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National security officials warn of renewed terrorism threat from Afghanistan following Taliban takeover
Are you concerned about the reemergence of al Qaeda and/or other terror groups in Afghanistan?
By Eric Revell, Countable News
What’s the story?
- The U.S. is nearing the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 people and which were coordinated by al Qaeda from bases in Afghanistan and enabled by the Taliban, and with the Taliban’s stunning return to power over the last week, national security officials are expressing concern that a renewed terror threat may emerge from the country.
- Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told Politico on Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has informed members of Congress that the U.S. will need to reassess the ability of terror groups like al Qaeda and ISIS to reconstitute themselves in Afghanistan, where the military is currently conducting an airlift evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made similar comments to lawmakers according to the Associated Press.
- After President Joe Biden announced in April that his administration will withdraw U.S. forces by September 11th (later moved up to August 31st), Austin and Milley in June told senators in a hearing that it would take “possibly two years” for al Qaeda or ISIS to regenerate in Afghanistan after the departure of American forces. Those estimates were likely premised on the continued existence of the Afghan national government and its security forces, which have largely been routed by the Taliban.
- In its annual worldwide threat assessment released in April, the Intelligence Community (IC) warned that “the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support” and the “Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory.” That stands in stark contrast to President Joe Biden’s remarks on July 8th that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” Further, the IC’s assessment noted that al Qaeda “will exploit local conflicts and ungoverned spaces to threaten US and Western interests”.
- The speed with which the Taliban toppled the Afghan government has heightened concerns about a resurgence of terror groups in Afghanistan. Those concerns have risen after thousands of Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS terrorists who had been held in Afghan prisons were released by the Taliban after they defeated security forces, videos of which spread widely on social media in the past week.
- Concerns about those now ex-prisoners returning to terrorism are likely to be reinforced by the role played by previously imprisoned Taliban leaders in their group’s rout of the Afghan government and have since returned to Afghanistan.
- Khairullah Khairkhwa, who was arrested in 2002 during the U.S. response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and held at Guantanamo Bay as an alleged close associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was one of the “Taliban Five” released by the Obama administration in 2014 as part of a prisoner swap deal to secure the return of Bowe Bergdahl (who later pleaded guilty to deserting his Army unit in Afghanistan). He has been part of the Taliban’s negotiating team in peace talks and has reportedly played a leading role in the group’s strategy to regain control of Afghanistan.
- Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a cofounder of the Taliban movement with Mullah Mohammed Omar, was imprisoned from 2010 to 2018 in Pakistan and released by that government at the urging of the Trump administration, which was seeking a peace deal with the Taliban. Baradar also played a leading role in the Taliban’s negotiating team in Qatar and, like Khairkhwa, has returned to Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover.
- Mohammad Fazl, also a member of the “Taliban Five'' released from Guantanamo Bay in 2014, was a frontline commander for the Taliban and worked as the group’s deputy defense minister. He is accused of playing a key role in several massacres and summary executions of Afghan civilians in the 1999 to 2001 period.
(Photo Credit: newsonline via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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