I won’t pussyfoot around it: I hate the Taliban.
Sure, some of this is personal; they shot at me, attempted to blow me up on multiple occasions, and even put a bounty on our heads while we worked as embeds in the Afghan National Army. They managed to wound and kill my fellow Afghan and American brothers-in-arms, as well as many civilians who stood in the way of their suicidal and reckless attacks.
But to be honest, I hated the Taliban long before I ever ran into them on the battlefield. I studied their political origins and their fundamentalist and extremist worldviews. I watched the videos in the late 1990s smuggled out of Afghanistan of their barbaric executions of women in soccer stadiums, as well as the routine daily violence carried out by their Ministry of Virtue and Prevention of Vice foot-soldiers.
As they pursued their agenda of destroying the rights of artists and musicians to create and express, and as they clumsily yet determinedly attempted to cleanse their country of undesirable ethnic and religious minorities, that’s when I knew I had seen enough. I detested their movement in the strongest of terms. I volunteered to go pay them a visit as an infantry officer, and share with them up close and personal what I thought about their movement.
So today when I read that Vice President Joseph Biden, a man I respect, voted for, and plan to vote for again, told a Newsweek reporter that “the Taliban, per se, is not our enemy”, I was floored. I felt an immediate sense of anger and betrayal, both to the sacrifices my peers and I have borne in prosecuting this long war, but even more a sense of betrayal to the core values that our country holds, of protecting and promoting liberty and freedoms for all.
My mind rushed to the Afghan women I have met who lived in constant fear and a semi-state of slavery under Taliban rule, who would be thrust back into the darkness should the Taliban ever return to power. I thought of the Afghan musicians and artists I have befriended, who were tortured by the Taliban for creating music and art during the dark days of Taliban rule. And lastly, I thought of the stalwart Afghan soldiers I fought alongside, who committed acts of bravery that are why I am alive today. They fully expect to be hung from the street posts should the Taliban ever return to power.
How the hell could the vice president say such garbage?! I wondered.
But the truth is that I knew the answer to my own question before I even asked it.
The vice president can say such a thing because the vice president is absolutely right.
One of the hardest lessons I have taken away from my experience in Afghanistan is that no matter how much I hate the Taliban and what they stand for, and the cowardly and reckless ways that they shed innocent blood in order to terrorize, the fact remains that the Taliban worldview, as much as I detest it, is an authentic and naturally occurring part of the fabric of Afghanistan.
This Taliban culture is rooted in the conservative and tribal values of the Pashtun people, centuries old and unchanged, and perhaps unchangeable. For America to hold any strategic goal of destroying them outright, or denying them any space in a future Afghanistan, would only guarantee an endless war and a further entrenchment of their ultra-fundamentalist opinions and objectives. All the while serving as a recruiting poster for our enemies, who distort our intentions in Afghanistan, and portray us as warmongers seeking to perpetually occupy their lands.
It is my opinion that what the vice president said is something many of us combat veterans of Afghanistan already know: the only reason we are at war in Afghanistan today is that Afghanistan is where Osama Bin Laden was hiding on September 11, 2001. And because the Taliban leaders and their cultural code of pashtunwali value pride and stubborness to such a degree that they refused to give him up, we now find ourselves still shedding blood there, long after al Qaeda has been crushed and is no longer a presence in that country.
So while it sounds bad at first, I think the vice president is correct in stating an obvious truth: we have accomplished our mission of destroying Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but cannot defeat the Taliban militarily. The smart thing to do is to change our approach to one that envisions the Taliban’s return to the political fold, under a framework that forces moderation upon their extremist elements, denies haven to extremist international terrorist organizations, and ultimately ends the war in Afghanistan.