Despite their appearances, I always took them seriously and I never forgot that I was sitting across from fervent terrorists. In the trying times ahead, we must understand the enemy we face with no illusions.
The Taliban are patient. After being routed by NATO forces in 2001, the Taliban regrouped and mounted a growing insurgency despite the death of scores of its leaders. Many of the Taliban’s leaders and members taking power today are brutal and steeled men who have fought for decades.
In 2009, a reporter asked Mullah Baradar how long the Taliban were prepared to fight. He responded: “We shall continue our jihad till the expulsion of our enemy from our land.”
It has long been a bipartisan consensus in America that the war in Afghanistan should wind down, but my hope and belief is that a residual counter terrorism force should always remain to counter ISIS and al Qaeda. The Taliban heard multiple presidents promise to leave and knew our leverage was now gone; victory is assured when one side leaves the battlefield.
While the eyes of the American and Western public are fixed on Afghanistan today, they will not stay there long enough. Today, the Taliban make thinly veiled promises about the rights of women and Afghans. Tomorrow, the veils they force on women will be thick, black and enforced by the barrel of a gun.
We must also remember the Taliban’s leaders are first and foremost men of violence. Words are cheap to them, and “diplomacy” doesn’t mean much to a terrorist group unless they know there is military might and real consequences at the other end of the table. This is the difference when I had a seat at the table negotiating with the Taliban—they knew I walked in, in a position of strength. More than anything, the Taliban respect strength and fear the telltale sound of a U.S. drone overhead.