Death of al-Zawahiri raises questions on ‘petri dish’ of growing threats in Afghanistan and beyond: report

The death of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri may present as a victory for the United States, and President Joe Biden is certainly trying to score political points off the announcement, but behind the tough talk the buried lede remained how last year’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal may have opened the floodgates for a flourishing terrorist network.

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced to the nation that a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan had killed Zawahiri, known as one of the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks. “We make it clear again tonight,” Biden had said, “that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”

However dogged the search for Zawahiri may have been, experts contend that the president may have overstated in suggesting that the terrorist had been hiding. According to Fox News, former director of the CIA’s Middle East and North Africa division Dan Hoffman assessed, “Afghanistan is a petri dish growing threats to the region and beyond. The one lesson we learned from Sept. 11 is that you can’t give these guys ungoverned space.”

In fact, the UN Security Council had reported in early June that, despite claims to the contrary from the Taliban, since America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the terrorist groups were getting along swimmingly and, “The relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda remains close, with the latter celebrating the former’s success and renewing its pledge of allegiance to [Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada]. Member State assessments thus far suggest that al Qaeda has a safe haven under the Taliban and increased freedom of action. Ayman al-Zawahiri has issued more frequent recorded messages since August…”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asserted, “What unnerves me is that al-Zawahiri felt comfortable enough being out in the open in the Kabul area after the Taliban takeover. So much for the Taliban rejecting al Qaeda. This is proof positive that Afghanistan has once again become a safe haven for international terrorists.”

Additionally, on social media, he decried Biden’s claims of American strength in the war on terror and noted al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and the continued presence of a threat to national security.

“Going forward,” the UN report had said, “al Qaeda appears free to pursue its objectives, short of international attacks or other high-profile activity that could embarrass the Taliban or harm their interests. These objectives are likely to include recruitment, training, fundraising, and al-Zawahiri’s video communications. It is assessed that al Qaeda is focused on reorganizing itself in the short-to-medium term with the ultimate objective of continuing its idea of global jihad.”

“While al Qaeda is reportedly aware of the need to avoid embarrassing the Taliban, it is noteworthy that when Taliban authorities were pressing to receive humanitarian support from the United Nations, al Qaeda did not soften its tone regarding the United Nations or its future to mount attacks against Western targets,” the UN Security Council stated.

Retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane who served as vice chief staff of the United States Army supported the UN report and told Fox News, “There’s no doubt that they’ve been brothers — the Taliban and al Qaeda. It’s not surprising that Zawahri returned to his family in Kabul, in fact, the house that he was in belonged to an aide to a senior Taliban official.”

Furthering Graham’s concerns about American strength against international threats, James Jeffrey, former President Donald Trump’s special envoy combating ISIS pointed out the mounting crises across the world that are spreading resources thin as Biden’s foreign policy has been one boondoggle after another.

“Even the American government has only so many resources to devote to counterterrorism,” Jeffrey said, “particularly with the situation in Russia, China, and Ukraine. It doesn’t mean we won’t go after al Qaeda in the future, but there are a lot of trouble spots already out there.”

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Kevin Haggerty

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