The Biden administration admitted it left behind at least 100 Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to come home. The future that awaits them is uncertain but potentially fraught.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the Biden administration gave Americans in Afghanistan “every opportunity to leave” the country in recent months. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie contradicted that the same day, stating that up to hundreds of Americans still trying to leave were unable to reach the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, and therefore couldn’t “be accommadated” on the last five evacuation flights out of the country.
That airport, along with Kabul as a whole and much of Afghanistan, is now under Taliban control. The group has been a sworn enemy to America in the past, and threatened the U.S. with “consequences” if it stayed in Afghanistan past President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
Biden and his top officials are relying on that enemy to guarantee safe passage for the remaining Americans and Afghan allies stuck in the country who want to leave, but some experts aren’t confident they’ll uphold their end of the bargain.
The Taliban needs to meet its commitments and obligations in Afghanistan on freedom of travel, respecting basic rights of the people, upholding its commitments on counterterrorism, not carrying out reprisal violence against those who stayed, and forming an inclusive government.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) August 31, 2021
“The safety and the ability to leave of Americans and allies left behind in Afghanistan now totally depends on the Taliban. The Biden administration seems to believe that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition and aid will be reason enough for them to protect the Americans and their allies,” Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. and current Hudson Institute senior fellow, told the Daily Caller.
“That runs contrary to the Taliban’s history. The Haqqani Network, whose leader is expected to be the new minister in charge for internal security, is still holding an American, Mark Frerichs, as hostage,” he said. (RELATED: Biden White House Spins, Dodges And Stops Short On Questions About What Went Wrong In Afghanistan)
Frerichs was the last known American hostage being held by the Taliban prior to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. A 58-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, he was kidnapped by the militant group in January 2020 after being lured to an apparent business meeting. He is reportedly being held by the Haqqani Network, potentially in Pakistan.
It feels like “our leverage is pretty much gone right now,” Frerichs’ sister Charlene Cakora told ABC News. She isn’t the only person who feels that way.
“Now that the US presence has officially ended, US leverage has plummeted and the Taliban have little incentive to keep promises which they meant to sway useful idiots, not reflect truth,” Michael Rubin, senior fellow in foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Daily Caller. “It is possible that the Taliban could sell some Americans to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the ISIS-Khorasan… With the United States holding a large portion of Afghanistan’s $9.4 billion in foreign reserves, however, Taliban leaders will understand that American hostages are valuable and fodder over which they can drag the United States into further humiliation.”
When asked what the U.S. will do to ensure the Taliban behaves responsibly and what leverage Washington has over the militants, the Pentagon directed the Daily Caller to the State Department, which declined to offer additional comment beyond the public remarks of spokesman Ned Price.
Now, the terror group may have their hands on more hostages, former CIA analyst and intelligence adviser to the Afghan police Ron Aledo told El American news: “Those who stay are going to become hostages. Not ordinary hostages as of a kidnapping, but they will be a key bargaining chip between the Taliban and the United States.”
In addition to holding Americans hostage in the past and present, the Taliban were already violating their commitment before the U.S. withdrawal was even complete. A number of Afghan allies of the United States, who were promised safe passage to the Kabul airport, were stopped from reaching their flights and beaten or harassed by Taliban fighters.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin admitted to Congress that some Americans were even being beaten by Taliban forces, according to a report by the New York Post.
Former Army Ranger and author of “Leave No Man Behind” Dr. Tony Brooks, who served in Afghanistan, fears worse may becoming for the stranded Americans and their Afghan allies.
“The prospects for American citizens and anyone who helped us is grim. I am hearing reports of people stranded in Mozar-I-Sharif awaiting transport,” he told the Daily Caller. “We need to expeditiously continue to evacuate Americans and our allies with any and all resources in the region… Not a single person that wants out should be abandoned.”
Blinken and other Biden administration officials have argued that the U.S. will use the full brunt of its diplomatic powers to get the remaining Americans home safely. But Haqqani agrees with the assessment of others that America’s leverage is greatly reduced. (RELATED: State Department Says It Doesn’t ‘Have Data’ On Number Of Americans Rescued Since Last Kabul Flight)
“The U.S. diminished its leverage by withdrawing its forces and may have to yield to the Taliban’s greater leverage on ground,” he said. “That might mean having to bargain for repatriation of Americans in exchange for diplomatic recognition and aid, without any real change in Taliban’s overall behavior.”
The U.S. moved its embassy out of Kabul and is now running all diplomatic operations within Afghanistan from Doha, Qatar, which had been the site of negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban prior to America’s withdrawal.
With no military presence, those who are trying to get out will no longer be able to rely on government-run evacuation flights from Kabul. Some Afghans have reportedly tried to flee over land borders, but those are guarded and controlled by the Taliban in many cases. The only way out via air may be on commercial flights, which are scarce in the war-torn country.
Biden said just two weeks ago that the U.S. wouldn’t leave until every American is out. Now that that promise is broken, the fate of those Americans lies not only with the Taliban, but Pakistan, Rubin said.
“The important thing to remember about the Taliban is that they are not really an indigenous movement; for more than 25 years, they have been a proxy of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service. The ISI is unabashedly anti-American and blames the United States for all sorts of Pakistani ills,” Rubin explained. “If Pakistan can join in as middleman in much the same way that Algeria did in 1981 at the end of the Iran hostage crisis, Pakistani authorities will also expect to receive a substantial bank transfer from Washington.”
“As for the Taliban, they might say one thing while the Americans were in country, but the Biden administration is foolish to believe Taliban promises meant anything other than to sweeten the pill of defeat until the last American forces left the country,” Rubin added.
Believing those Taliban promises may be the only option on the table for Americans trapped behind enemy lines right now.