At this writing, as many as fifteen thousand Americans remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover of the country. They have been urged to go to Hamid Karzai International Airport for evacuation out of the country, but the US is reportedly unable to provide transportation or guarantee them safe passage.
A Taliban spokesman promised that “nobody will be harmed in Afghanistan,” including Americans. However, their actions so far speak a very different message.
They faced their first street protests yesterday against their takeover of the country. When a crowd gathered in the northeastern city of Jalalabad, Taliban soldiers fired into them and beat protesters and journalists. At least two people were killed and a dozen injured.
Taliban fighters recently executed twenty-two Afghan commandos as they tried to surrender. Earlier this month, they assassinated a presidential spokesman who was head of the government’s media and information center. A letter circulating recently listed activities forbidden by the Taliban, including girls banned from school, women confined to their homes and forced to wear a full hijab, boys forced to learn rote recitation of the Qur’an, and women banned from leaving their houses without a male relative.
With regard to Americans still trapped in Afghanistan, Walter Russell Mead writes in the Wall Street Journal that “Mr. Biden should worry about a repeat of Tehran in 1979.” He adds that “even if national Taliban authorities want to avoid a confrontation, with thousands of unprotected US and other foreign citizens scattered around a chaotic country, authorities in the capital may not be able to control radical factions or ransom-hungry groups of local fighters and criminal gangs.”
The history of al-Qaeda and the Taliban
While Americans are understandably deeply concerned about our citizens remaining in Afghanistan under the Taliban, we should also be concerned about ourselves at home.
American troops were sent to Afghanistan twenty years ago in response to the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban’s provision of safe harbor for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Our forces toppled the Taliban from power not because we were concerned that they wanted to launch attacks on our homeland, but because we wanted to prevent further such attacks from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups they were protecting.
From their beginning, the Taliban were foundationally linked with al-Qaeda. Their shared Islamic ideology and fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan brought them together.
Al-Qaeda was an experienced militant group with an established global brand when the Taliban were in their infancy. The early training, fundraising, and supplies provided by al-Qaeda were critical to the Taliban’s growth. In turn, before the Taliban were toppled by US forces, al-Qaeda reportedly paid them up to $20 million a year for its safe haven in Afghanistan.
What of their relationship today?
The United Nations reported in June 2021, “A significant part of the leadership of al-Qaeda resides in the Afghanistan and Pakistan border region. . . . Large numbers of al-Qaeda fighters and other foreign extremist elements aligned with the Taliban are located in various parts of Afghanistan.”
While the Taliban committed to the US government in February 2020 that it would restrain jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda, from organizing and launching terrorism from the country, the UN states that “it is impossible to assess with confidence that the Taliban will live up to its commitment.” It adds that “al-Qaeda and likeminded militants continue to celebrate developments in Afghanistan as a victory for the Taliban’s cause and thus for global radicalism.”
“The best news al-Qaeda has had in decades”
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “the Taliban continues to provide al-Qaeda with protection in exchange for resources and training.” US authorities reportedly believe that al-Qaeda’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is in Afghanistan as well.
The Morning Dispatch reports that “many top al-Qaeda leaders have sworn blood oaths to the successive heads of the Taliban, and others including Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has a $10 million price on his head from the US government, serve as leaders of both groups.”
It quotes Nathan Sales, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, who wrote in an expert briefing: “The Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is the best news al-Qaeda has had in decades. With the Taliban back in charge of the country, it is virtually certain that al-Qaeda will reestablish a safe haven in Afghanistan and use it to plot attacks on the United States.”
Sales added: “The terrorist group responsible for 9/11 will soon find itself flush with cash looted from Afghanistan’s central bank, with weapons seized from the defeated Afghan army, and with fighters freed from prison.”
Britain’s defense minister agreed, warning that al-Qaeda will likely have a resurgence as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. And Robert M. Gates, secretary of defense for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from 2006 to 2011, wrote in the New York Times that the Taliban “still maintain ties with al-Qaeda.”
He asked, “Why should we assume they will no longer harbor al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that seek to target those—above all, the United States—that ousted them from power and have been fighting them for twenty years?” He concluded in his June 2021 article that “the consequences of another Taliban takeover in Kabul would not be limited to the people of Afghanistan.” Now that takeover has been accomplished.
Will 9/11 be a “catalyst for acts of targeted violence”?
As I noted in my 2011 book, Radical Islam: What You Need to Know, al-Qaeda and similar jihadists are convinced that America has been attacking the Muslim world since the Crusades. They consider the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 to be a theft of land from its rightful Muslim owners and see our support for Israel as complicity in this attack. Since Americans are citizens of a democracy, they view us as part of this “assault” on Islam.
Since the Qur’an requires Muslims to defend Islam (cf. Surah 2:190), al-Qaeda’s followers believe they are required to attack Americans in our homeland. As a result, they do not see 9/11 as an attack on innocent Americans but as a defense of Islam striking back at “Crusader” aggression.
Now that the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan, such attacks may be more likely. The head of an Afghan news and media company told New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, “The relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda will get stronger. Why should the Taliban fear the Americans anymore? What’s the worst that could happen? Another invasion?”
He added: “These guys are going to be the most belligerent, arrogant Islamist movement on the planet. They are going to be the Mecca for any young radical of Islamic heritage or convert. It’s going to inspire people. It’s a godsend for any radical, violent group.”
Author Peter Bergen believes the Taliban takeover will inspire extremists around the globe. He notes, “When ISIS ran a lot of Iraq and Syria, there were a lot of Westerners who volunteered to go and fight. Here we have the Taliban doing something not dissimilar in Afghanistan. I anticipate a lot of problems for Western states.”
The Department of Homeland Security added in a recent security alert that the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 and upcoming religious holidays “could serve as a catalyst for acts of targeted violence.” It noted that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula recently released the first English-language version of its Inspire magazine in four years, apparently intended to mark the upcoming anniversary of 9/11.
Three practical responses
What can you and I do about the threat of a resurgent al-Qaeda?
One: Pray for members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other jihadist groups to come to Christ. Jesus urged us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). As I have noted frequently, more Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus today than at any time in Islamic history, many through visions and dreams of our Savior. If you doubt whether such conversions are possible, remember Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
Two: Pray for Christians in Afghanistan and across the Muslim world to be protected, emboldened, and empowered as they share Christ with their neighbors. We are to “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). I plan to say more about this in tomorrow’s Daily Article, but please join me in praying for our sisters and brothers today.
Three: Pray for ministries and missionaries to Afghanistan and the Muslim world to be effective and courageous. Jesus called his followers to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Then Jesus called his apostles to answer their prayer by taking his message to their culture (Matthew 10).
The choice of the hour
I was interviewed yesterday by Chris Brooks, a brilliant pastor and radio host. At one point, he mentioned a member of his church in Michigan who has been called to go to Afghanistan as a missionary. Ask God to raise up many more, then pray for them and support them however you can. And ask God to use your life and witness to reach Muslims and others in your circle of influence.
Chris also quoted the maxim that, in regard to missions, we can “go, give, or live in sin.”
Which will you choose today?