The war on terrorism after Afghanistan

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On April 14, President Joe Biden announced that all US forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year. The White House titled the speech “The way forward in AfghanistanBut it was misleading. In reality, Biden simply explained the reasons he chose an outcome, not a breakthrough. The war that American forces will soon leave behind is not over, nor even near. The Taliban and their al Qaeda allies are well positioned to take more ground on the Afghan government without us thwarting their objectives. If successful, their victory could restore the Taliban Islamic Emirate to power.

This, however, is no longer Washington’s concern.

America must “fight for the next 20 years, not the last 20,” Biden said. He argued that policymakers should turn their attention to issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, cybersecurity threats, the so-called big competition with China and Russia.

The president is right. It is clear that counterterrorism can no longer dominate the attention of the US government in the same way it did in the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But it ended well. before this or the last presidency.

The United States moved away from the era of large-scale fighting during President Barack Obama’s tenure. The time is long gone when more than 200,000 American soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. By the time Biden was inaugurated in January, there were less than 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined. These troops have mobilized local partner forces, which bear the overwhelming majority of victims in the fight against Sunni jihadists. But even this limited mission is now coming to an end, as the United States is on the verge of leaving Afghanistan and may also withdraw entirely from Iraq and Syria.

For many left and right, this is a welcome step towards breaking America’s commitment to “endless wars.” Biden spoke on behalf of these people when he said “it’s time to end the Eternal War.” There is just one problem: the jihadists are not going to stop fighting.

And it’s easy to see how terrorists might gain more US attention again in the future.

Consider this brief overview of the jihadist threat in 2021 and how it has evolved over the past 20 years.

The US-led war in Afghanistan began in 2001 with a simple mission: to uproot al-Qaeda, which had benefited from Taliban refuge. Taliban apologists and isolationists would later claim that war was unnecessary, arguing that Al Qaeda’s headquarters in Afghanistan was unimportant and that the real planning for the 9/11 hijackings had taken place elsewhere, in Germany and Germany. Malaysia. This is hogwash. The 19 hijackers of September 11 have been trained in Afghanistan. The suicide bombers were selected for their assignment while attending camps around the country. The muscular hijackers trained in slaughtering camels and sheep at Al Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants oversaw the entire operation from Taliban soil.

According to the 9/11 Commission, “maybe up to 20,000”Volunteers received training at al-Qaeda sponsored facilities in Afghanistan between mid-1996 and September 10, 2001. Senior al-Qaeda leaders used the graduates of these camps in a series of conspiracies against the West, including the bombings of the United States Embassy in 1998, the USS Cole bombings and, of course, September 11. The United States had no choice but to quickly dismantle Al Qaeda’s infrastructure in Afghanistan. The country was the hub of international terrorism in 2001.

Perhaps if the United States had killed Bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and most of their lieutenants in the Tora Bora Mountains at the end of 2001, then the war would have been short and the United States could have returned home. them. Unfortunately, this did not happen. They escaped, as did Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban who repeatedly challenged America and chose to stand with Bin Laden before and after 9/11. It took America nearly a decade to catch up with Bin Laden – in Pakistan.

Biden argued last month that the May 2011 raid on Bin Laden’s villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan, should have marked the end of the war in Afghanistan. But bin Laden’s disappearance did not result in the death of Al Qaeda. His longtime companion, Zawahiri, has taken the helm and still commands the loyalty of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, fighters around the world to this day. There are unfounded rumors that Zawahiri passed away last year, but there is no real evidence to support this conclusion. The US military thinks he’s still in hiding, biding his time somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Just as Bin Laden pledged personal allegiance to Mullah Omar, who died in 2013, Zawahiri took an oath of allegiance to the current Taliban Emir, Haibatullah Akhundzada. It is a blood oath that Akhundzada refused to disavow.

