Commentary

The return of suicide attacks and the game of drones

Relatives carry a coffin to receive the dead body of a victim of the August 26 twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops outside Kabul airport, at hospital in Kabul on August 27, 2021. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

The tragic terrorist incident that killed 13 American servicemen and scores of Afghan civilians fleeing the Taliban control, serves as a clear reminder to Washington that ending the war against terrorist jihadis is far from being over.

The decision by the Americans to pack and leave is not enough to close the chapter of the war against jihadi terrorists triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks. It is true that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants were all eliminated and his group weakened, but the ideological threat is still there and Al-Qaeda already has several variants that are more violent and determined to cause harm to Western interests and anyone who disagrees with their interpretation of Islam.

One should assume that Washington has learned not to outsource its security to its allies and equally important it shouldn’t engage in nation building again after completing the mission. However, it seems Washington is leaning toward playing its favorite game of sorting moderates from extremists. Now, Taliban is the lesser of two evils and Washington seems willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Very soon, we may start hearing complaints about the Taliban not doing enough to curb Daesh (ISIS) and the Khorasan cult, similar to when Washington used to criticize Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for not cracking down enough on Taliban and terror jihadis by suffocating their finances.

It is fashionable and popular in Washington following 20 years of investment in blood and treasure, to call upon regional and traditional allies to step in and do the heavy lifting. But everyone knows that without American leadership, American allies in the region are fragile, and in choosing between Washington’s interests and staying in power the answer is easy.

The Baghdad Summit is supposed to usher a new era of cooperation among competing regional powers after the defeat of Daesh in Iraq, but the collapse of the Afghan government and re-emergence of suicide attacks spoiled the party. Someone somewhere is celebrating the return of the Taliban and romanticizing about the good old days when Afghanistan was the safe haven for jihadi Arabs. The Baghdad Summit may be a good start for Arab regimes to reconcile and stop plotting against each other, but it is still far from forming a serious front to face the potential re-emergence of violent jihadis still brewing in their countries.

The American retrenchment or redeployment in the Middle East is creating a new dynamic and shifting alliances, but American allies in the region cannot be left alone especially when the Iranian threat is still lurking. Boots on the ground and direct involvement are not options in the foreseeable future but the threat is still there. The game of drones maybe the only game for now.

Mouafac Harb is a veteran American-Lebanese journalist based in Beirut. He contributes a weekly column in The Daily Star.

 

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