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Taliban takeover raises concerns about a resurgent al Qaida

Biden’s administration is now faced with the possibility of an al-Qaida resurgent, the same group that attacked America September 11, 2001. The US is also trying to stop violent extremism in the home, as well as cyberattacks by Russia and China.

Chris Costa, who was the senior director for counterterrorism under the Trump administration, stated that al-Qaida now has an opportunity because of the rapid withdrawal of US troops and the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan.

“This is a powerful event for all jihadists.”

Al-Qaida ranks have been reduced by the 20-year-old war in Afghanistan. It’s not clear that they will be able to strike at America like the 9/11 attacks. This is especially considering how well-defended the US has been over the past 20 years with surveillance and other protective measures.

The UN Security Council’s June report stated that the Taliban’s senior leadership and hundreds of armed agents remain inside Afghanistan. The UN Security Council noted that Taliban were the ones who shelter al-Qaida fighters prior to the September 11 attacks. It said that they “remain close, on friendship, a shared struggle, ideological sympathy, and intermarriage.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged Friday that al-Qaida remains a presence in Afghanistan, though quantifying it is hard because of a reduced intelligence-gathering capability in the country and “because it’s not like they carry identification cards and register somewhere”.

Al-Qaida, Taliban and other terrorists are only two of the most urgent terrorism concerns within the country.

Although the Taliban and IS have been at war in the past, there is concern that Afghanistan could be used as a safe harbor for extremists who want to attack the US and other countries.

President Joe Biden repeatedly spoke of an “over the horizon capability”, which he claims will allow the US to track terrorist threats from far away.

Jake Sullivan, his national security advisor, said Monday that Biden had made it clear that counterterrorism capabilities are now capable of being suppressed with a strong presence on the ground. According to him, the intelligence community doesn’t believe al-Qaida has the ability to attack the US.

It is possible that the US anticipates that enhanced airport screening and sophisticated surveillance will be more effective in stopping an attack than they were 20 years ago. But experts worry that intelligence-gathering capabilities needed as an early-warning system against an attack will be negatively affected by the troop withdrawal.

The sheer number of national security threats facing the US is a further problem. They are far more than the ones the US faced before September 11th. These cyber attacks include sophisticated cyber operations by Russia and China that can destroy critical infrastructure or steal sensitive secrets.

Chris Wray, FBI Director, has described this home-grown threat to be “metastasizing”.

Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University terrorism expert, said that “My concern is that it’s impossible to compare 2001 with today.” He said that there is a “much larger and more organized bureaucracy” but it is burdened by demands that are not directly tied to terrorism.

Hoffman stated that, although he doubted that al-Qaida could use Afghanistan quickly as a launchpad to attack the US, it might re-establish its “coordinating function” in the area to encourage strikes by its affiliates. This patient strategy may still be valid.

Hoffman stated that terrorist groups don’t follow flight or train schedules. Hoffman said, “They do what suits them, and, like al-Qaida, they quietly lay foundations in the hopes that this foundation will eventually influence or determine their success.”

This concern is so strong that officials from the Biden administration told Congress last week that they believe that terror groups such as al-Qaida could grow faster than anticipated based on the changing situation.

Al-Qaida was made the most well-known terrorist group after the Sept. 11 attacks. However, individuals inspired by Islamic State have been the most dangerous threat to the US for the past decade. This has led to deadly massacres such as those in San Bernardino, California and Orlando.

Al-Qaida was not gone. The US authorities claimed last year that the Saudi gunman responsible for killing three US sailors in Florida’s military base in 2019 had spoken with al-Qaida operatives regarding tactics and planning. The Justice Department indicted a Kenyan man for plotting a terrorist attack similar to 9/11 on the U.S. last December.

It is possible for other extremists to be inspired by al Qaida, even though they may not be directed by it.

“Until recently, I would say that the threat from al Qaida core was pretty small.” They didn’t have safe harbor in Afghanistan and their senior leadership was scattered,” Nathan Sales, an ex-coordinator for counterterrorism at The State Department, said.

However, with the Taliban now in control, “all that could change” and it could happen very quickly.

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