Lindsey Graham, one-man PR shop for the Afghan resistance

Multiple lawmakers and lobbyists tipped POLITICO off to Graham’s efforts, and the senator himself confirmed his work in his attribute free-wheeling fashion. Such freelance PR from a minority-party senator underscores the precarious standing of the debate in Washington about participating with the Taliban-led authorities in Kabul. It additionally exhibits that, even with Trump out of energy, the gregarious Graham has a singular skill to affect the capital’s political equipment.

“I want his voice out,” Graham mentioned of Saleh in an interview this week. “I’m gonna go all in. [The Taliban are] holding our people hostage. They’re a terrorist group. They’re a radical Islamic jihadist group. And if we empower them, it will hurt us all over the world.”

Graham has a associate in his pro-resistance work, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), a former Green Beret with Afghanistan fight expertise who obtained Massoud booked on one other Fox News present final week. The Taliban’s rush to chop off cell and Internet service in the area scuttled that look.

Saleh and Massoud’s battle to outlive in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is a bleak one. Panjshir fell to the Taliban earlier this month, and Saleh, 48, hasn’t been heard from in over every week partly as a result of communication traces have been all however destroyed. While the resistance forces haven’t conceded defeat, there are stories that Taliban fighters are executing fighting-age males in Panjshir — together with Saleh’s brother, who was shot dead at a Taliban checkpoint final week.

There are not any indications that the Biden administration is ready to assist the Panjshir resistance, particularly given its wobbly standing after being overrun by the Taliban.

Throwing U.S. assist behind Saleh and Massoud’s forces would imply wading again right into a battle that President Joe Biden has made clear he desires out of — and will threat much more fraught relations with the Taliban, with whom the U.S. wants to assist facilitate remaining evacuations. Biden has additionally made clear that the Taliban ought to work to stop the nation from as soon as once more turning into a protected haven for terrorist teams in search of to assault the U.S. homeland.

Graham’s critics have lengthy slammed the hawkish senator as a warmonger given his views on Iran and Syria particularly, and his efforts to again the anti-Taliban resistance are sure to immediate comparable jabs. But Graham insists {that a} civil battle in Afghanistan is inevitable, and that Biden has a “historic opportunity” to aspect with pro-democracy forces to be able to give them an higher hand as a part of an eventual political settlement with the Taliban.

He and Waltz are additionally not alone amongst Republicans in urging the Biden administration to take a stronger line towards Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled authorities as intelligence officers warn that al-Qaeda may acquire floor in the nation following the U.S. navy’s withdrawal.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) led three colleagues on a Wednesday letter urgent for the Taliban’s formal designation as a overseas terrorist group by the State Department, which Graham and Waltz have already endorsed. Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) launched a invoice Wednesday that may codify that designation.

“If you continue to put all your eggs in the Taliban basket, you’re on the losing side over time,” Graham mentioned. “If you start helping different resistance groups, then you’ll actually have some leverage with the Taliban.”

Specifically, Waltz and Graham have referred to as on the Biden administration to offer humanitarian help and satellite tv for pc telephones to the Panjshir opposition forces, amongst different assist.

They have additionally labored carefully with Ali Nazary, who solely lately escaped Afghanistan however serves as Massoud’s official spokesperson. Nazary beforehand told POLITICO that some lobbying companies have already reached out to him in search of to supply their providers. Nazary despatched a Massoud-authored op-ed to The Washington Post final month during which he pleaded for help from the U.S., together with weapons and ammunition.

As of Tuesday, Graham hadn’t heard from Saleh in over every week, and the opposition chief’s whereabouts stay unknown. But he mentioned he has no cause to imagine that Saleh is lifeless or has fled the nation. Massoud, although, continues to be in Afghanistan, in keeping with two folks with direct data of his whereabouts.

Waltz mentioned the pair is successfully in hiding.

“Their goal right now needs to be to remain alive and to keep the resistance alive with them,” Waltz mentioned in an interview.

Alexander Ward and Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.

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