August 19, 2022

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Despite al-Zawahiri strike, US officers are involved about monitoring terrorism threats in Afghanistan | CNN Politics


Shortly earlier than the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Defense Department created a job power answerable for dealing with counterterrorism strikes contained in the nation after American troops had left – a so-called “over the horizon” technique that officers promised would maintain Afghanistan from as soon as once more changing into a protected haven for terror teams like al Qaeda and ISIS to flourish.

More than a 12 months after the creation of that job power, sources say it hasn’t despatched a single proposed goal to the Pentagon for approval – largely as a result of with out a presence on the bottom, it hasn’t been capable of construct sufficient intelligence on targets to fulfill the administration’s requirements for avoiding civilian casualties.

The White House has hailed the CIA operation that killed al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul on Saturday as proof that utilizing over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan has been efficient. Current and former officers say the profitable Zawahiri strike actually proves that with the suitable intelligence, the US is completely able to tackling a particular goal from afar – however those self same sources additionally stated that Zawahiri, a single, high-value goal lengthy within the CIA’s crosshairs, was a particular case that doesn’t alone show the effectiveness of the technique.

“There’s a difference between tracking one senior high value target and dealing with the resurgence of these terrorist groups inside Afghanistan,” stated Beth Sanner, a former presidential intelligence briefer beneath President Donald Trump and senior South Asia analyst on the CIA. “It’s a just a whole different ball of wax.”

Some intelligence officers have publicly raised considerations that terrorist exercise incubated in Afghanistan will unfold outdoors the nation’s borders and pose a risk to the United States – and that the US shall be blind to it.

Asked straight by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, if he was apprehensive about an assault on the homeland “emanating from places like Afghanistan,” FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday stated, “We are. Especially now that we’re out I’m worried about the potential loss of sources and collection over there.”

“I’m worried about the possibility that we will see al Qaeda reconstitute,” he added.

Hinting at how excessive the hurdles have turn into, some intelligence and navy officers who weren’t concerned within the closely-held planning particulars of the Zawahiri operation have been pleasantly shocked that the US was nonetheless capable of efficiently perform such a precision strike, in accordance with a former intelligence official nonetheless in touch with former colleagues.

Administration officers say that quite the opposite, the Zawahiri strike is proof that the US is efficiently monitoring and countering the risk with out American boots on the bottom in Afghanistan. Sources conversant in the intelligence behind the strike say the US built-in a number of completely different nuggets of knowledge from a number of streams of intelligence to find and goal Zawahiri.

“I think I’m more satisfied and more confident [in US intelligence in Afghanistan] than I was even a week ago because of what that collection just enabled, which was a pretty remarkable, pretty precise action,” a senior administration official advised CNN on Friday.

“The fact that there haven’t been other uses of force of that type in the past year means that we are monitoring and we are being judicious – and where we think it reaches the point of needing to act, we’re acting,” the official stated. “But I think it is a pretty powerful demonstration of what that capability can provide.”

The US now largely depends on drone flights and human networks on the bottom to assemble details about what’s going on inside Afghanistan, in accordance with a former intelligence official and the supply conversant in the intelligence.

But drone flights from the Gulf are logistically difficult and have restricted loiter time in Afghanistan due to the lengthy flight, making them costly to make use of and limiting their usefulness. And with out a US presence on the bottom, intelligence professionals anticipate human networks could degrade over time.

“I think we don’t know what we don’t know,” one former official stated.

For now, there’s broad consensus contained in the intelligence neighborhood that the instant risk that al Qaeda will have the ability to use Afghanistan as a protected haven to plan assaults on the US homeland or US pursuits stays low. But troublesome questions stay about whether or not that danger will develop over time.

Much is dependent upon present unknowns – specifically, how the Taliban responds to the killing of Zawahiri. “Will the Taliban actually let AQ use Afghanistan?” stated one supply conversant in the intelligence.

“There are a ton of factors that play into this debate,” this individual stated. “And all complicated.”

