Quite a bombshell. Unless I missed a story somewhere, this is the first the public is hearing about this. Chris Wallace must have missed that story too because he does a double take when Mike McCaul mentions it.
Six planes with Americans aboard, cleared for arrival by the State Department — but unable to take off from Mazar-i-Sharif because the Taliban wants to use them for leverage. Sounds like a hostage crisis to me.
Leverage for what, though? McCaul has thoughts on that too but it’s unclear if he’s speculating or if the Taliban have made an explicit demand. Watch, then read on:
Did he spill the beans on something that was supposed to stay secret? It’s strange that he scooped the entirety of American media on a story this big, which makes me wonder if reporters have gotten wind of it but been asked by the White House not to reveal it (yet) for fear that it might complicate the negotiations to get everyone out safely. And further tank Joe Biden’s already tanking job approval, of course.
McCaul thinks the Taliban wants America to recognize them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. No doubt, as that would help them address their most urgent concern. They need money. Lots of it.
The Taliban won the war in Afghanistan, and an economic crisis may be their prize. They have been cut off from the international banking system and from the country’s previous funding sources, like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United States government. Foreign aid makes up nearly half of economic output…
[T]he central bank can’t access its reserves held abroad, and basic financial life in Afghanistan has gone awry. The price of flour has jumped more than 10 percent over the past week, while sugar and eggs are roughly one-fifth higher, said Mr. Mehrabi, citing data from the central bank.
Under the Taliban and its new central bank governor, the country’s 12 state-owned and commercial banks were ordered to open their doors on Sunday. Since then, lines of people waiting to withdraw money snake around corners, interrupted only by side streets and driveways. Limits have been placed on how much each person is allowed to withdraw.
Sounds like the situation at the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif is essentially an old-fashioned ransom situation: Unfreeze our bank’s reserves and your people can leave. But if the goal is to seek official recognition and establish diplomatic relations, taking hostages is an … unusual way to build those good relations. Imagine Biden trying to sell that decision to the American public. “They threatened to slaughter our people so we had no choice but to give them our diplomatic seal of approval.” It would be an even more embarrassing capitulation than leaving Americans behind in Afghanistan was in the first place.
Not that I’d put it past him. In fact, I wonder if one of the reasons the administration has kept this standoff in Mazar-i-Sharif quiet is because Team Biden wants formal relations with the Taliban too and fears that the brinksmanship involved in this hostage stunt may make that impossible. The White House wants to be able to keep tabs on terrorist activity in Afghanistan and will have difficulty doing that from “over the horizon.” A few days ago Mark Milley even raised the surreal scenario of the U.S. coordinating with the Taliban on counterterrorism operations. Americans might be willing to stomach a rapprochement with the Taliban for reasons of simple self-interest, to prevent a new 9/11.
But if the public finds out that American citizens are being held hostage and used as bargaining chips by our new “partners,” they’ll be justly outraged and their resolve to not cooperate with the new jihadist regime will harden. And now, thanks to McCaul, they have found out.
As I’m writing this, news is breaking that confirms McCaul’s allegations:
An email from the State Department to members of congress — and viewed by CBS — acknowledged that charter flights are still on the ground at the Mazar-i-Sharif airstrip and have permission to land in Doha “if and when the Taliban agrees to takeoff. 2/
The group Ascend, an NGO that teaches young women leadership through athletics, told CBS News they have two planes that have been waiting for six days ready to take between 600 and 1200 people — including 19 American citizens and two permanent residents. 4/
The State Department advised members of congress to tell groups seeking to evacuate out of Mazar-i-Sharif that the US does not have personnel on the ground in that location and does not control the airspace. 6/
Congressional and NGO sources say here are at least two physical plans on the ground and six more with approved clearance. The obstacle is the Taliban — which controls the airport and is not letting people board or the planes take off.
Evidently State decided it was finally time to loop Congress in, if only to have members help put the word out to people on the ground there not to try to leave from Mazar-i-Sharif. Nineteen Americans and many hundreds of refugees, essentially held for ransom: How can we have formal relations with these people?