Taliban takeover raises fears of al-Qaida resurgence | World news

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By ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – Lightning-quick changes in Afghanistan are forcing the Biden administration to face the prospect of a resurgence of Al-Qaeda, the group that attacked America on September 11, 2001, at the time where the United States is trying to stem violent extremism at home and cyber attacks from Russia and China.

With the rapid withdrawal of US forces and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, “I think al-Qaida has an opportunity, and they are going to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Chris Costa, who was senior director of anti-war. terrorism in the Trump administration.

“It is a galvanizing event for jihadists around the world. “

Al-Qaida’s ranks have been drastically reduced by 20 years of war in Afghanistan, and it is far from clear that the group has the capacity in the near future to carry out catastrophic attacks against America such as the airstrikes. September 11, especially given how the United States has grown stronger over the past two decades through surveillance and other protective measures.

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But a June report from the UN Security Council said the group’s top leaders remained in Afghanistan, along with hundreds of armed agents. He noted that the Taliban, which housed al-Qaida fighters before the September 11 attacks, “remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and mixed marriages.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby admitted on Friday that Al-Qaida remained a presence in Afghanistan, although it is difficult to quantify it due to a reduced intelligence gathering capacity in the country and “because that it’s not like they’re carrying ID cards and registering somewhere ”.

Even inside the country, al-Qaida and the Taliban are just two of the pressing concerns over terrorism, as evidenced by unease over the potential for attacks by ISIS on Americans in Afghanistan which, in the over the weekend, forced the US military to develop new means of evacuation at Kabul airport. The Taliban and IS have fought in the past, but concern now is that Afghanistan could once again be a safe haven for multiple extremists bent on attacking the United States or other countries.

President Joe Biden has spoken repeatedly of what he calls a “capability on the horizon” that he says will allow the United States to monitor terrorist threats from afar. His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters Monday that Biden has made it clear that counterterrorism capabilities have evolved to the point where the threat can be suppressed without a strong presence on the ground. He said the intelligence community does not believe Al-Qaida currently has the capacity to attack the United States.

The United States also predicts that tighter airport screening and more sophisticated surveillance may be more effective than 20 years ago in thwarting an attack. But experts fear that the intelligence-gathering capabilities needed as an early warning system against an attack will be negatively affected by the troop withdrawal.

An additional complication is the sheer volume of pressing national security threats that overshadow what the US government faced prior to the 9/11 attacks. These include sophisticated cyber operations from China and Russia that can cripple critical infrastructure or steal sensitive secrets, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and a rising national terrorist threat exposed by the Jan.6 insurgency on Capitol Hill.

FBI Director Chris Wray described the local threat as “metastatic,” with the number of arrests of white supremacists and racially motivated extremists having nearly tripled since his first year on the job.

“My concern is that you can’t compare 2001 to today,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. There is a “much larger and better organized bureaucracy,” he said, but it is loaded with demands that are not specifically related to terrorism.

Hoffman said that while he did not believe that Al-Qaida would be able to quickly use Afghanistan as a launching pad for attacks against the United States, he could reestablish “its coordination function” in the region to work with and encourage strikes by its affiliates. – a patient strategy which can still be justified.

“Terrorist groups don’t follow train or flight schedules,” Hoffman said. “They do things when it suits them and, as al-Qaida did, they quietly lay the foundation in the hope that that foundation will eventually affect or determine their success.”

The concern is high enough that officials in the Biden administration told Congress last week that, based on developments, they now believe terrorist groups like al-Qaida could grow a lot. faster than expected. In June, top Pentagon leaders said an extremist group like al-Qaida may be able to regenerate in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the American homeland within two years of the U.S. military withdrawing.

The September 11 attacks made Al-Qaida the most internationally recognized terrorist group, but in the last decade or so, the most powerful threat inside the United States has come from individuals inspired by Islamic State, resulting in deadly massacres like those in San Bernardino, California and Orlando.

But al-Qaida has barely disappeared. U.S. authorities alleged last year that a Saudi gunman who killed three U.S. sailors at a military base in Florida in 2019 communicated with Al-Qaida operatives about the planning and tactics. Last December, the Justice Department accused a Kenyan of attempting to stage a September 11-type attack on the United States on behalf of the al-Shabab terrorist organization, which is linked to al-Qaida.

Now it is possible that other extremists will find themselves inspired by al-Qaida, even if they are not led by it.

“Until recently, I would have said that the threat from the Al-Qaida core is quite modest. They had no refuge in Afghanistan, their senior leaders were scattered, “said Nathan Sales, former counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department.

But, now that the Taliban has regained control, “all of that could change and could change very quickly.”

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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