What a surprise! On Sept. 5, six U.S. commercial planes, loaded with Americans and Afghan translators or waiting to be loaded at Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan, were blocked from departing by the Taliban. Who, other than President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, could not have foreseen this would happen? Meanwhile, to demonstrate his concern, Biden went on vacation. We have all the makings of a return to the days of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.
Big differences exist between the Iranian hostage crisis and the one newly launched by the Taliban. A milquetoast President Jimmy Carter was caught by surprise on Nov. 4, 1979, when a group of militant Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. For the next 444 days, that hostage crisis dominated news headlines, making America look weak and ineffectual. When “the most audacious, difficult, complicated, rescue mission ever attempted,” known as Desert One, ended in disaster and had to be aborted, it did nothing to improve that image. The only reason the crisis ended – on the day President Ronald Reagan took the oath of office – was concern by the mullahs the new U.S. leader would take action.
The Taliban hostage crisis should not have caught our leadership by surprise. It is the natural outcome of what terrorists do when given the opportunity to exercise control due to a weak U.S. administration. The conditions in Afghanistan could not have been better for this to happen. The last U.S. military troops had been withdrawn due to a deadline selected by Biden (after moving it up 11 days from the 20th anniversary of 9/11), making a complete U.S. citizen evacuation impossible.
While we knew exactly how many U.S. citizens were being held hostage in Tehran, we have absolutely no clue what the number in Afghanistan is. But, if the six planes blocked from departing are an indication, way more Americans have been left behind than the low-ball number of “around 100” claimed by White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain on Sept. 5. That is supported as well by a recent report the Taliban may allow at least 200 Americans to depart.
Klain added, “We are going to find ways to get them – the ones that want to leave – to get them out of Afghanistan. …” Common sense tells us it would have been a lot simpler to “find ways to get them out” had Biden taken a firm stand against the Taliban while we still had assets in the country, dictating terms to them for the evacuation of American citizens rather than allowing the Taliban now to dictate those terms to us. Suggesting we “find ways to get them out” is ridiculous as Biden admits we have no resources even allowing us to get our six airplanes now trapped at Mazar-i-Sharif airport out of the country.
Whatever Americans remain in Afghanistan will probably not be incarcerated to leave us guessing. If so, they will be left to fend for themselves, attempting to befriend locals, reluctant to help them for fear of Taliban retribution.
Muslims are well aware the Quran explicitly mandates they not embrace infidels as friends per the teachings of Prophet Muhammad who was very skeptical of inter-faith friendships. Thus, Afghan Muslims will keep to themselves, avoiding any kind of entanglement with non-believers. It is this same belief that has led Muslims residing in the West to create their infamous “no-go” zones in which not even local police dare venture. There should be no doubt the Taliban will enforce such Quranic mandates severely as evidenced by already executing an Afghan singer – after first having tea with him – for violating Islam’s prohibition against music.
It benefits the Taliban to leave us guessing as to the number of Americans left behind to limit our options in getting them out. It is also why they will refrain from holding them in a single or multiple groups as it would enhance planning for a rescue effort.
While the Taliban may well use a limited number of hostages to put the spotlight on America’s weakness in the eyes of the world community, the question arises as to the price they will extract for ultimately releasing them all. The situation at Mazar-i-Sharif airport may provide us some insight on this.
But the Taliban sure do not need spending money, having seized hundreds of millions of dollars in cash left behind by U.S. and Afghan government forces. Nor do they need military weapons and equipment as they are now better equipped than ever before due to what we left behind intact – some of it already spotted in Iran. Nor do they need any kind of investment plan for future income as they now control a country meeting 90% of the world’s opium demand. But they recognize they now have the opportunity, as did the Iranians over four decades ago, to rub America’s nose in it for as long as they so choose.
The only sounds heard from the White House on the hostage situation are sounds of silence. Although Biden tells us Afghanistan is now old news, callously suggesting it is time to put it behind us, families who have managed to escape, sharing their harrowing experiences of fleeing to the sound of gunfire, will find it much more difficult for them and their traumatized children to put behind them.
If Biden intends to put Afghanistan behind him, the Taliban will complicate that effort for the near future. Families of hostages will not allow him to do so either. What will be interesting to see, however, is whether a largely pro-Biden media follow the president’s advice. They should find the current news blackout ordered by the White House most disturbing. Meanwhile, Biden has reportedly instilled the fear of God in the Taliban by declaring the hostages’ release will be achieved diplomatically rather than militarily.
The bottom line is Biden’s ineptness has created a complex hostage crisis of his own making. It remains to be seen if it is one that will plague America for the rest of his term or not. Should the Taliban choose to draw it out that long, we are looking at yet one more nail in the coffin of a one-term presidency.
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