When the US President Joe Biden was asked to explain why the US was depending on the Taliban to ensure safe evacuation of individuals from Afghanistan on 26 August 2021, he replied "It's not a matter of trust -- it's a matter of mutual self interest."
Later that day, when asked if the US would cooperate with the Taliban after the evacuation, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "I don't want to get ahead of where we are."
Such 'interesting' responses from important personnel of the US government is indicative of a dilemma that observers would not have imagined even in their wildest dreams when the global "war on terror" was declared: will the US cooperate with the Taliban to counter the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan?
When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, responded, "It's possible," to this question, many people were taken aback, and almost every newspaper and channel immediately picked up on it.
Their overwhelming curiosity surrounding the question is understandable as two decades ago, just days after the attacks carried out on 20 September 2001, former US President George W Bush told Congress with great conviction, "Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
However, as the nature of the enemy and the threat that they were facing at the time changed over the decades, the mission and goals of their effort underwent many iterations.
The dynamics have changed to the extent that the US has collaborated with the Taliban on many occasions in the pursuit of common benefit ever since. For instance, the US forces used strategic restraint by refraining from attacking specific Taliban units that were getting ready to launch operations against the Islamic State. They also carried out airstrikes against Islamic State forces engaged in direct combat with Taliban units.
They also collaborated during the evacuation of US personnel and eligible Afghans from Kabul. To ensure the safe passage of individuals from behind Taliban lines into the airport, US forces and the Taliban established direct communication channels and deconfliction mechanisms. The US government provided the Taliban with the names of people who would be permitted to pass through the checkpoints put in place by the latter. The Taliban, on the other hand, escorted Americans to the airport gates multiple times on a daily basis.
General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, admitted once that the US had provided "very limited support" to Taliban in their efforts to take down the Islamic State.
More recently, when ISIS carried out two suicide bombing attacks on Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport and in the vicinity of the Baron Hotel, which is directly adjacent, and opened fire on civilians and military forces, killing 12 US service members and injuring 15 more, he disclosed that they had been sharing sanitised intelligence on Islamic State threats with the Taliban.
He claimed that the channels of communication and sharing of information lead the Taliban to prevent more Islamic State attacks on the airport, including when the Taliban cleared a bus rigged with explosives and possibly carrying two suicide bombers.
In fact, he went on to say that the Taliban were not only "very pragmatic and very business-like" during the final days of the withdrawal, but also "very helpful and useful to us as we closed down operations."
These latest developments certainly carry more than a tinge of irony for those who have observed, and more importantly suffered, because of the many iterations of the US's War on Terror.
The war on terror started in October 2001, with the US forces (with UK and coalition allies) invading Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime. The United States Special Operations Command, Pacific was dispatched to the Philippines in January 2002 to advise and support the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their fight against the Filipino Islamist groups. The Iraq War started in March 2003 with an air campaign, which was quickly followed by a ground invasion led by the US.
From November 2015 to 2019, the US and its allies conducted a large number of airstrikes and drone strikes to assist Libya in its resurrected conflict in support of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord against the presence of ISIL in the region.
Some mainstream Western media outlets were successful in portraying that Islam posed an increasing threat to people all over the world if left unchecked. The religion itself was deliberately repackaged as a violent ideology.
Consequently, it made travel across the globe, especially for Muslims, extremely difficult. Discrimination against Muslims increased all over the world. States around the world strengthened their security apparatuses and increased surveillance of their citizens in the name of fighting terror.
As per an article by Muzaffar Chishti and Claire Bergeron titled "Post-9/11 Policies Dramatically Alter the US Immigration Landscape," more than 80,000 Muslim immigrants were summoned for questioning by federal agents and required to enroll in a national registry.
A new report from the Costs of War project at Brown University suggests that this war has cost approximately $8 trillion and 900,000 lives over the last two decades with many indirect deaths caused by this war through disease, displacement and lack of access to food or clean drinking water being excluded from the death toll.
After spending so much money, causing so many deaths to combat terrorism, and wrecking their relationship with so many countries in the process via imposing sanctions and invasions, the US is now collaborating with the Taliban — a group it had labeled as a terrorist organisation for years — to combat terrorism? Doesn't this tip the scales in favor of those who have been arguing for years that the failure of America's counterterrorism campaigns outweighs its successes?