August 10, 2022

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The Risk of Terrorism at Home and Abroad

As info emerges about Islamic State of Khorasan, or ISIS-Okay – the terrorist group that claimed accountability for final week’s suicide assault that killed 13 US service members and greater than 160 Afghans – there’s an elevated effort to foretell how Afghanistan, below Taliban rule, might emerge as soon as once more as a breeding floor for terrorist teams.

A United Nations report launched in June estimates that hundreds of fighters from the area had already poured into Afghanistan.  Many of them are believed to be affiliated with both the Taliban – nonetheless seen as a terrorist group – or al Qaeda or ISIS-Okay.

The New York Times reports that ISIS-Okay was created six years in the past by members of the Pakistani department of the Taliban.  There is a spread of thought amongst consultants as to what their capability to efficiently perform a terrorist assault in a Taliban-ruled space means for the terrorist risk shifting ahead. 

The Cipher Brief spoke with revered terrorism consultants Bruce Hoffman, Mitch Silber and Colin Clarke to get their ideas on the present danger of terrorist assaults towards Americans each dwelling and overseas. 

Bruce Hoffman, Terrorism Expert and Professor, Georgetown University

Cipher Brief Expert Bruce Hoffman is a professor at Georgetown University and served as a commissioner on the Independent Commission to Review the FBI’s Post-9/11 Response to Terrorism and Radicalization.  He can also be a Scholar-in-Residence for Counterterrorism at CIA.

Mitch Silber, Former Director of Analysis, NYPD

Cipher Brief Expert Mitch Silber served as Director of Intelligence Analysis on the New York City Police Department and served as principal advisor to the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence on counterterrorism coverage and evaluation. He is now govt director of the Community Security Initiative.

Colin Clarke, Director of Policy and Research, The Soufan Group

Colin P. Clarke, Ph.D., is the Director of Policy and Research at The Soufan Group. Clarke’s analysis focuses on home and transnational terrorism, worldwide safety, and geopolitics. He can also be a senior analysis fellow at The Soufan Center.  

The Cipher Brief: If the United Nations Report issued in June is correct, and there are literally thousands of fighters from the area who’ve poured into Afghanistan – many related to recognized terrorist teams – is there any approach that the administration can say ‘mission accomplished’ when it comes to degrading terrorism’s presence in Afghanistan? 

Hoffman: No. As these numbers from the report launched by the United Nations Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team spotlight, Afghanistan is once more turning into a jihadi magnet and can seemingly proceed to be so into the long run. The suicide bomb assaults outdoors the gates of Kabul International Airport final Thursday underscore the multiplicity of terrorist teams already current in that nation.

In addition to ISIS-Okay, there’s the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda and, in fact, the Taliban. Terrorism thrives in situations of chaos and instability which the terrorists hope to unfold to different nations and ultimately throughout areas.

Much as Salafi-Jihadi terrorists migrated from current battlefields in South Asia again to the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus within the Nineteen Nineties; unfold to East and West Africa within the early 2000s; blossomed throughout the Arab Spring to wage civil wars in Syria, Libya, and the Sahel, within the early twenty-teens; the identical phenomenon is unfolding in Afghanistan.

Silber:  Frankly, I don’t suppose any of the 4 administrations could make the declare that the coverage purpose of constructing Afghanistan inhospitable to function a secure haven for Al Qaeda or different equally oriented jihadist teams has been achieved.  Certainly, at a lot of occasions over the last twenty years, the risk that jihadist teams, most significantly — Al Qaeda — has introduced, when it comes to their capability to mission a risk to the United States has been diminished, the degradation of the risk was solely short-term.

The Cipher Brief: How assured are you that Al Qaeda and ISIS are unable to plan and execute assaults towards the U.S. domestically? 

Hoffman:  The credulous Doha negotiations with the Taliban that led to the withdrawal of U.S. army forces from Afghanistan and subsequently to the Taliban’s blitzkrieg throughout Afghanistan after which to the shambolic evacuation of our diplomats and residents, has painted an enormous goal on America’s again. Like sharks within the water, terrorists will scent blood. As my Council on Foreign Relations colleague, Jacob Ware, and I wrote in War on the Rocks, in May, each time terrorism has pressured the U.S. to withdraw from a battle zone the place it had dedicated floor forces, whether or not in Lebanon in 1984; Somalia in 1993; and Iraq in 2011, it has led to extra terrorism worldwide, not much less, and thus made the U.S. much less secure.

