Situation, Facts and Events

The White House discusses taking back control of Afghanistan. Washington is ready to exchange intelligence about jihadists with Kabul

The administration of US President Joseph Biden is discussing the idea of rapprochement with the Taliban movement to counter the growing jihadist threat in Afghanistan. Officials believe that the Taliban's rival group, Vilayat Khorasan (ISKP), requires significant oversight, but Washington has lost intelligence capabilities in the Afghan arena since the withdrawal of troops in 2021.

Sources told NBC News that the Biden administration is ready to cooperate with the Taliban. According to them, the White House is not against establishing an exchange of intelligence data with the de facto authorities in Kabul.

“There’s an internal debate about whether to try to work more with the Taliban,” a former senior official said. According to these reports, some US officials are even advocating the restoration of the embassy in Kabul to ensure closer security cooperation. The members of Congress also favor the approach in general, though they stress that the US would have to demand significant concessions fr om the Taliban in return, including ensuring protection of rights for Afghan women.

 The main issue of Washington is that it has lost its ability to monitor the Afghan scene following the rapid withdrawal of foreign troops in 2021. After that, the American side practiced unmanned strikes against the highest echelons of Al-Qaeda (the group is designated as terrorist in Russia and is banned) and launched reconnaissance drones within Afghan jurisdiction. However, experts say that such operations require more accurate and timely intelligence information, which is difficult to obtain without the presence of American troops on the ground. “We have a very, very limited ability to see what’s going on there,” complains an American source to NBC News.
Officially, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintain some over-the-horizon intelligence-gathering capabilities in Afghanistan. For example, the US President's June report to Congress on the use of military powers abroad stated: " United States military personnel remain postured outside Afghanistan to address threats to the United States homeland and United States interests that may arise from inside Afghanistan." This has more than once led to speculation that one of the American intelligence centers is located within Central Asian countries, but the leadership of the post-Soviet republics rejected such arguments.

A recent report by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) recommended maintaining a pragmatic relationship with the de facto authorities in Kabul. “The situation following the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan has provided terrorist organizations with a number of new opportunities to regroup, plan plots and cooperate with each other,” the study authors noted. “The United States needs a more robust military and intelligence approach to mitigate growing terrorism threats.” USIP experts, in particular, advised the White House the following: “Continue to put public pressure on the Taliban while maintaining communication channels for the exchange of counterterrorism information.”

US concerns about the ISKP threat aggravated after the terrorist attack in the Crocus City Hall near Moscow, NBC News claims. A map of the group's activity, developed by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), shows that ISKP has tried to attack nine countries over the past year, despite the fact that it has become accustomed to positioning itself exclusively as an Afghan group. “Moreover, militants from Tajikistan have become key nodes in the ISKP terrorist network,” WINEP researchers emphasize. “In the last year alone, they were involved in six of the 21 reported plots or attacks that occurred.”

In turn, the Dutch International Center for Combating Terrorism (ICCT) recorded this year: the strengthening of the position of ISKP was due, inter alia, to the degradation of the situation in Afghanistan. According to ICCT, it now resembles the situation before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. 
“American drones, based on the territory of one of Afghanistan’s eastern neighbors, constantly patrol Afghan airspace,” reminds Omar Nessar, a researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Modern Afghanistan. – In the conditions wh ere facts indicate the positive nature of Washington’s interaction with the Taliban, the continuation of these operations raises questions. Russia and China have spoken out at the highest levels this year against the US military presence in the region. Therefore, regional players perceive Washington’s intentions to monitor the activities of military forces on the territory of Afghanistan solely as an excuse to be present in the region.”

The management of the Taliban will have to take this circumstance into account, the expert says. “All of this clearly raises the stakes for the Taliban,” Nessar says. “However, it is difficult to predict at this stage the impact of this step on different centers of influence of the Taliban. This could both lead to increased disagreements between them and improve the position of individual groups that will be able to obtain concessions from the Americans.”