The Taliban are back. Now, are they going to hold back or support Al Qaeda?

BRUSSELS – The United States and NATO invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda, ho...


BRUSSELS – The United States and NATO invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda, hosted by the Taliban.

Now that the taliban return to power, there are already fears that Afghanistan will once again become fertile ground for Islamist radicalism and terrorism, aided by new technologies and social media.

“We went to Afghanistan to fight the terrorist threat, and it will be a critical step in whether what we have is just a bad situation or a really horrible situation,” said John Sawers, former head of the British intelligence service. exterior, known as MI6. . “Having a friend of the terrorists, which the Taliban have been, ruling a whole country is not a good thing.”

But the Taliban will have “learned lessons over the past 20 years,” said Sawers, executive chairman of Newbridge Advisory, a risk analysis firm. “The question is always how far the leaders negotiating in Doha have over the fighters, because traditionally in civil wars those who are on the battlefield have more power than those who sit in five star hotels. », Referring to the Taliban leaders who diplomacy conducted from Qatar.

Radical Islamists around the world will receive “a much needed boost” from the Taliban’s victory over the Great Satan, the United States, said Peter Neumann, professor of security studies at King’s College London. “Al Qaeda supporters are all celebrating this. It’s a victory over America, which they hope to get – these fighters who come down from the mountains to defeat the United States, ”he said. “There will be a lot of groups that will build on this propaganda victory – if the Taliban can do it, you can do it. “

On social media and in discussion forums, “you can already see this wind of success blowing through the sails of the global jihadist movement,” said Raffaello Pantucci, terrorism analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a research organization on the defense, and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“They see the victory in Afghanistan as the culmination of a number of successes in the world, in parts of Africa, in parts of Syria, with the withdrawal of the French from Mali – it is a narrative of success, ”he said. “They’re going to push it and argue that you can fight for 20 years and get the power.”

Thus, a more immediate risk will be the encouragement of “isolated actors” to commit acts of local terrorism, one of the main objectives of the social media campaign, said Neumann.

But he thinks the likelihood that the Taliban will quickly provide refuge for groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State is low. The Taliban are back in power without al Qaeda’s help, and they realized they lost their government and their country in 2001 to al Qaeda, Neumann said.

The United States could intervene again, “not to protect human and women’s rights, but if the Taliban allowed international terrorism to flourish,” he said.

The Taliban will have to deal with the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State already present in Afghanistan, Sawers said. “They won’t move against them, but they don’t want to attract international hostility again.”

Their first priority, he said, will be to consolidate control over a fragmented Afghanistan, including “some sort of understanding” with minorities like the Uzbeks and Shia Muslims like the Hazaras and Ismailis. “The Talib have won this great victory and will not want to spoil it now,” he said.

But others are less confident. Nathan Sales, former US counterterrorism coordinator and now senior member of the Atlantic Council, says “the terrorist risk for the United States will worsen considerably”. With the Taliban returning to power, he said, “it is virtually certain that Al Qaeda will re-establish a safe haven in Afghanistan and use it to plot terrorism against the United States and others.”

This will happen as US intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan degrade without a military or diplomatic presence on the ground, and with US troops and drones based hundreds of miles away, Sales said.

The Taliban have always refused to break with “their staunch ally, Al Qaeda,” even though they promised to do so in the February 2020 deal with the Trump administration, Sales said. He expects al Qaeda, full of fresh money and recruits, to recover in Afghanistan within the next three to six months, he said.

In June, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were asked by senators about the chances that groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State will reappear in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the American homeland within two years of the US military withdrawal.

“I would rate it as a means,” replied Mr. Austin. “I would also say, senator, that it would take them maybe two years to develop this capacity.”

General Milley told senators on a conference call on Sunday that U.S. officials were swiftly revising those earlier assessments, The Associated Press reported. Officials now believe those groups could grow considerably faster and are working on a new timeline, he told senators.

Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, argued that “a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that offers tech-savvy global terrorists a safe haven to remotely recruit new supporters and conduct operations in the United States. and elsewhere is a different level of security threat. . “

But Afghanistan’s neighbors have more pressing concerns, Pantucci noted. Pakistan, which has backed the Taliban and its combination of the Koran and the Kalashnikov against Indian influence, has already seen a resurgence of the Pakistani Taliban encouraged by the success next door. The Pakistani Taliban have a loose relationship with the Afghan group, but they are determined to overthrow the Pakistani state and have had safe havens along the border.

Pakistan can put pressure on the Afghan Taliban to bring them under control, “but the dilemma is to what extent they will actually control the territory,” Pantucci said. “The tale of victory and success resonates in Pakistan, and the Pakistanis themselves sometimes overestimate how much they control these various groups. “

Iran is concerned about new refugee movements, the continued flow of opium across the border, which has been a source of money for the Taliban, and anti-Iranian groups like the Baluchis who may use Afghanistan to attack Iran.

Central Asian people will also be worried about the instability and cross-border attacks by Islamist militants from Afghanistan. In 1999 and 2000, under the last Taliban government, there were serious incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan and support for the civil war in Tajikistan; in 1999, six bombs were set off in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

China has also experienced terrorist incidents in Xinjiang. Although the connection to Afghanistan is unclear, Uyghur extremists operated from there across the narrow border with China. China is now trying to find accommodation with the Taliban.

China has warned of instability resulting from a rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but like Russia and most of its neighbors, it will likely recognize the new Taliban government. Late last month, Chinese officials met with a Taliban delegation including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban who has spent years in Pakistani prisons.

“So all of these countries have a history and will fear it will repeat itself,” Pantucci said. Given these concerns, Mr. Sales hopes those countries will quietly work with the United States to ensure that al Qaeda is hampered.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The Taliban are back. Now, are they going to hold back or support Al Qaeda?
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