Some Presidents, faced with tough situations, put themselves in a mental bunker, sticking to their guns even though their thinking is divorced from the public’s. In his recent interview with ABC, Joe Biden entered that territory. He is matching a Nixonian level of denial with Jimmy Carter’s incompetency. He claimed it was “not true” that the Taliban would be ruling Afghanistan again (they already are) and conflated that group with “a guy named Osama Bin Laden” and al-Qaeda.
For many Americans, their first introduction to al-Qaeda was footage that aired on shows like Dateline and 60 Minutes in the late 1990s, showing masked men swinging on monkey bars. It all seemed a little ridiculous. At the time, their cave-dwelling leader Osama Bin Laden, his religious fervor, and even his threats against our nation were dismissed with paternalistic spin. That was just fine with him. While we weren’t looking, he sent some of his operatives to flight schools in Florida, San Diego, and Oklahoma. We all know what happened next.
This week, as President Biden ensures a total withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly twenty years, we’re at risk of making the same mistake again. Not only does he seem dangerously out of touch with the situation on the ground, he has also gravely misjudged the long-term consequences of this panicked exit. While we may be done with fighting militant Islam in Afghanistan, militant Islam is not done with us. That’s as true today as it was on that September morning nineteen years and eleven months ago. And in that generational conflict, one thing remains stubbornly true: territory matters. As we leave Afghanistan, we allow a seizure of territory that may come back to haunt us in ways we’ll come to regret.
President Biden himself — no doubt unintentionally — made that clear in his recent remarks on the Afghan exit. He cited ongoing anti-terror operations against groups in several other countries: ISIS in Iraq and Syria with “affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia,” al-Shabaab in Somalia, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. In each of those places, a physical safe haven grew, and international terrorist attacks followed. And in each, we’re now contesting that territory — with proxies on the ground — to prevent them from planning more. We will soon be able to add Afghanistan back to that list.
President Biden sees that as an acceptable risk. He has promised to establish an “over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed.” It’s a fine idea. The problem is that it simply won’t work as advertised in an Afghanistan that remains firmly under Taliban control. That approach relies on on-the-ground partners, quick response times for our drones, and large intelligence networks. In Afghanistan, by the time September 11th, 2021 rolls around, we’ll have none of that.
Biden mentioned al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in Yemen. Not that long ago, al-Qaeda launched two major attack attempts against the United States from there. Remember the underwear bombing attempt on Christmas Day 2009? The chemical explosive trigger failed at the last minute, and brave passengers restrained the bomber while he was on fire before he could adjust it.
Al-Qaeda didn’t give up that easily. A few months later, they tried again: terrorists filled computer printers with explosives and shipped them – via Fedex! – to the United States. Luckily, we were tipped off just in time by a friendly intelligence service and authorities confiscated the armed devices from cargo planes before they made it here.
After that, the United States inserted CIA agents and Special Operators, and worked closely with allied partners in Yemen and the immediate neighborhood to do two things: kill the bad guys and shrink the space from which whatever terrorists were left could operate. We launched drones from nearby bases and degraded the ability of al-Qaeda to threaten the world from its haven there.
But in Afghanistan, we have no nearby bases because the Biden administration didn’t negotiate to secure any in the region, which should have been part of an orderly exit. As it is, our drones will take four to six hours to reach Afghan airspace. In addition, we will have few to no allies in-country, or even in neighboring countries, to pass along intelligence.
Instead, we’ll have thousands of square miles of potential terrorist safe haven in the one country from which a successful, devastating terrorist attack on our homeland was launched. If you’re not alarmed, you should be.
Jason Killmeyer is the former Chief of Staff of Global Defense, Security & Justice at Deloitte. He is a counterterrorism and emerging technologies expert.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.