The U.S. intelligence community is warning that the Taliban have abandoned none of their goals to conquer all of Afghanistan and enforce strict Islamic law (shariah). A new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which represents the collective judgment of the most senior U.S. intelligence analysts, warned the White House in December 2011 that the Taliban would settle for nothing less than total control over "an Islamic emirate." Nevertheless, the Obama administration acknowledges that its envoys have been pursuing talks with the Taliban for the past year, are working on the opening of a political office for the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, and are considering the release of several Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay—as a "trust-building measure." What could possibly go wrong?
Aside from the fact that Afghan President Hamid Karzai seems somehow to have been left out of this flurry of diplomatic activity with the Islamic jihadists who have been fighting for the better part of two decades to take over his country, the continuing failure of U.S. leadership to know the enemy cripples our ability to defend America's most critical national security needs and exposes the homeland to the very real possibility of another 9/11. The December 2011 NIE on the Afghan Taliban plainly stated that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Pashtun warlord whose government sheltered Usama bin Laden and al-Qa'eda in the 1990s, remains totally committed to taking over all of Afghanistan and subjugating it to the harsh dictates of shariah.
When the Taliban ruled The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from 1996 until they were ousted by U.S. forces in late 2001, the world saw the most barbaric cruelties of Islamic law inflicted on the Afghan people: amputation, flogging, and stoning, as well as the savage repression of women and girls.
As became obvious on one clear day in September 2001, it wasn't the Afghan people alone who would suffer at the hands of the Taliban. Mullah Omar's Afghanistan harbored Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the rest of al-Qa'eda as they plotted the attacks of September 11 together with the Iranian regime. As we now know from the December 2011 ruling in the Havlish case by Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York, the top levels of the Iranian regime, and specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and intelligence service (MOIS—Ministry of Intelligence and Security), were closely involved in providing "direct and material support" to al-Qa'eda in the 9/11 attacks—and it was Mullah Omar whose steadfast loyalty to Usama bin Laden and secret dealings with Iran allowed those attack plans to proceed.
This is the same Mullah Omar with whom Department of State envoy Marc Grossman has been meeting for months, unbeknownst to the American people and unbeknownst to the thousands of American troops who are still fighting against the Taliban, dying, and coming home maimed for life, in a valiant effort to defeat the forces of shariah Islam.
Unfortunately, most Americans and most of our service members probably don't know that the Department of State long ago helped write the Afghan constitution, which placed the country firmly under Islamic law, complete with dictates that apostasy is punishable by death, blasphemy/slander against Islam is a capital crime, minority faiths such as Buddhism and Christianity face institutional discrimination, women are officially second-class citizens, and freedom of speech and expression is non-existent. This means that, for the last decade or so, thousands of Americans and other NATO coalition forces have been fighting to defend a government in Kabul that was already subjugated to shariah (one of the key objectives of al-Qa'eda and the Taliban in the first place).
Late December 2011 and early January 2012 reporting indicates that the situation may yet become even worse. There are indications that the U.S. government is considering the release of several senior Taliban leaders who have been held at Guantanamo Bay for years and have until now been considered too dangerous to let go. Now, however, in a desperate effort to complete the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and entice Mullah Omar's Taliban jihadis into negotiations, the White House is thinking of setting free some of the worst of the worst Taliban terror leadership—including at least one figure who personally arranged and attended a pre-9/11 planning meeting with Hizballah, Iranian, and Taliban officials.
Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa is a former Governor of Herat Province, Afghanistan who served under Mullah Omar's Taliban government from 1999-2001. Khairkhwa met in Kandahar directly with Usama bin Laden and other jihadi fighters at least once in early 2000 and also after 9/11 at a clandestine October 2001 meeting between senior Iranian intelligence and Taliban officials at which Iran pledged to assist the Taliban in its war against the United States.
Indeed, according to the Havlish case documents, Khairkhwa had been appointed Governor of Herat Province in western Afghanistan with the explicit mission to improve relations between Iran and the Taliban. Guantanamo Bay Combatant Status Review Board transcripts show that he fulfilled that tasking by bringing senior Taliban leaders such as Hizbi-I Islami commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar together with Usama bin Laden and Hekmatyar associates in the Iranian IRGC and MOIS. Khairkhwa was captured in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay; significantly, Washington, D.C. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina denied Khairkhwa's petition for a writ of habeas corpus in an opinion issued in May 2011.
Now, the U.S. government is considering releasing Khairkhwa anyway and perhaps several other senior Taliban figures as well, all of whom were closely associated with al-Qa'eda and all of whom the U.S. military has assessed as posing a high risk of returning to Taliban ranks to continue fighting jihad if let out. This would be in return for nothing from the Taliban except some promises to continue talking.
Khairkhwa's close relationship with the Iranian IRGC and intelligence service only compounds the danger of allowing him out of U.S. custody. And yet, that is exactly what reportedly is now under serious consideration by the U.S. government. With Afghanistan under Islamic law, U.S. and allied Western troops soon to withdraw, and now possibly the Taliban's top jihadis to be released from American detention, it would be a clean sweep total victory for the forces of shariah Islam. Minus Usama bin Laden and some other former top leaders now gone from the scene, but bolstered by the incredible wholesale collapse of Western resolve, al-Qa'eda and the Taliban, together with jihadist allies in Iran and Pakistan, would be free once again to consolidate their hold over Afghanistan.
As Iran continues to drive towards a deliverable nuclear weapons capability and with Pakistan already in possession of a nuclear arsenal, the forces of shariah Islam clearly are ascendant across multiple fronts. Prospects for stability in West Asia look increasingly dim. Prospects for American leadership in defense of genuine democracy and freedom look even worse.
Clare M. Lopez, a senior fellow at the Clarion Fund, writes regularly for RadicalIslam.org, and is a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on Middle East, national defense, and counterterrorism issues.