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Afghanistan, Again, Becomes a Cradle for Jihadism—and Al Qaeda


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The New Yorker

The terrorist group has outlasted the trillion-dollar U.S. investment in Afghanistan since 9/11.

Robin Wright

August 23, 2021


For more than a year, both the Trump and Biden Administrations had reams of warnings—from the military and diplomats, congressional reports and a commissioned study group, its own inspector general, and the United Nations—that the collapse of the Afghan government, an ever-growing possibility, would also mean a resurgence of Al Qaeda. In April, a U.S. intelligence assessment warned Congress that Al Qaeda’s senior leadership “will continue to plot attacks and seek to exploit conflicts in different regions.” The jihadist group, which carried out the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was active in fifteen of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces, primarily in the eastern and southern regions, the United Nations reported in June. The Taliban and Al Qaeda remained “closely aligned and show no indication of breaking ties,” it noted, as like-minded militants celebrated developments in Afghanistan as a victory for “global radicalism.” In a haunting final report on the lessons learned from America’s longest war, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, warned that the U.S. decision to pull out the last U.S. troops “left uncertain whether even the modest gains of the last two decades will prove sustainable.” The decision to pull out was made by President Trump in February last year, with the timetable decided by President Biden in April this year.

With the Taliban takeover, the trillion-dollar investment in a campaign to contain Al Qaeda may have changed little since 9/11. Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Inside Terrorism,” was blunter. “The situation is more dangerous in 2021 than it was in 1999 and 2000,” he told me. “We’re in a much weakened position now. We’ve learned so little.” The Taliban takeover is the biggest boost to Al Qaeda since 9/11 and a global game changer for jihadism generally, Rita Katz, the executive director of the Site Intelligence Group, a leading tracker of extremist activity worldwide, told me. There is a “universal recognition” that Al Qaeda can now “reinvest” in Afghanistan as a safe haven, Katz said. Jihadism effectively has a new homeland, the first since the collapse of the ISIS caliphate in March, 2019. “It foreshadows a new future that sadly couldn’t have been further from what we would hope for after twenty years of war,” she said. It’s a boon for Al Qaeda and its franchises, which now stretch from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Bangladesh in South Asia. “Militants from across the world—whether they be regionally focussed Islamists or globally focussed jihadists—will surely seek to enter Afghanistan’s porous borders,” Katz added.


The common flaw in U.S. policy has been the focus on the fight rather than the economic, political, and social flash points that gave rise to multiple jihadist movements among both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, dating back at least four decades, Soufan said. “We’ve been spiking the ball at the five-yard line,” like a football player claiming points before actually scoring a touchdown, he told me. “Yes, we defeated the physical manifestation of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but we never dealt with the ideology.” The extremist brands of politicized Islam have usually emerged in countries plagued by poverty and high unemployment, autocratic rule and political alienation, sectarian or social marginalization, and heavy foreign influence. “All the elements that gave rise to these movements, they’re all worse than they were immediately prior to 9/11,” Edmund Fitton-Brown, a former British diplomat who is now the coördinator of the U.N. Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team that tracks extremist movements, told me. “I can’t think of a serious underlying factor in the rise of ISIS or Al Qaeda that has been mitigated, and some are worse.”

Al Qaeda’s resurgence may not have immediate consequences for the U.S. homeland, the experts said. “Al Qaeda probably does not pose, right now, a direct threat to the West,” Fitton-Brown said. “But it intends to do so and has a route to do so, which may bear fruit in one or more of these locations,” whether Syria, Yemen, Somalia, the Sahel and West Africa, or elsewhere. “It would be premature and risky to regard Al Qaeda and ISIS as defeated, and to relax that counterterrorism pressure.” Al Qaeda’s broader focus, Soufan said, will be on destabilizing Muslim countries where, as in Afghanistan, governments are frail, have fled, or do not exist. The goal now is to replicate the victory in Afghanistan elsewhere—phase two. “Their plan,” he said, “is much more dangerous than a terrorist attack.”


Yes Yes I know its The New Yorker, and Robin Wright and Ali Soufan are both On The Left. Question does this men we discount what they and other (Very Credible) sources have been saying? Or should we only listen to those who say Trump has  no Responsibility for this?

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