Taliban-controlled Afghanistan threatens post-9/11 counterterrorism gains, experts warn
washingtonexaminer-The United States may have stronger terror-fighting capabilities than before the 9/11 attacks, but experts worry about the ability to gather intelligence in Afghanistan without any troops in the country.The U.S. launched the war in Afghanistan in response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 al Qaeda terrorists hijacked and crashed planes into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people. Troops remained for nearly 20 years to stop the country from being a haven for terrorist organizations.
CONFUSION AND CHAOS SURROUND CHARTER PLANES TRAPPED IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. forces exited last week after the Afghan government quickly collapsed earlier in August. This left the Taliban in control, with al Qaeda and ISIS-K chomping at the bit to regrow their networks — and national security experts pondering what’s next.Pentagon officials have repeatedly touted their “over-the-horizon” strike capabilities, but without any troops on-site, they’re extremely limited in how they can gather necessary information, according to experts.
“I think the United States is dramatically better in counterterrorism today than we were 20 years ago,” Amb. Nathan Sales, former ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism, told the Washington Examiner in a phone interview. “That said, we’re not as good at it today as we were a month ago before the Afghan withdrawal.”Earl Anthony Wayne, the former deputy ambassador in Afghanistan, reiterated that sentiment in an interview, saying, “Our whole Homeland Security apparatus and everything else is much stronger than it was … but it’s not as strong as it was, you know, six months ago or last year.”
“I think it has clearly opened the question as to whether or not Afghanistan might again become a space from which international terrorism can be launched,” he added. “It doesn’t give you a definitive answer to that yet, but it certainly opens that possibility. And, it leaves the United States with a much less capable ability to actually know what’s going on in Afghanistan.”The Taliban on Tuesday, weeks after swiftly defeating the U.S.-backed and trained Afghan military, announced their new “caretaker” government, which includes four of the so-called “Taliban Five,” with the fifth already holding a position of authority. They also named Sirajuddin Haqqani , wanted by the FBI for terrorism charges, as acting interior minister.
“The concern is that the Taliban, which remains this radical and this committed to terrorism, is going to create a safe haven for groups like al Qaeda … So, what does that mean for the U.S. homeland? What we know about terrorist groups like al Qaeda is when they enjoy safe haven, they begin to plot external operations,” Sales added. “It’s going to be much harder for us to collect intelligence … and also it’s going to be much more difficult for us to take action to remove terrorists from the battlefield.”
Given the decisions made during the infancy of the Taliban’s regime, Luke Coffey, an Army veteran and the director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, believes “Afghanistan can become a greater security threat to the United States than it was before 9/11.”He told the Washington Examiner in an interview the 2,500 troops in Afghanistan before the final stages of the withdrawal “were never enough for the Afghan government to win the war outright, but it was enough to make sure the Taliban didn’t win, and now here we are and the Taliban fully is in control of the country.”