US conservatives claim China ’licking chops’ at Taiwan after fall of Kabul

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TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Conservative commentators in the U.S. are suggesting that the fall of the Afghan government following a precipitous retreat of U.S. forces from the country will embolden China to move forward with its plans to conquer Taiwan.

Even before the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan ordered by President Joe Biden is complete, every major city across the country has fallen like dominoes to Taliban guerillas. By Sunday evening (Aug. 15), they were in control of the presidential palace.

The New York Times on Friday (Aug. 13) cited French defense analyst François Heisbourg as asserting that the U.S. abandonment of its ally will have long-term consequences: “the notion that you cannot count on the Americans will strike deeper roots because of Afghanistan.’’ The newspaper said U.S. hesitation toward long-term military commitments “will now be felt all the more strongly among countries in play in the world, like Taiwan, Ukraine, the Philippines and Indonesia, which can only please China and Russia.”

Conservative media and Republican officials have been quick to claim that the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and fall of Kabul will embolden China to engage in aggressive military action against Taiwan. Politico correspondent Stuart Lau on Sunday evening took to Twitter to write, “Imagine Beijing watching US military “commitment” in Afghanistan while contemplating its next move on Taiwan.”

Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL), a former colonel and green beret who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, that same day tweeted: “If I were in Taiwan or Ukraine right now watching all this unfold, I would be terrified knowing this is how the United States will react under this administration.” Several conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr., portrayed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as “licking their chops” at Taiwan after witnessing the actions of a “weak U.S. administration.”

Political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic posted a tweet in which he stated that Afghanistan is a “warning to all vulnerable, emerging democracies; Ukraine, Taiwan, BiH, Kosovo etc.” He wrote that in worst-case scenarios, “great power promises mean nothing,” and that in the end only “hard power capacities & consolidated, formal alliances matter.”

Also on Sunday, the Weibo account for the Chinese state-run newspaper the Strait Herald posted a commentary in which it warned Taiwan: “don’t trust the United States too much, look at Afghanistan today.” The state-operated China Affairs alleged that after the U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan, Taiwanese netizens “believe that the U.S. will abandon Taiwan without hesitation once a war breaks out in the Taiwan Strait.”

If I were in Taiwan or Ukraine right now watching all this unfold, I would be terrified knowing this is how the United States will react under this administration. — Rep. Mike Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) August 15, 2021

Whatever China’s timeline was before on trying to seize Taiwan, we all know they’re licking their chops now knowing that there will never be a weaker US administration in power. This isn’t a partisan issue. We’ve got to get tough before things really escalate. — Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) August 16, 2021

Concerns over US terror threats rising as Taliban hold grows

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Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, A… Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s top general said the United States could now face a rise in terrorist threats from a Taliban-run Afghanistan. That warning comes as intelligence agencies charged with anticipating those threats face new questions after the U.S.-backed Afghan military collapsed with shocking speed.

Less than a week after a military assessment predicted Kabul could be surrounded by insurgents in 30 days, the world on Sunday watched stunning scenes of Taliban fighters standing in the Afghan president’s office and crowds of Afghans and foreigners frantically trying to board planes to escape the country.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators on a briefing call Sunday that U.S. officials are expected to alter their earlier assessments about the pace of terrorist groups reconstituting in Afghanistan, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

In June, the Pentagon’s top leaders said an extremist group like al-Qaida may be able to regenerate in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the U.S. homeland within two years of the American military’s withdrawal from the country. Two decades after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban harbored al-Qaida leaders, experts say the Taliban and al-Qaida remain aligned, and other violent groups could also find safe haven under the new regime.

Based on the evolving situation, officials now believe terror groups like al-Qaida may be able to grow much faster than expected, according to the person, who had direct knowledge of the briefing but was not authorized to discuss the details of the call publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The Biden administration officials on the call with senators – among them were Milley, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — said U.S. intelligence agencies are working on forming a new timeline based on the evolving threats, the person familiar with the matter said.

Current and former intelligence officials on Sunday pushed back against criticism of what was widely seen as a failure by the agencies to anticipate how fast Kabul could fall. One senior intelligence official said that “a rapid Taliban takeover was always a possibility,” adding: “As the Taliban advanced, they ultimately met with little resistance. We have always been clear-eyed that this was possible, and tactical conditions on the ground can often evolve quickly.” The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

But President Joe Biden didn’t suggest such an outcome at a July 8 news conference, when he said “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely. ”

The reduced U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan — down to 2,500 troops at the end of President Donald Trump’s term — may have hindered intelligence efforts in Afghanistan. Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, who led the Defense Intelligence Agency until October, said having fewer Americans embedded with Afghan forces meant there was less insight into how those forces would perform.

