OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan refused to characterize the Taliban as an enemy of the United States during an interview Tuesday just days after the United States pulled all military forces out of the country following a nearly 20-year engagement in which thousands of U.S. military personnel and contractors were killed by the militant group.
Appearing on MSNBC with Nicolle Wallace, the host asked Sullivan if he considered the Taliban more of a “frenemy” — adversaries but not outright enemies.
“Well, it’s hard to put a label on it, in part, because we have yet to see what they are going to be now that they are in control — physical control of Afghanistan,” Sullivan responded.
“They will, in the coming days, announce a government. That government is going to go around seeking diplomatic engagement, even recognition from other countries, including the United States,” he continued.
“In fact, the Taliban spokesman today said he was looking for positive relations on behalf of the Taliban, especially with the United States.”
Continuing, Sullivan claimed that the administration is “not just going to grant positive relations to the Taliban.
“They’re going to have to earn everything from the international community through actions, not words. That begins with safe passage for Americans and Afghan allies, and that also includes them living up to their counterterrorism commitments, including that Afghanistan can never again be used as a base with which to attack the United States or our allies,” he said.
🚨🚨: Jake Sullivan refuses to call the Taliban an enemy, saying "it’s hard to put a label on it."
— John Cooper (@thejcoop) August 31, 2021
Prior to Monday’s pullout, 13 American service personnel — 11 Marines, two Army soldiers, and a Navy corpsman — were killed in a suicide bomb attack near the international airport in Kabul while the Taliban ringed it with checkpoints.
What’s more, according to the Washington Examiner, the United States has designated the Taliban as a global terrorist organization, but “notably” has not designated the Afghan-based Taliban as one, despite the fact that its Haqqani network and al Qaeda allies are designated as such, as well as their Pakistan-based counterparts, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
In fact, the Taliban that is now back in charge of Afghanistan gave al Qaeda members including founder Osama bin Laden safe haven in the country where they planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Taliban continued to protect bin Laden even after the U.S. invaded in October 2001.
Members of both organizations fought beside each other throughout the insurgency against U.S. and NATO forces — an insurgency that has turned out to be successful.
According to The Associated Press, the human cost of the war included:
— American service members killed in Afghanistan through April: 2,448.
— U.S. contractors: 3,846.
— Afghan national military and police: 66,000.
— Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states: 1,144.
— Afghan civilians: 47,245.
— Taliban and other opposition fighters: 51,191.
— Aid workers: 444.
— Journalists: 72.
Other currently serving Biden administration officials were also semi-praiseworthy of the Taliban, including U.S. Central Command head Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKinzie.
“We had gone from cooperating on security with a longtime partner and ally to initiating a pragmatic relationship of necessity with a longtime enemy. … The Taliban had been very — very pragmatic and very business-like as we have approached this withdrawal,” he said Monday.
“I can’t foresee the way future coordination between us would go. I would leave that for — for some future date. I will simply say that they wanted us out,” McKinzie added.
‘We wanted to get out with our people and with our — and with our friends and partners. And so for that short period of time, our issues — our view of the world was congruent, it was the same,” he said.
Sullivan went on to cite the CENTCOM commander’s statements, saying that the Taliban have “been business-like in their approach with us, not because they’re nice guys — they’re not — but because they’ve had an interest along with us to make that evacuation mission run smoothly.”
“Going forward, I think they’ll have an interest in responding to our requests because we have an enormous amount of leverage over them,” he claimed, though it’s unclear how, with no more U.S. forces in the country and President Biden seemingly unwilling to commit more.