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The US says that al-Qaeda has regrouped in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — U.S. spy companies have concluded in a brand new intelligence evaluation that al Qaeda has not renewed its presence in Afghanistan for the reason that U.S. withdrawal final August, and that solely a handful of longtime members stay within the nation.

The terrorist group shouldn’t be able to launching assaults from the bottom towards the USA, the evaluation mentioned. As a substitute, al-Qaeda will rely, not less than for now, on numerous loyal associates exterior the area to hold out potential terrorist plots towards the West.

However a number of counterterrorism analysts mentioned the spy company rulings paint an optimistic image of the advanced and quickly altering terrorist panorama. The evaluation, a declassified abstract of which was offered to The New York Instances, represents the consensus views of US intelligence companies.

“The evaluation is broadly correct, but it surely’s additionally essentially the most optimistic view of the menace image, which remains to be fairly fluid,” mentioned Edmund Fitton-Brown, the previous high 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 dying of al-Zawahri, one of many world’s most needed terrorist leaders, after a decades-long manhunt was a significant victory for President Biden, but it surely instantly raised questions on al-Zawahri’s presence in Afghanistan a 12 months after Mr. Biden withdrew all US forces, clearing the best way for the Taliban to regain management of the nation.

Republicans mentioned the president’s withdrawal put the USA in danger. That the al Qaeda chief felt secure sufficient to return to the Afghan capital, they mentioned, was an indication of a failed coverage they predicted would enable al Qaeda to rebuild coaching camps and plan assaults regardless of the Taliban’s pledge to disclaim the group a secure haven . . final October high Pentagon official he mentioned al Qaeda might regroup in Afghanistan and assault the USA inside one to 2 years.

Administration officers disregarded the newest criticism, noting the dedication Biden made when he introduced al-Zawahri’s dying.

“As President Biden has mentioned, we’ll proceed to be vigilant, together with our companions, to defend our nation and be certain that Afghanistan by no means once more turns into a secure haven for terrorism,” Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the White Home Nationwide Safety Council. he mentioned in an e-mail on Saturday.

Nonetheless, some exterior counterterrorism specialists thought-about the brand new intelligence evaluation too hopeful.

AND A UN report warned this spring that al-Qaeda has discovered “elevated freedom of motion” in Afghanistan for the reason that Taliban took energy. The report mentioned that numerous Qaeda leaders could also be residing in Kabul and that a rise in al-Zawahri’s public statements means that he has been in a position to lead extra successfully for the reason that Taliban took energy.

“This seems to be a very rosy evaluation to the purpose of being barely short-sighted,” Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst on the Soufan Group, a New York-based safety consulting agency, mentioned of the intelligence evaluation. He added that the abstract mentioned “little about al Qaeda’s long-term prospects.”

Al-Zawahri’s dying has put a renewed highlight on al-Qaeda, which was largely overshadowed by an upstart rival, the Islamic State, after the dying of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Many terrorism analysts have mentioned so Saif al-Adel, a senior Qaeda chief needed by the FBI within the 1998 bombings of two United States embassies in East Africa, is more likely to change al-Zawahri. He’s believed to be residing in Iran.

“Mainly, I discover the IC’s evaluation compelling,” mentioned 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 previously O the resurgent menace of Kajda.

However different counter-terrorism specialists disagreed. One level of rivalry included claims within the intelligence abstract that al-Qaeda had not renewed its menace community in Afghanistan and that al-Zawahri was the one main determine attempting to revive al-Qaeda’s presence within the nation when he and his household settled in Kabul . 12 months.

“Zavahri was the chief of al-Qaeda, so his safety by the Taliban whereas he offered extra lively management to the group was in itself a reconstitution,” Asfandyar Mir, a senior fellow at the USA Institute of Peace, wrote in an e-mail. .

“This method doesn’t take note of the Al Qaeda group immediately and the truth that even a small variety of core leaders can use Afghanistan to politically management a community of associates,” he mentioned. written by Mir. “Al Qaeda doesn’t want giant coaching camps to be harmful.”

Some counterterrorism specialists additionally objected to authorities analysts’ evaluation that there are fewer than a dozen core members of Qaeda in Afghanistan with long-term ties to the group, and that the majority of these members have been doubtless there earlier than the autumn of the Afghan authorities final summer season.

“Their variety of lively, hardened Al Qaeda in AfPak does not make sense,” mentioned Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism knowledgeable on the Council on International Relations, referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “A 12 months in the past, not less than three dozen senior Qaeda commanders have been launched from Afghan prisons. I very a lot doubt they turned to farming or bookkeeping as their jail occupations.’

Mr. Hoffman mentioned Qaeda operatives or their associates have been given vital administrative duties in not less than eight Afghan provinces. He prompt the timing of the federal government’s evaluation was to “distract consideration from the disastrous penalties of final 12 months’s shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan”.

The intelligence abstract additionally mentioned that members of Qaeda’s department in Afghanistan, previously often known as Al Qaeda within the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, have been largely inactive and targeted primarily on actions comparable to media manufacturing.

However a U.N. report in July estimated that the Qaeda affiliate had between 180 and 400 fighters — “primarily from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Pakistan” — who have been in a number of Taliban fight items.

“We all know from numerous sources that AQIS has been concerned within the Taliban insurgency towards the US in addition to operations towards ISIS-Ok,” he mentioned. Mir mentioned, referring to the Islamic State department in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s bitter rival.

The intelligence briefing broadly agreed on not less than two main factors, together with that Al Qaeda doesn’t but have the aptitude to assault the USA or American pursuits on board from Afghan soil.

United Nations report in July contested this judgmentexplaining that al-Qaeda “shouldn’t be thought-about an instantaneous worldwide menace from its secure haven in Afghanistan as a result of it lacks exterior operational capabilities and doesn’t at the moment want to trigger worldwide hassle or embarrassment to the Taliban”.

And each authorities analysts and outdoors terrorism specialists agreed that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is probably to ask numerous associates exterior the area to hold out plots within the quick time period.

None of those associates pose the identical menace to the American homeland as Al Qaeda did in September. 11, 2001. However they’re useless and resilient. Al Qaeda’s department in East Africa killed three People in 2020 at a US base in Kenya. A Saudi Air Power officer trains in Florida in 2019, it killed three sailors and injured eight others. The officer acted on his personal, however was involved with the Qaeda department in Yemen when he finalized his plans for the assault.

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