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Terror and the Taliban

The world should not ignore the risk that Afghanistan under the Taliban could become a breeding ground for international terrorism. But nor should it be so fixated on this prospect – which is far less likely than many seem to believe – that it neglects the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding before our eyes.

LONDON – By hastily withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden has made a grave mistake, or so many argue. US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, has called the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country an “even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975.” That sequel, top US generals, conservatives, and even some liberals predict, will be characterized by the resurgence of transnational terrorism.

The prediction is straightforward. As an Islamist militant group, the Taliban will inevitably provide al-Qaeda – and potentially other extremist groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS) – with a sanctuary to recruit, train, and plan attacks against the West. By next month, McConnell warns, al-Qaeda and the Taliban will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, by “burning down [the US] embassy in Kabul.”

But there is a flaw in this assessment: it assumes that there is not much daylight between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In reality, while the two groups do share a similar religious ideology and worldview, they have very different objectives.