National Security Council coordinator John Kirby was peppered with questions Tuesday over how the Biden administration will respond to the Taliban violating the Doha Agreement.
What is the background?
The United States carried out a successful counterterrorism strike against the leader of al Qaeda over the weekend, killing Ayman al-Zawahiri.
American operators were successful partly because al-Zawahiri was “hiding” in plain sight in a wealthy Kabul neighborhood, thus underscoring the type of impunity the Taliban have extended to al Qaeda after the fall of Afghanistan last year.
The close relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda violates the Doha Agreement, a peace treaty negotiated under former President Donald Trump between the U.S. and the Taliban. Specifically, the agreement bars the Taliban from allowing al Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan, a provision the Taliban have clearly violated.
What happened with Kirby?
With the Taliban in clear violation of the Doha Agreement — a reality Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged — reporters from multiple media outlets grilled Kirby over how exactly the Biden administration will respond.
“What will the repercussions be for the Taliban harboring al-Zawahiri?” ABC News chief White House correspondent Cecilia Vega asked.
“I’m not going to telegraph moves and decisions that we might make,” Kirby responded. “I’m certainly not going to get ahead of anything at this point.”
Kirby, however, disclosed that U.S. leaders have spoken with Taliban leaders for harboring al-Zawahiri, which he admitted is a clear violation of the Doha Agreement.
But when NBC News chief White House correspondent Peter Alexander pressed Kirby on whether the Biden administration would hold accountable the Taliban, Kirby obfuscated, saying only that he will not “telegraph punches” and the Taliban know the U.S. is aware they violated the Doha Agreement.
Kirby even suggested the Taliban might shape up because they want legitimization from Western powers.
08/02/22: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and John Kirby
Then Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy ratcheted up the pressure.
“You guys gave a whole country to a bunch of people that are on the FBI Most Wanted list. What did you think was going to happen?” Doocy pressed.
Kirby responded by saying he takes “issue with the premise that we gave a whole country to terrorist groups.”
“The Taliban was harboring the world’s number-one terrorist. How is that not giving a country to a terrorist-sympathizing group, if not giving them permission to have terrorists just sit on a balcony?” Doocy pressed.
Engaging in circular reasoning, Kirby then told Doocy the strike against al-Zawahiri is proof the U.S. is not idly permitting the Taliban to harbor al Qaeda terrorists. And in the end, Kirby praised Biden.
“I would go so far as to say not only the American people are safer as a result of President Biden’s decision, but the rest of the world is safer,” Kirby said.
Other reporters asked Kirby similar questions about the Taliban and their violations of the Doha Agreement, but he never offered substantive answers.
Kirby said violations of the agreement will “lead to consequences not just from the United States, but from the international community” — but he never said what any of those consequences would be.