Editor’s note: this interview was recorded before the two explosions in Kabul on Thursday, including one near the airport. An Islamic State affiliate says it was behind the attacks.
The American evacuation of citizens and allies out of Afghanistan has become chaotic in recent weeks, after the Taliban swiftly took control of the country in the wake of an American troop withdrawal.
Aaron O’Connell, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says the days leading up to the Aug. 31 deadline are crucial ones for the U.S. military to get right, as thousands of American citizens, citizens of NATO countries and Afghans who worked with the U.S. government scramble to leave the country.
O’Connell, who is also a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, served as a special advisor to Gen. David Petraeus in Afghanistan and served in the Obama administration as director for Defense Policy and Strategy on the National Security Council.
He says as counterintuitive as it might sound, the United States needs to continue cooperating with the Taliban in order to evacuate as many people as possible.
“If they stop allowing the safe passage of our people and our allies, then it will be incredibly dangerous,” O’Connell said. “And that’s what we’re now expecting could occur after next Tuesday, on the 31st deadline.”
It’s a tenuous arrangement originally brokered between former President Donald Trump and Taliban leaders when Trump was in office. That plan, O’Connell says, did not include what would happen in Afghanistan after troop withdrawal, which is why there is so much chaos right now.
“[Trump] made very clear, over a year ago, that he just didn’t care what happened once American troops were out. And that gave the Taliban a lot of time and political space to convince various Afghan warlords and political leaders that they should flip. And that explains why the country collapsed so quickly,” O’Connell said.
Now, he says President Biden has to continue with that plan or risk the lives of Americans and our allies.
“Once Kabul came under threat and all the major cities folded, President Biden … realized that there’s no way to get the thousands of American citizens out, and indeed the tens of thousands of Afghan partners and allies, unless he more or less continued President Trump’s plan,” O’Connell said.