CHICAGO: The Taliban shared information with the US that a terrorist attack targeting its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was “imminent” and may explain why they were trying to prevent people from fleeing to the evacuation center at Kabul International Airport, US Congresswoman Betty McCollum told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
The chairwoman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee said the Afghan government misled both President Joe Biden and Congress in assuring they would be able to maintain control during a pullout.
Islamic State-Khorasan, founded in 2015 in eastern Afghanistan, is being blamed for what the US Defense Department said were two terrorist attacks.
“Some in the Taliban have been helpful in securing safe passage and protecting those faiths. And it was a shared intelligence, by not only us but what we were hearing from our allies but also from the Taliban that they knew this attack was imminent,” McCollum told Arab News.
“That’s why they were trying to keep American citizens ... and why the Taliban were telling people not to come to the airport. Some of it was their own selfishness wanting to keep Afghans there. Some of it was actually not wanting to have casualties and then being seen that they couldn’t control Kabul.”
McCollum, who has represented Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District since 2000, said initial reports blamed IS-K.
“We will find out who committed these atrocities against those people who were at the airport seeking safety for themselves and their families. The intel that we were hearing about the most is that it was not the Taliban. It was either a rogue group or it was ISIS-K ... The Taliban and ISIS-K do not like each other,” McCollum said. “But, what a show-stopper for ISIS-K, right? They could basically get two things done at once. They could attack the Taliban and they attack the US government and NATO at the same time. But we will know who perpetrated this.”
McCollum expressed concerns about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, initiated by former President Donald Trump, saying not enough attention was paid to the instability and inadequacies of the Afghan government.
“The Trump administration decided, well, maybe it is time that we can figure out a way to pull out of Afghanistan because we were not seeing any meaningful progress. Maybe we could support the status quo. His failure was not including the government of Afghanistan. Many of us spoke out about that. That’s what President Biden inherited. But he also inherited President Trump withdrawing so many troops that we just had a hollow number left going into the fighting season,” McCollum said.
“But what Afghanistan assured President Biden is that they would hold their own. They would slow them down. They would organize. And please, please do not start sending off alarm bells and we would lose our best and brightest to keep this country going, you know, to show no faith in our government. And there was consensus that this might fail, this Afghan government might fail. But there was consensus that it might be six months to a year, some people were saying two years, but at most the intelligence said maybe six months and that would give us time to do something.”
McCollum said she suspected the Taliban were using the US as hostages to provide security around the airport in the face of expected attacks from IS-K.
“But as we saw, the Afghan government fled (from) its own people and, with that, the military laid down its arms for the most part and just walked away,” McCollum said. “And so now, we have people at the airport. And we are basically hostages for the Taliban to provide security around the airport, are we not?”
McCollum said that although the Taliban may have changed, “we are not going to take them at their word.”
She agreed that the decision by former US President George W. Bush, to expand the war against Al-Qaeda to Iraq, had undermined the ability to stabilize Afghanistan and weakened efforts there.
“It was a huge mistake. And that is why many of us not only did we believe there were not weapons of mass destruction, but we knew we would take our eye off of (Afghanistan),” McCollum said, noting that not enough was done to strengthen Afghanistan’s society and infrastructure.
“But once we went into Iraq, NATO forces were pulled there. We were pulled there. That was the big object that everybody ran to, and Afghanistan was just put off to the corner. Unfortunately, when the Bush administration for the eight years they were in charge, they did not do that kind of developmental aid in Afghanistan, and then was not focused on it because they got themselves involved in Iraq.”
The attacks in Kabul forced the White House to delay meetings planned between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
McCollum, who supports a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, has spoken out against Israeli abuses and said the proposed compromise was being undermined by the Israeli government’s actions.
“Human rights and universal rights, and that includes Palestinians and the rights of children, need to be protected. I am hoping that discussion focuses on that, laser focuses on it, that the settlement expansions have to stop and the rights of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens not be given second class citizens,” McCollum said.
“There is a lot on the table but I also am going to keep working on my bill to stop the detention of Palestinian children in military detention facilities and the billions of dollars of aid. We just give cash, actually, to the country of Israel. That (will) have a receipt and an accounting for it so taxpayers’ dollars know that not one dime is going for the destruction of homes and not one penny goes to imprison a child.”
McCollum is the sponsor of legislation that would link Israeli accountability and violent actions against Palestinian children and families to US aid.
“I support a two-state solution but we need to get back to where that becomes a reality and not just a dream. I am watching that dream get smaller and smaller, as people are here at home and all over the world and especially the Palestinians. If we are going to talk about the two-state solution, we have to be firm and honest about what that two-state solution needs to look like, and it is not the status quo for the establishment of settlements.”
McCollum’s full interview will be broadcast Sept. 1 during The Ray Hanania Radio Show, which is on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700. The show is also streamed live at Facebook.com/ArabNews.