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The Middle East’s Jihadists Are Copying the Taliban Model

7 16 1
21.09.2021

The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has boosted the morale of numerous jihadist groups in the Middle East. But it also offers a political example to emulate—namely, an agenda more focused on local or national—as opposed to global—goals. The U.S. deal with the Taliban and subsequent withdrawal from Afghanistan suggest Washington could learn to reconcile with, and perhaps even rehabilitate, extremist groups that do not claim to be a direct threat. Jihadists in the Middle East have noticed and are hoping to eventually cut similar deals with the Biden administration.

Some analysts feel this new strategy might indeed help the United States cut costs as well as rebalance Middle East power dynamics in its favor. Others fear the links between local jihadist groups and global ones like al Qaeda—whether through direct affiliation, indirect links, or general sympathy—will be impossible to separate. Either way, the United States seems like it might be just as desperate to retreat from the Middle East as it was to pull out of Afghanistan. That makes emulating the Taliban a timely and attractive option for jihadist groups willing to claim to have reformed.

Among those groups is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a Syrian jihadist group affiliated with al Qaeda that currently controls the last rebel-held enclave of Idlib, Syria. It was among the loudest to celebrate the Taliban’s rise to power. On the day the Taliban captured Kabul, HTS dispatched its fighters to distribute sweets in Idlib’s market squares, wave the Taliban’s flag, and chant “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” In a statement, the HTS officially congratulated the Taliban and promised to derive “steadfastness from such living experiences,” with an eye to recruiting more Syrians to continue fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has boosted the morale of numerous jihadist groups in the Middle East. But it also offers a political example to emulate—namely, an agenda more focused on local or national—as opposed to global—goals. The U.S. deal with the Taliban and subsequent withdrawal from Afghanistan suggest Washington could learn to reconcile with, and perhaps even rehabilitate, extremist groups that do not claim to be a direct threat. Jihadists in the Middle East have noticed and are hoping to eventually cut similar deals with the Biden administration.

Some analysts feel this new strategy might........

© Foreign Policy


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