“It’s very, very difficult to gauge the morale down at the unit level because you’re just not there anymore,” Ashley said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if Afghan leaders would tell us only what we want to hear anyway.”

Monitoring terrorism threats in Afghanistan will be even more difficult with U.S. troops withdrawing and the Taliban in control. Intelligence agencies in Afghanistan work side by side with troops. Without the same military presence, spies are severely limited in what they can collect about the morale of Afghan troops or support for the Taliban.

“If they leave, which they did, that means we leave as well,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, who held several roles related to Afghanistan during a 26-year career in the CIA. “And that certainly affects our intelligence gathering footprint.”

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that once evacuations are settled that “our focus is going to shift” toward intelligence and counterterrorism activities. The U.S. will have to ensure it has the ability to track whether Al Qaeda is reconstituting there, he said in an interview.

“The Taliban has lots of reasons to honor their agreement with the United States and keep al-Qaida at bay. And our mission now is to put ourselves in a position where we can monitor and verify that that commitment," he said.

U.S. national security officials also briefed House members and tensions ran high. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy became furious after the administration officials would not confirm that President Ashraf Ghani had left the country, according to a person who participated in the meeting.

“Why are we doing this now?” McCarthy asked.

Ghani flew out of the country as the Taliban insurgents closed in on Sunday and posted on Facebook that he had chosen to leave the country to avert bloodshed in the capital. He did not say where he had gone.

Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, sharply criticized the briefing as “a regurgitation of the president’s statement" from Saturday.

Waltz said Austin blamed the Afghan forces’ lack of will to fight, while Blinken cited the deadline set by former President Donald Trump’s administration for an American withdrawal.

“There was no discussion of a path forward except some vague reassurances that they’ll protect the homeland,” Waltz said.

Timeline: US and NATO involvement in Afghanistan

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The US ousted the Taliban in 2001, but Afghanistan now seems set for the militants’ return The US ousted the Taliban in 2001, but Afghanistan now seems set for the militants’ return

A timeline of events in Afghanistan contextualizing US and NATO involvement in the country:

1979-89: occupying Soviet forces battle loosely allied US-backed resistance fighters, many of whom seek competing fates for Afghanistan when the Soviet withdrawal occurs, giving way to civil war.

1989-1996: Afghan warlords’ brutal struggle with one another destroys the capital, Kabul, with the Taliban movement emerging as the most powerful faction.

1996: The ultraconservative Taliban (in English: Students, referring to the pupils of Islamic religious schools) seize power in Afghanistan.

1996: Saudi-born billionaire Osama bin Laden relocates from Sudan to Afghanistan.

September 11, 2001: Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network attack the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC using commercial aircraft, killing 2,977 people.

September 12, 2001: For the first time in its history, NATO invokes Article V, the mutual defense clause which states an attack on one ally is viewed as an attack on the whole alliance.

September 21, 2001: The Taliban refuse to hand Osama bin Laden over to the US after the Bush administration blames him and his terror network for the 9/11 attacks

October 7, 2001: Then-US President George W. Bush announces the US-led attack on Afghanistan, which leads to the eventual toppling of the group and the installation of Hamid Karzai as Afghan president.

2003: US troops enter Iraq beginning another lengthy military engagement in the country parallel to Afghanistan.

Circa 2006: Osama bin Laden relocates to Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US intelligence.

May 2, 2011: Barack Obama announces the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan following a raid by US special forces Seal Team 6 in Abbottabad, very near the elite Pakistan Military Academy Kakul.

2014: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani takes office.

July 2018: US enters official negotiations with the Taliban without involving the elected Afghan government or NATO partners

February 2020: The US and the Taliban sign the Doha Agreement and the Taliban projects itself as the winner of its war against mighty NATO as foreign troops agree to withdraw.

September 2020: Intra-Afghan peace talks begin in the Qatari capital, Doha, but soon stall.

April 14, 2021: US President Joe Biden tells Americans their country’s longest war will end and US and NATO troops will be withdrawn by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.

July 2, 2021: US troops depart Bagram air base, the nexus of the country’s longest war, and hand the base over to the Afghan government.

August 2021: The Taliban offensive start taking over provincial districts and capitals as the Kabul government troops crumble and the US and NATO continue their pullout.

August 14, 2021: The US Embassy begins its drawdown of staff by helicopter with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban seemingly imminent.