During a Tuesday panel discussion on US policy towards Afghanistan, hosted by the Middle East Institute in Washington, a former CIA official, Douglas London, emphasized the necessity for the United States to have an official presence in Afghanistan and actively communicate with the Taliban leadership.
London, who previously served as the CIA’s counterterrorism chief for South and Southwest Asia, highlighted the importance of engaging with the Taliban on critical issues such as counterterrorism efforts and combatting the Islamic State (IS) group. Expressing his viewpoint, London specifically advocated for a physical presence on the ground, not just in Kabul but particularly in Kandahar, where pivotal leadership decisions are made.
While acknowledging the utilization of “over-the-horizon” capabilities like drone strikes and aerial surveillance, which have been emphasized by the Biden administration as part of US counterintelligence, London stressed that such remote operations do not hold the same significance as having an official on-ground presence.
London further noted that establishing a physical presence may require recognition of the Taliban, despite disagreement with their actions, as it would provide an avenue for influence and incentivization. Emphasizing the diverse nature of the Taliban, he stated that the group is not homogeneous and possesses varying interests. London underscored the importance of engagement to have the leverage necessary to achieve desired outcomes.
In terms of economic challenges, Afghanistan faces dire circumstances. The country’s GDP plummeted by 20 percent following the Taliban takeover and the US withdrawal. Foreign aid, which constituted 95 percent of the previous government’s budget, has significantly diminished. As a result, an estimated 95 percent of the population is grappling with food insecurity.
To address the economic situation, the Biden administration froze $7 billion in funds from the Afghan central bank. In September 2022, it was announced that half of these funds would be allocated to the families of 9/11 attack victims, while the other half would be placed in an “Afghan Fund” managed by Swiss government officials and Afghan economic experts.