private contractor working for the government.
Masoud appealed, but received no response. In 2017, Taliban gunmen shot him dead.
The US government only woke up 18 months later, writing to Sullivan asking if Masoud was a legitimate applicant and if they should “begin the process.” Sullivan wrote back, informing the embassy that Masoud had been killed after waiting over four years for a response.
“I made a promise to him, just as America made a promise to him to protect him and save his life,” Sullivan told AP. “I mean: how can you turn your back on that promise? I don’t think the answer is more complicated than that. I think it’s actually very simple.”