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October 06, 2009

The heart of the Afghan debate

As most of you know, Washington is engulfed in a prolonged debate about the way ahead in Afghanistan. It occurs to me that very few have properly articulated to you, dear reader, what is at the heart of the debate. Let me take a stab at it. It gets down to this: What is the current relationship between al Qaida and the Taliban?  The answer to that questions leads to the following question:  Is an Afghanistan under Taliban control really a threat to the security of the United States?

We know of course that the Taliban and al Qaida worked hand-in-hand in the run up to 9/11.  But the relationship isn't really so clear  now.  Back then, the Taliban turned to al Qaida for financial support, for example. Today the Taliban generates, by some estimates, as much as $400 million in annual revenue. Indeed, some believe the Taliban is now subsidizing al Qaida. So if Afghanistan fell to Taliban rule again, we know now  they  need al Qaida  a lot  less than they did eight years ago to survive.  

And according to Ret. Marine Gen. Jim Jones, the National Security Advisor, al Qaida is not as dependent on Afghanistan as it once was.   Before 9/11, al Qaida had large-scale training camps in Afghanistan;  but Jones  said in an interview Sunday with CNN”s John King , that no more than 100 al Qaida operatives work out of Afghanistan  now . The rest have moved to Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Europe and yes, even the United States.  That is, al Qaida needs Afghanistan as a sanctuary less today than it did eight years ago.

Jones also tackled the uncertainty of the relationship between the two groups. He said that the Taliban does not pose a threat to anyone outside of Afghanistan. And he said al Qaida cannot launch any kind of major attack on the United States from Afghanistan. In other words, neither group pose an immediate that, at least within the Afghan border. 

King asked Jones: “Does the return of the Taliban in your view, sir, equal the return of a sanctuary for al Qaida?” 

Jones had a two - word answer: “It could.”   

Well, until that is clear, what the U.S. goals are in Afghanistan remain muddled. 

Without the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban might return to power. Should the United States care?  That depends on whether a Taliban victory would mean a welcome for al Qaida. And if the administration determines that the Taliban won’t welcome al Qaida  back, it begs the ultimate question: Why is the United States in Afghanistan?


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The Wall St Jon says it stole computers that were used by al Qaida. They said notes in them showed the Taliban did not know about or help with 9-11. al Qaida was fearful of being kicked out because the Taliban did not like al Qaida. The USA put the Taliban in power become they hated dope and said they would stop it in Afghanistan. We even paid their all their salaries till 9-11. They said 9-11 was a great sin. and tried to give OBL to us. Bush gave them bombs. The dope lords then became Bush's freedom fighters. This war came from really dumb cowboys. I kewn OBL wanted to kill Saddom and he wanted ti kill OBL.. But nobody Bush had knew it??

Philip Henika


Steven Aftergood: 9/11, Info Sharing, and “The Wall”
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 11:12 AM


I commented suggesting a "Wall" between government agencies and the people re: 9/11 investigation. I suggested a "Wall" based on the government's secrecy after 9/11 when compared to the government's transparency after the TWA crash.

Nancy Youssef

Philip: I absolutely agree. And I think while parts of that wall have crumbled, it hasn't done so enough.

Philip Henika


Al Oaeda plots usually do have origins from more than nation e.g. the Zazi plot involved training in Pakistan with materials purchased in the US. International cooperation has improved re: the foiling of Al Qaeda plots. Steven Aftergood talks of a "Wall" between intel agencies before 9/11 i.e. communications gaps that need to be closed if we are to succeed re: prevention of Al Qaeda plots. Do you agree?

Nancy Youssef

Thanks everyone for some very thoughtful comments. Jason and Philip, you raise important questions. What I really hear you asking, Jason, is: Is the United States fighting the last war or the next one? And I think that gets to your question Philip of so what does victory look like. If Afghanistan stable and tne next attack is plotted in Germany, what then?

As for the nuclear issue, Chip you are right, it is not directly about the nuclear issue as Afghanistan has no nukes. But if Afghanistan is unstable, could India and Pakistan, which do have nukes, use Afghanistan as ground for a proxy war?


What nukes? Oh, you mean the short-range Paki nukes aimed at India? Yeah, India our 'ally' all right, literally millions of service jobs being offshored to Mumbai every year, marked, 'do not return to sender'.

It's not about the nukes, it's about the baaksheesh, enough $100Bs they would kill both your mother and mine for.


This topic is just outrageous! Obviously , we are there and can't just quit! If Obama's going to be an idiot, then at least he needs to SECURE THE NUKES!

Philip Henika

I keep hearing the "winning the war in Afghanistan" comment and I wonder: what constitutes a 'win"? It is obvious that the capture of OBL or the determination of his fate would go a long way toward an American "win". So, how do we define an 'American win' over the Taliban insurgency? As I understand it, the proposed 'surge' includes American troops as trainers, intel and security providers. So, how does this role result in an American "win" when it is the Afghani people who are primarly responsible for dealing with the Taliban?


As Gulbudin Hekmatyar told Al Jazeera last week: "the 9/11 attack was planned in Germany, and the pilots trained in America". AQ doesn't need Afghanistan. Even it had Afghanistan, that would affect its international terror operations.

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

jon, nancy & warren

Landay, Youssef and Strobel.

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