The double attack on Thursday shows that the Taliban, theoretically the new masters of Afghanistan, do not control rival groups and that the United States has no other choice than to continue its fight against terrorism.
It was the worst-case scenario; even if they were able to predict it, the United States was powerless to prevent it. For several days, Washington issued warnings on the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the vicinity of the airport in Kabul.
On Thursday, Aug. 26, that threat became a reality when two bombs exploded on the outskirts of the Kabul airport, where Afghans looking to leave the country were still gathered, killing at least 85, including 13 American service members. The Afghan branch of Islamic State immediately claimed responsibility for the double attack.
Already marred by the deaths of several Afghan civilians in a crush of people, the withdrawal from Kabul is veering toward disaster. The United States and its allies can nevertheless boast having evacuated, by means of airlifts, more than 100,000 people in 10 days, an amazing achievement in particularly difficult conditions. President Joe Biden assured on Thursday that the operation would continue until Aug. 31. But beyond the human tragedy, the terrorist attacks have grave implications for Washington and its allies.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” The vengeance promised by a visibly shaken Biden from the White House means that, if it had hoped to definitively turn the page on its involvement in the region, the United States is not, in reality, done with the fight against Islamist terrorism.
With the approach of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which triggered the American intervention in Afghanistan the following month, American forces find themselves under fire from a branch of al-Qaida, the terrorist group they succeeded in driving from their Afghan sanctuary.
By invoking the “metastasis” of Islamist terrorism, Biden implicitly recognized the American failure to defeat this cancer. After combating al-Qaida, the United States and its allies took on the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria and the Sahel. Present in Africa, the metastasis has also reached Asia.
Another lesson from the double attack in Kabul is that the Taliban, theoretically the new masters of Afghanistan, do not control these terrorist groups. Under the terms of the Doha Agreement, signed in February 2020 with the Trump administration and to a large extent at the root of the current chaos, the Taliban committed to no attacks on coalition troops until their complete withdrawal. But they were not able to prevent rival groups from carrying them out.
The fight against the Islamic State group has even led to a paradoxical cooperation between the Taliban and the Americans in recent days in an attempt to secure the airport, a “common goal” according to an American military official.
The tragedy at the airport in Kabul is a reminder of other painful American failures, like the failed attempt to free hostages in Iran in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter, or the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.
The inventory of errors committed over the last 20 years has begun and it is necessary. But while the United States may want to retreat, it has no other choice than to continue its fight against terrorism. Jihadism is global today, and America and its allies remain prime targets.