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Lindsey Graham, one man PR shop for the Afghan resistance

Many lawmakers and lobbyists have briefed POLITICO on Graham’s efforts, and the senator himself has confirmed his work in his signature freewheeling style. Such independent public relations of a senator from a minority party underscore the precarious status of the debate in Washington on engagement with the Taliban-led government in Kabul. It also shows that, even without Trump in power, the gregarious Graham has a unique ability to influence the political apparatus of the capital.

“I want his voice,” Graham said of Saleh in an interview this week. “I’ll give it my all. [The Taliban are] holding our people hostage. It’s a terrorist group. It is a radical Islamic jihadist group. And if we hold them accountable, it will hurt us all over the world. “

Graham has a partner in his pro-resistance work, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), A former Green Beret with combat experience in Afghanistan who booked Massoud on another Fox News show last week. The Taliban’s rush to cut cellular and internet services in the region thwarted this appearance.

Saleh and Massoud’s struggle to survive in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is grim. Panjshir fell to the Taliban earlier this month, and Saleh, 48, has not heard from him for more than a week, in part because the lines of communication have been all but destroyed. Although resistance forces did not concede defeat, Taliban fighters were reported to execute men of fighting age in Panjshir, including Saleh’s brother, who was shot dead at a Taliban checkpoint. last week.

There is no indication that the Biden administration is ready to help the Panjshir resistance, especially given its shaky status after being overrun by the Taliban.

Throwing U.S. support behind Saleh and Massoud’s forces would mean stepping back into a war that President Joe Biden has made clear he wants to withdraw from – and could risk even more strained relations with the Taliban, with whom the United States. should help facilitate the remaining evacuations. Biden has also made it clear that the Taliban should work to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups seeking to attack the homeland of the United States.

Graham’s critics have long criticized the hawkish senator as a warmonger given his views on Iran and Syria in particular, and his efforts to support anti-Taliban resistance are sure to attract similar blows. But Graham insists that a civil war in Afghanistan is inevitable and that Biden has a “historic opportunity” to side with pro-democracy forces in order to give them the upper hand in a possible political settlement with him. the Taliban.

He and Waltz are also not the only Republicans urging the Biden administration to take a firmer line against the Taliban-controlled Afghan government, as some foreign policy pundits warn that al Qaeda could gain traction. land in the country after the withdrawal of the US military.

Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) led three colleagues in a letter Wednesday asking for the official designation of the Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, which Graham and Waltz have already approved. Senate Intelligence Vice President Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) On Wednesday introduced a bill that would codify this designation.

“If you keep putting all your eggs in the Taliban basket, you are on the losing side over time,” Graham said. “If you start helping different resistance groups then you will actually have some leverage on the Taliban. “

Specifically, Waltz and Graham called on the Biden administration to provide humanitarian aid and satellite phones to Panjshir opposition forces, among other support.

They also worked closely with Ali Nazary, who only recently escaped Afghanistan but serves as Massoud’s official spokesperson. Nazary previously told POLITICO that some lobbying companies have already contacted him to offer their services. Nazary sent an op-ed written by Massoud to the Washington Post last month in which he pleaded for US aid, including arms and ammunition.

Graham had not heard from Saleh for more than a week on Tuesday, and it is still unclear where the Leader of the Opposition is. But he said he had no reason to believe Saleh was dead or fled the country. Massoud, however, is still in Afghanistan, according to two people with direct knowledge of his whereabouts.

Waltz said the couple were indeed in hiding.

“Their goal right now must be to stay alive and keep the resistance alive with them,” Waltz said in an interview.

Alexander Ward and Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.

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