Members of the Taliban praised Vice President Joseph Biden’s recent comments that the Taliban is not the United States’ enemy.
As reported earlier this week, Biden told Newsweek, “Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests.”
Newsweek subsequently contacted a number of former and active Taliban operatives all of whom responded positively to Biden’s comments. “We are not natural enemies of each other. We became enemies because of an external factor—namely Osama bin Laden, who was not an Afghan. Now he is gone, and the Taliban have little or nothing to do with al Qaeda, Khazi Habibullah Fauzi, who served as the Taliban’s charge d’affaires in Saudi Arabia before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, told Newsweek.
Similarly, an unnamed current Taliban operative said he appreciated the comments but wished the United States had made them a decade earlier. “If just after 9/11 the U.S. had said, ‘You are not my enemy, but only my enemy is in your territory,’ that could have made all the difference,” the operative said. He then added, “We are not a worldwide movement. Our focus is totally on Afghan territory. Ninety-nine percent of Taliban couldn’t even find the U.S. on a map. There are zero percent of al Qaeda in Afghanistan now in the territory we control.”
The operative’s comments are somewhat disingenuous. Following 9/11 then-President George W. Bush did issue the Taliban an ultimatum: turn over Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda or face a military invasion. The Taliban first offered to try bin Laden in Afghanistan or in a third-party country but only if the United States provided hard evidence of his guilt in orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. After NATO began bombing Afghanistan, the Taliban did offer to hand over bin Laden if the military campaign was halted first. Bush rejected these offers saying the demands were “non-negotiable.”
Bush’s ultimatum was widely debated within the Taliban and many of its senior officials pleaded with Mullah Omar to hand over the terrorist mastermind. Indeed, in the early days after 9/11 the Taliban released a statement calling on bin Laden to voluntarily leave Afghanistan.
Biden’s comments have been less well received at home, however. Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney called them “an outrageous affront to our troops.” Rick Santorum and John McCain also swiftly rebuked Biden’s comments.