Zawahiri is not the only top al Qaeda leader to survive the wars of September 11. At least several other Al Qaeda figures are stationed in Iran today. In August 2020, Israeli assassins, working at the behest of the United States, shot dead one of these veterans, a jihadist known as Abu Muhammad al Masri. Al Masri, who was Zawahiri’s deputy emir, had been wanted by the US government since 1998, when he allegedly helped plan Al Qaeda’s bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. According to the 9/11 Commission, the Iranian regime and its main terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, gave al-Qaeda “the tactical expertise” necessary for these attacks when they provided explosives training to al-Qaeda’s men. -Qaida. Al Masri is survived by several other al-Qaeda veterans in Iran, including one known as Saif al Adel, a co-conspirator in the 1998 bombings who is also one of the deputy emirs of Zawahiri.

State Department revealed in january that Zawahiri’s own son-in-law, a Moroccan alias Abd al Rahman al Maghrebi, moved to Iran. Records recovered from Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad show that al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has long cared for al Maghrebi and prepared him for a leadership position. The State Department describes al Maghrebi as the “longtime director” of the central media arm of al Qaeda as well as the “head” of the group’s “External Communications Office”. In this role, al Maghrebi “coordinates activities with” al-Qaeda “affiliates” around the world. Al Maghrebi is also the “general manager of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2012”.

The US government has identified other Al Qaeda officials in Iran, including the head of the group’s military committee. In addition, the Treasury and State Departments of the Obama Administration first revealed in 2011 that al-Qaeda maintains a “basic facilitation pipelineInside Iran with the regime’s permission. This same facilitation network exists to this day, linking Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan with nodes across the Middle East and Africa.

Announcing the withdrawal from Afghanistan last month, Biden admitted that al Qaeda had grown up in several jihad hot spots. “Over the past 20 years, the threat has become more dispersed, metastasizing around the world,” the president said. He pointed to Al Qaeda’s weapons in Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula and Syria, as well as ISIS’s competing network in those regions and elsewhere.

There is no doubt that the current incarnations of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are very different from the Bin Laden operation in 2001. They are geographically dispersed, overseeing jihadist insurgencies in several regions. This does not mean, however, that Afghanistan is irrelevant to the cause of the jihadists. Zawahiri a argued that the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan resurrected by the Taliban could be the crown jewel of a new caliphate for the jihadists.

After the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001, al-Qaeda and the Taliban reorganized their efforts, launching an insurgency that today threatens the internationally recognized government in Kabul. Biden claims that al Qaeda has been “degraded” in Afghanistan. Despite a string of leadership losses, there is good reason to doubt this is true. There is ample evidence pointing to the continued presence of Al Qaeda across the country.

For example, the Treasury Department reported in january that al-Qaeda “is strengthening itself in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the protection of the Taliban”. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are working hand in hand, Zawahiri’s men “providing advice, guidance and support” to the Taliban insurgency. The Treasury Department explained that al Qaeda continues to be closely linked to the so-called Haqqani Network, which controls key leadership positions throughout the Taliban hierarchy.

Sirajuddin Haqqani is the Deputy Emir of the Taliban, or overall No. 2. Sirajuddin’s father, Jalaluddin, was one of Osama bin Laden’s earliest benefactors. Jalaluddin incubated the first generation of Al Qaeda in its camps in eastern Afghanistan. Years after the deaths of Bin Laden and Jalaluddin, the link between their two networks remains intact. According to the Treasury, the Haqqanis and al-Qaeda have discussed setting up a new army to consolidate control over parts of Afghanistan after the US withdrawal.

It’s understandable that many Americans want to wash their hands of the wars that followed September 11. America has made a lot of mistakes. The cost in blood and treasure has been high. The war in Iraq was a disastrous mistake that created many new problems. The US leaders overseeing the war in Afghanistan have been reckless. And Americans have many other more pressing concerns today.

But withdrawal from Afghanistan will not end the war. The jihadists will continue to fight. And we shouldn’t be surprised if they choose to target the United States again or American interests elsewhere.

Thomas Joscelyn is Senior Researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Editor-in-Chief of FDD Long War Diary.


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