The intelligence neighborhood in its annual risk evaluation launched this 12 months charges the risk from al Qaeda associates in Yemen, Somalia and West Africa as a larger danger to US pursuits overseas than its weakened management in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, officers imagine, continues to be gauging its means to function beneath Taliban rule and can possible stay centered on sustaining its protected haven moderately than planning exterior operations – no less than for now.

And though al Qaeda leaders have loved “increased freedom of action” beneath the Taliban, in accordance with a latest UN report, there was no main inflow of recent fighters to Afghanistan because the US withdrawal — a mirrored image of how al Qaeda has advanced away from centrally-planned assaults, in accordance with some analysts.

But as for what occurs subsequent, one US supply described the evaluation throughout intelligence businesses as “all over the place.”

“What we don’t think we have occurring is some sort of regrowth [or] regeneration of an al Qaeda operational presence — even with less famous names [than Zawahiri],” the senior administration official stated.

There is one faculty of thought that whereas some parts of the Taliban could really feel honor-bound to uphold its oath to protect outdated guard members of al Qaeda like Zawahiri, it has no obligation or incentive to make welcome a brand new era of fighters. And in accordance with intelligence officers, there are vanishingly few members of the unique al Qaeda management who stay in Afghanistan, none of whom are prone to exchange Zawahiri.

Meanwhile, the latest strike, some analysts argue, could dissuade terrorist leaders from touring to the nation from elsewhere. They argue that the far larger danger is al Qaeda associates in Africa and elsewhere which might be solely loosely related to core leaders in Afghanistan.

“There’s some people who are very worried,” stated Sanner, who’s now a contributor at CNN. “I personally think that AQ core in Afghanistan doesn’t do a lot of operational planning.”

Others assess that it’s extra possible that the Taliban – consumed with making an attempt to legitimize its authorities amid a monetary implosion and an ongoing battle with ISIS-Ok – merely could not have the bandwidth to stop Afghanistan from being utilized by al Qaeda or its associates to plan assaults on the United States. There are additionally considerations that the remnants of al Qaeda could merely be absorbed into the Taliban.

The UN report discovered a “close relationship” between al Qaeda and the Taliban.

How the Taliban responds to the demise of Zawahiri stays an open query – and one which intelligence and navy officers are watching carefully, a number of officers stated.

According to 1 supply conversant in the intelligence, it’s not clear to US intelligence how many individuals within the Taliban knew that Zawahiri was holed up in Kabul in a home owned by the highly effective Haqqani faction – a militant group that’s a part of the Taliban authorities. The Taliban has publicly denied that they have been conscious of his presence previous to the strike and analysts are carefully watching to see if his publicity ushers in any type of rift between the Taliban and the Haqqani.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no information about Ayman al-Zawahiri’s arrival and stay in Kabul,” a press release by the Taliban stated.

White House officers stated on Monday that senior Haqqani Taliban figures have been conscious of Zawahiri’s presence within the space and even took steps to hide his presence after Saturday’s profitable strike, limiting entry to the protected home and quickly relocating members of his household, together with his daughter and her youngsters.

“As far as we know, many people in the Taliban didn’t know the Haqqani were sheltering Zawahiri in Kabul. “Does that create a split between the Taliban and the Haqqani?” the supply conversant in the intelligence stated.

The senior administration official stated Friday that the Taliban “is scrambling a bit to figure out who knew what and who didn’t – and moreover, to get their story straight on what happened.”

Some US navy officers are hopeful, in the meantime, that the strike could assist push the Taliban in the direction of some type of restricted cooperation with the US to focus on ISIS-Ok, a typical enemy and separate terrorist group in Afghanistan that the US navy is way extra involved about than al Qaeda, in accordance with two sources conversant in the dynamic.

“I think this was a symbolic strike that removed an inspirational leader,” Sanner stated. “It completes the task of removing the two people who were at the center of 9/11. But it is the end of an era – it is not about a current threat.”

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