At a time when our nation continues to grapple with the COVID pandemic; when local weather change is pulverizing the Gulf States with Hurricane Ida and California with worsening wildfires; when the January 6th rebellion on the U.S. Capitol constructing continues to smolder with incidents such because the bomb risk that paralyzed the world close to the Library of Congress and Cannon House Office Building earlier this month; coupled with ongoing cyberattacks and peer competitors from China and Russia and issues over Iran’s nuclear aspirations; our terrorist adversaries might effectively conclude that the U.S. is sufficiently preoccupied or distracted by any or all the previous and subsequently conclude that the time to strike the homeland is opportune. It would most unlikely entail a repeat of the catastrophic September 11th 2001 assaults. But a terrorist strike alongside the strains of the 2019 shootings at Naval Air Station Pensacola; the 2017 suicide bombing of a live performance venue in Manchester, England; the coordinated suicide assaults on London transport in 2005; the 2004 Madrid commuter practice bombings; or any sort of important lone wolf incident perpetrated within the title of some current terrorist motion would seemingly re-create the widespread worry and nervousness which can be terrorism’s stock-in-trade. Twice previously three years, it also needs to be famous, members of al-Shabaab – maybe al Qaeda’s least technologically proficient franchise – have been arrested each within the Philippines and in an undisclosed African nation participating in the identical flight coaching that 4 of the 9/11 hijackers undertook earlier than their fateful, history-changing coordinated assault.

Silber:  At this very second, it’s unlikely that Al Qaeda or ISIS-Okay have the infrastructure, sources, recruits and exterior planning capability to strike the United States based mostly on statements by the IC and senior DoD officers to Congress.  However, with none, or solely restricted exterior stress by the U.S. army on account of the retreat from Afghanistan, these networks and capabilities might be reconstituted within the coming months and positively teams like Al Qaeda have by no means given up their want to strike the American homeland.

Clarke:  I believe it’s unlikely that AQ or ISIS will be capable to assault the U.S. homeland.  We’ve spent the higher a part of the previous twenty years shoring up homeland protection. We’ve acquired CT instruments now that we didn’t have twenty years in the past. That mentioned, the image may look fairly totally different 6, 12, 18 months from now. Both of these organizations are able to regenerating an exterior operations planning functionality. There can also be the fear of impressed assaults.

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The Cipher Brief:  Some analysts have mentioned that morale amongst terrorist or Islamic extremist teams is extraordinarily excessive because of the circumstances surrounding the US pullout in Afghanistan, do you agree and in that case what does that imply? 

Hoffman:  Yes. Of course. Both Sunni and Shi’a terrorist actions across the globe have applauded the Taliban’s re-conquest of Afghanistan and routing of the U.S. army. For Sunni Salafi-Jihadi terrorists, the occasions there this previous month validate the technique articulated by Usama bin Laden simply earlier than the 2004 U.S. presidential election, when he described the convenience with which al-Qaeda had been in a position to “bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat” from Afghanistan in 1989, and predicted that the identical destiny would ultimately befall the U.S. And, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, a Shi’a terrorist group, as an illustration, final week delivered a sermon the place he described America’s “historic and humiliating defeat in Afghanistan as representing, “the moral downfall of America.”

Silber:  Jihadi chat rooms and on-line extremist networks are feeling like they’ve the wind behind them.  It took twenty years, however earlier than the twentieth anniversary of the assaults of 9/11 an Islamic emirate has been re-established in Afghanistan.  Suddenly, what appeared not possible has grow to be attainable and Islamist insurgencies all all through the Middle East and South Asia can take inspiration by the dedication of the Taliban of their efforts to overthrow a secular democratic authorities and change it with an Islamist one.

Clarke:  I do anticipate morale to be excessive amongst terrorist and particularly Islamic extremists given the flip of occasions we’ve seen in Afghanistan. We’re every week and a half out from the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, and Al Qaeda leaders are returning to Afghanistan (that is being displayed in AQ propaganda). We’ve seen al-Qaeda associates everywhere in the globe congratulating the Taliban for his or her victory. I don’t wish to overstate the case right here, however I do imagine that what has occurred in Afghanistan can be a critical increase for the worldwide jihadist motion proper on the similar time the U.S. and its allies are shifting from counterterrorism to nice energy competitors. There can be fewer sources and vitality to take care of terrorists, proper on the time we’ve main threats metastasizing in Afghanistan, doubtlessly with each a reinvigorated al-Qaeda and a stubbornly resilient ISKP.

Read additionally Mike Leiter’s Why We’re Much Safer from Terrorism Now, Than We Were After 9/11 in The Cipher Brief 

Read additionally Why We Need a New National Defense Strategy (for terrorism) solely in The Cipher Brief 

Go past the headlines with knowledgeable views on right now’s information with The Cipher Brief’s Daily Open-Source Podcast.  Listen here or wherever you hearken to podcasts.


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