As the US-led military coalition’s two-decade presence in Afghanistan ends this month, a majority of the country’s territories are falling back under the control of the radical Islamist Taliban, pushing thousands of civilians and government security forces to seek refuge in neighboring countries, particularly Tajikistan.
Even though Washington continues to reassure the Afghan government that it will resume its airstrikes to support official forces, women, children and the elderly are feeling vulnerable, as they have already been a target of the barbaric militants. Civil war seems to be becoming inevitable, which means that the Taliban will not be the sole threat coming out of Afghanistan.
When the group signed the Doha peace deal with the US in February last year, it vowed to prevent any terrorist groups or individuals from launching attacks against the US, its allies or any other country in the world. But there is no reason to believe that it would ever abandon Al-Qaeda, which was the initial cause of the war.
To win the war against the legitimate Afghan security forces, the Taliban needs as much support as it can get. The fact that Al-Qaeda maintains a presence in about 15 Afghan provinces makes it the best partner to help the Taliban further weaken the Kabul government, easily control the country, and force its own ideology and strict rules on the entire population.
Defending US President Joe Biden’s decision to complete the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, US Department of Defense spokesperson John Kirby emphasized that his country’s goals to deter, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda had been accomplished. However, he acknowledged the presence of its operatives and cells. “But they are nothing like the organization they were on 9/11, 20 years ago,” he added.
With the approach of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Biden’s admission that the conflict in Afghanistan was an “unwinnable war,” the hashtag “The year of running away” was created by Al-Qaeda on its Telegram page to declare its victory over the American “infidels.” It wanted to send a message to its supporters that the time has come to regroup and resume its evil activities. With the radical Islamist leadership reclaiming its traditional safe haven in Afghanistan, it is now ready to rumble.
Al-Qaeda wanted to send a message to its supporters that the time has come to regroup and resume its evil activities.
Although a recent report by the UN Security Council (UNSC) suggested that ailing Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s most probable successor, Saif Al-Adel, who currently resides in Iran, may not be able to relocate to Afghanistan due to the Doha agreement, there are no serious indications that the Taliban would refuse to host him.
And he would not be alone, according to Russia. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, during a visit to Tajikistan last week, highlighted the emergence of a new threat in Afghanistan posed by Daesh fighters, who are pouring into the country from several locations, including Iraq, Syria and Libya. Daesh has apparently decided to join forces with its Afghan affiliate, the Khorasan Province, which has already claimed responsibility for several high-profile attacks in the war-torn country.
The UNSC report indicated that a fresh international terrorist recruitment plan had already been launched. “Its leaders also hope to attract intransigent Taliban and other militants who reject the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the United States of America and the Taliban and to recruit fighters from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and other conflict zones,” read the report.
The US administration needs to remember that most of Afghanistan’s neighbors are not entirely friendly with America and can be difficult to deal with, including Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan and Turkey.
By miscalculating the imminent threat and ignoring the consequences of its actions, the US is making a huge mistake that will compromise its own national security, especially with the lack of trusted intelligence sources in the region. Washington should have listened to CIA Director Bill Burns when he told US lawmakers in April that withdrawing from Afghanistan would hinder the agency’s ability to gather intelligence, negatively affecting its performance.
The global war against terrorism is not over and the sacrifices made by American and NATO troops over the last 20 years might be easily erased if Afghanistan goes back to being a hostile, Taliban-run headquarters for terrorist planning and training, as well as the execution of attacks. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi