Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the only remaining pretence of a government left is the Taliban. But ever since its hasty exist in August, the US has been careful not to define the group as an ally in defeating terrorism, the head of US Special Operations Command said.
“I don't see them as a partner — I'll just be frank,” Army Gen Richard Clarke, commander of US Special Operations Command, said on Friday at the annual Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada.
“I think we have an interest from the US perspective that the ISIS threat that is in Afghanistan is disrupted, that it can't roost. That doesn't mean that the US or its allies are without recourse should threats in Afghanistan arise that could harm the US homeland or that of allies,” Gen Clarke said.
Gen Clarke's remarks were made before the State Department's announcement that talks with the hardline group would resume in Qatar next week.
The delegation to the planned two weeks of discussions will be led by Tom West, the US special representative for Afghanistan, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday.
After 20 years of conflict and occupation, the US is banking heavily on alliances it has formed with allied nations that they are still counting on for intelligence gathering.
“We built up amazing counter-terrorism capabilities over the last 20 years,” Gen Clarke said.
“Some … can still be used in Afghanistan today.”
To be effective, the working relationships the US has established with Afghans still remaining in Afghanistan must continue, he added.
“The most important thing for us in Afghanistan is to ensure we understand the intel picture of where ISIS-K that exists there today actually is, and if it becomes such a threat that it could come back to the United States or could come to one of our allies and partners — we've built up capability,” he said, referring to ISIS-Khorasan Province, the terror group's affiliate in Afghanistan.
“We can go to where the enemy is. We've proven that time and time again with the counter-terrorism forces that all of us have built up.”
The general also said the US special operations community has realised that it cannot always be the answer — that others must also be part of solutions, especially since there are no longer boots on the ground.
Finding those capable of such a task, however, could prove difficult.
“What we have to do is work with allies, and particularly indigenous partners from that region, to actually defeat that threat and try to contain it inside their borders, so that it doesn't, in fact, grow,” he said.
“So, we have gone to a more sustainable approach to the [counter violent extremist organisation] approach.”