WASHINGTON – US intelligence companies have come to a brand new intelligence evaluation that Al Qaeda has not rebuilt its presence in Afghanistan for the reason that US withdrawal final August, and that solely a small fraction of Qaeda members for a have remained in place for a very long time.
The terrorist group doesn’t have the aptitude to hold out assaults from the nation towards the US, the evaluation stated. As a substitute, he stated, Al Qaeda will rely, a minimum of for now, on plenty of loyal members exterior the area to hold out potential terrorist plots towards the West.
However some counterterrorism analysts stated the spy company rulings represented an optimistic view of a posh and fast-moving terrorist panorama. The evaluation, a declassified abstract of which was offered to The New York Occasions, represents the consensus views of US intelligence companies.
“The evaluation is basically correct, however it is usually essentially the most optimistic view of a menace image that’s nonetheless fairly fluid,” stated Edmund Fitton-Brown, a former senior UN counter-terrorism official.
The evaluation was ready after Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s high chief, was killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul final month. The loss of life of al-Zawahri, one of many world’s most needed terrorist leaders, after a decades-long manhunt was a serious victory for President Biden, but it surely raised fast questions on al-Zawahri’s presence in Afghanistan a 12 months after Mr. Biden withdrew all US forces, paving the best way for the Taliban to regain management of the nation.
Republicans have stated the president’s withdrawal has endangered the US. That the al Qaeda chief felt secure sufficient to return to the Afghan capital, they argue, was an indication of a failed coverage that they predicted would permit al Qaeda to rebuild coaching camps and plot assaults regardless of the Taliban’s promise to disclaim the group secure haven. . final october, a senior Pentagon official stated al Qaeda could possibly regroup in Afghanistan and assault the US in a single to 2 years.
Administration officers have pushed again on the most recent criticism, pointing to a pledge Mr. Biden made when he introduced al-Zawahri’s loss of life.
“As President Biden has stated, we are going to proceed to be vigilant, together with our companions, to guard our nation and make sure that Afghanistan by no means once more turns into a secure haven for terrorism,” Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman of the White Home Nationwide Safety Council. stated in an e-mail on Saturday.
Nevertheless, some exterior counterterrorism consultants noticed the brand new intelligence evaluation as overly hopeful.
or The UN report warned this spring that Al Qaeda had discovered “elevated freedom of motion” in Afghanistan for the reason that Taliban took energy. The report famous that plenty of Qaeda leaders could also be residing in Kabul and that elevated public statements by al-Zawahri prompt he was in a position to lead extra successfully after the Taliban took energy.
“This looks like a very rosy evaluation to the purpose of being a bit myopic,” Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst on the Soufan Group, a New York-based safety consulting agency, stated of the intelligence evaluation. I added that the abstract stated “little about Al Qaeda’s long-term prospects.”
Al-Zawahri’s loss of life has as soon as once more put Al Qaeda within the highlight, which after the loss of life of Osama bin Laden in 2011 has been largely overshadowed by a brand new rival, the Islamic State. Many terrorism analysts stated Saif al-Adel, a senior Qaeda chief needed by the FBI within the bombings of two United States embassies in East Africa in 1998, was more likely to succeed al-Zawahri. He’s believed to be residing in Iran.
“Basically, I discover the IC’s evaluation compelling,” stated Daniel Byman, a professor at Georgetown College, referring to the US intelligence neighborhood and its new evaluation of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Mr. Byman has expressed skepticism in the past circle a revived Qaeda threat.
However different counterterrorism consultants disagreed. One level of competition included claims within the intelligence briefing that al Qaeda had not rebuilt its menace community in Afghanistan and that al-Zawahri was the one main determine who sought to revive al Qaeda’s presence within the nation when he and his household have been settled in Kabul this 12 months. 12 months.
“Zawahri was al Qaeda’s chief, so defending him from the Taliban whereas he gave extra energetic steering to the group was itself reconstruction,” Asfandyar Mir, a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace, wrote in an e-mail. .
“This method fails to account for the Al Qaeda group at the moment and the truth that even a small variety of key leaders can use Afghanistan to politically direct the group’s community of associates,” Mr. Good. “Al Qaeda doesn’t want giant coaching camps to be harmful.”
Some counterterrorism consultants additionally disputed authorities analysts’ judgment that fewer than a dozen members of Qaeda with lengthy ties to the group are in Afghanistan, and that almost all of these members doubtless have been there earlier than the autumn of the Afghan authorities final summer season. .
“Their variety of al Qaeda energetic and robust in AfPak is unnecessary,” stated Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism scholar on the Council on Overseas Relations, referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “At the least three dozen senior Qaeda commanders have been launched from Afghan prisons a 12 months in the past. I extremely doubt that they’ve returned to agriculture or accounting as their occupation after jail”.
Mr Hoffman stated operatives of Qaeda or their associates had been given important administrative duties in a minimum of eight Afghan provinces. He prompt the timing of the federal government’s evaluation was “to divert consideration from the disastrous penalties of final 12 months’s shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan”.
The intelligence briefing additionally stated that members of Qaeda’s affiliate in Afghanistan, previously often called Al Qaeda within the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, have been largely inactive and centered totally on actions corresponding to media manufacturing.
However a UN report in July estimated that the al Qaeda affiliate had between 180 and 400 fighters – “primarily from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Pakistan” – who have been in a number of Taliban preventing models.
“We all know from plenty of sources that AQIS took half within the Taliban insurgency towards the US in addition to operations towards ISIS-Ok,” Mr Mir stated, referring to the Afghanistan department of Islamic State, a fierce rival of Al Kaede.
There was broad settlement on a minimum of two key factors within the intelligence briefing, together with that Al Qaeda doesn’t but have the aptitude to assault the US or American pursuits on board from Afghan soil.
UN report in July agreed with that judgmentexplaining that Al Qaeda “isn’t considered as an instantaneous worldwide menace from its secure haven in Afghanistan as a result of it lacks an exterior operational functionality and doesn’t at present want to trigger the Taliban worldwide issue or embarrassment.”
And authorities analysts in addition to exterior terrorism consultants agreed that Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, within the quick time period, is more likely to name upon plenty of members exterior the area to hold out plots.
None of those members pose the identical type of menace to the American homeland that al Qaeda did in September. 11, 2001. However they’re lethal and resilient. Qaeda’s East African affiliate killed three Individuals at a US base in Kenya in 2020. A Saudi Air Power officer coaching in Florida killed three sailors and injured eight others in 2019. The officer acted alone however was involved with al-Qaeda’s department in Yemen as he finalized his assault plans.