World Al-Qaeda Could Be a Year Away from Reorganizing Enough to Be Significant U.S. Threat
Al Qaeda, ISIS-K, and a trio of has-beens: The players in Taliban-led Afghanistan
Just over a week ago, the U.S.-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was overthrown as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan and seized the capital with the aim of establishing the so-called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."As thousands of Americans and Afghan allies remain behind Taliban lines in Afghanistan as the U.S. evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport continues, multiple players in the country, including Taliban allies such as the Haqqani Network and al Qaeda, have strengthened their hand while anti-Taliban warlords have fled the country and anti-Taliban resistance fighters engage in a desperate fight with the country's new rulers.
The U.S. secretary of state tried to stave off criticisms from both sides of the aisle regarding the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan, offering new estimates that predicted a resurgence ofon Afghan soil.
Antony Blinken, testifying three days after the 20th anniversary of September 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, provided assessments that Al-Qaeda could reorganize enough to threaten the U.S. in as little as a year, the Associated Press reported.
Fox News Host Confronts Blinken Over Biden's Claim Al Qaeda 'Gone' From Afghanistan
"What the president said just wasn't true," Chris Wallace said.The Biden administration has faced substantial criticism over the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which resulted in the Taliban swiftly regaining control of the country. The U.S. has scrambled over the past week to evacuate thousands of Americans as well as Afghans who worked for the U.S. and its allies during the two decades-long war.
"The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed," said committee chairman Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who has been generally supportive of President's foreign policy but has taken issue with several of its aspects, including Afghanistan.
"This committee expects to receive a full explanation of this administration's decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January," he said. "There has to be accountability."
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Blinken had mixed results in attempting to face down a second day of tough congressional questioning, this time from theForeign Relations Committee. As a day earlier before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he was assailed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike over the administration's preparation for and handling of the pullout.
Column One: It's been 20 years since 9/11, but its accused mastermind has yet to stand trial
Two decades after the 9/11 attacks, a reporter at Guantanamo reflects on the U.S. pursuit of justice and his quest to understand the perpetratorsI had no idea what was going on, but I knew at least that it wasn’t good and that I might be asked to go somewhere and help find out. The somewhere ended up being more than two dozen countries on four continents. I’m still out here on the road trying to understand the why.
Even lawmakers sympathetic to Biden's decision to end America's longest-running war by withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years expressed disappointment and concern about the large number of Americans, green card holders and at-risk Afghans left behind in the chaotic and hasty evacuation from Kabul.
"The withdrawal was a dismal failure," said Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the committee. He and virtually all of his Republican colleagues accused the administration of "ineptitude" that has cost the United States international credibility, led to a deadly attack on U.S. troops and Afghan civilians at the Kabul airport and left many in the lurch.
"There's not enough lipstick in the world to put on this pig to make it look any different than what it actually is," Risch said.
Much as he did on Monday at the often contentious hearing in the House, Blinken tried to deflect the criticism and maintained the administration had done the best it could under extremely trying and chaotic circumstances.
After 9/11, No Americans Were Held to Account. Here's Why That's Dangerous
Even the 9/11 Commission soft-pedaled the failures of U.S. leaders and the intelligence community.The U.S. intelligence community had known some sort of terrorist attack was on the way but failed to focus or to act. After 9/11, there was finger-pointing at President George W. Bush and the White House, between the previous Bill Clinton and Bush administrations, at the CIA, NSA, FBI and even at the Pentagon. The government pledged to do better: to break down barriers to intelligence analysis and sharing, and to organize itself so that such a catastrophic event would never happen again.
Blinken again blamed the Trump administration for its February 2020 peace deal with thethat he said had tied Biden's hands, as well as the quick and unexpected collapse of the Afghan government and security forces that led to the Taliban takeover on August 15.
"Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained," he said. "They were focused on what would happen after the United States withdrew, from September onward."
Blinken said the administration would hold the Taliban, which hosted and protected Osama bin Laden and top members of his al-Qaida network as they plotted the 9/11 strikes, to their promises not to allow Afghanistan to be used again as a base for terrorist attacks.
But as he spoke, U.S. intelligence officials said al-Qaida may be only 12 to 24 months from reconstituting itself in Afghanistan to pose a significant threat to the United States.
Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, who leads the Defense Intelligence Agency, gave that estimate while speaking at the Intelligence & National Security Summit. Meanwhile, David Cohen, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the U.S. already had detected "some of the indications of some potential movement of Al-Qaeda to Afghanistan.
Ayman al Zawahiri: Taliban's return fuels questions about al Qaeda leader's health, whereabouts
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The whereabouts of Ayman al Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden after U.S. special forces killed the al Qaeda leader in a 2011 raid in Pakistan, remain a mystery even as the terror group could be poised to rise again. © Provided by Washington Examiner The shadowy Zawahiri, a 70-year-old native of Egypt, is believed to be hiding out in Afghanistan or Pakistan. But he may not even be alive. The return of the Taliban to power two decades after their longtime al Qaeda allies carried out the 9/11 attacks could give the terrorist group a safe harbor once again.
Experts have long said the Taliban still maintains ties to al-Qaida, which took sanctuary in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Although Blinken was not asked directly about the intelligence assessments, he said the Taliban had not fully severed its links with the group.
Texas Republican Senator, a vehement opponent of numerous Biden policies, called the withdrawal "the worst foreign policy catastrophe in a generation" and accused the administration of being naive in hoping the Taliban live up to their promises of moderation. "They don't want to be welcomed into the community of civilized nations," he said.
Senator(R-Florida) demanded to know how intelligence about the collapse of the Afghan government had been so wrong. He suggested not only that the wrong people were in charge of assessing the situation but that the policy had been incoherent and left the U.S. vulnerable to rivals.
"This was a failure of policy and planning," said Rubio, another frequent critic of Biden. "I think China and Russia and Iran, they look at this botched withdrawal and what they see as incompetence that they think they might be able to exploit."
The State Department has come under heavy criticism from both sides for not doing enough and not acting quickly enough to get people out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul, cementing its hold on the country before the completion of the U.S. withdrawal on August 30.
Pro-Al-Qaeda Publication Marks 9/11 by Calling for More Attacks With Aircraft
"Are we not able to repeat it?" the article asks, a security analyst noted on Saturday.Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, warned that Al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, still intends to target America. SITE tracks terrorist groups and their activities.
Blinken defended the withdrawal and the end of America's longest-running war as "the right thing to do" after 20 years. And, he noted that despite severe difficulties the U.S. and its allies had managed to evacuate some 124,000 people.
"The evacuation was an extraordinary effort—under the most difficult conditions imaginable—by our diplomats, military, and intelligence professionals," he said.
Even some, though, were unswayed.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the only woman on the committee, who has long fought for the U.S. to protect the advances made by Afghan women and girls, lamented the current situation and said presidents and lawmakers of both parties shared the blame for the situation.
"Let's stop with the hypocrisy of who's to blame, there are a lot of people to blame and we all share in it," she said, her voice rising as she took a pointed dig at former Presidentand his second secretary of state, , who negotiated the 2020 peace deal with the Taliban separate from the Afghan government with no assurance that minority rights would be respected.
"I want to know where the outrage was when they were giving away the rights of women and girls," Shaheen said.
In response, Blinken said he would soon be appointing a senior official to oversee U.S. policy toward Afghan women and girls.
Taliban return raises fears of Afghan haven for terror .
The Taliban are back, 20 years after being ousted for supporting terror groups. Will they do the same?The humiliating departure of the very forces that temporarily expelled both the Taliban and al-Qaeda 20 years ago has come as a massive morale boost to anti-Western jihadists all over the world.