Leverage Lost: U.S. Dangles Aid to Prevent Taliban Attack on Embassy in Kabul

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The Biden administration is dangling the possibility of U.S. aid to a potential future Taliban-controlled government of Afghanistan, in a last-ditch bid to prevent an assault on its embassy in Kabul.

The situation in the country is in free fall. Since the start of a blitz last week, Taliban fighters have now taken eleven provincial capitals, as U.S. efforts to negotiate a political solution and a desperate plea to the group to negotiate a power-sharing agreement founder. The deadline for the completion of the U.S. withdrawal is August 31, and the White House and Pentagon have demonstrated little interest in significantly higher levels of air strikes to stop the Taliban’s advance.

Washington is now placing its hopes in a diplomatic push, one feature of which is to convince the Taliban not to attack the U.S. embassy in Kabul, if the Afghan capital falls, the New York Times reported today.

As the Times reports, part of this push includes preventing a Taliban assault on the U.S. embassy by saying that keeping it open is the only way a government the group runs can possibly receive future financial assistance from Washington.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s Afghanistan envoy and a veteran of the Bush and Trump administrations, has spearheaded the U.S. diplomatic effort.

Earlier this week, as Khalilzad traveled to Doha to meet Taliban negotiators, he and other administration officials faced criticism for saying that the Taliban would fail to gain international legitimacy if it came to power by force.

The most recent iteration of that argument came from within the walls of the Kabul embassy. “The Taliban’s statements in Doha do not resemble their actions in Badakhstan, Ghazni, Helmand & Kandahar,” wrote Ross Wilson, a top U.S. official there, on Twitter today.

For now, though, U.S. diplomats will remain in the country, as Khalilzad and the administration attempt to sway the Taliban.

“We are withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, but we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan,” the State Department told the Times in a statement, saying there are no plans to evacuate the embassy.

Given how far things have fallen, the administration’s line about international legitimacy is almost certain to fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately, the outcomes of this withdrawal demonstrate the logical end of a foreign policy based largely on appeals to international legitimacy backed by little else.