Nearly one year since the last U.S. soldier was wheels-up from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport — the site of an ISIS-K suicide bombing that claimed the lives of 13 American service members and dozens of Afghan refugees — the worst fears of many last summer are already coming true. President Biden's disastrous then deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan drew justified warnings about what would happen in Afghanistan if the U.S. left and failed to prevent terrorists from using the country as a launching point for future attacks.
In the leadership vacuum seized partially by the Taliban, women are already being deprived of basic rights such as an education and Taliban violence continues to spread around the country. It's a tragic but unavoidable reality without eradicating the Taliban or there being a strong government to maintain civilized law and order.
Still, the greater threat of a post-U.S. Afghanistan becoming a breeding ground for terrorists who could again launch attacks against the United States and her interests abroad has also become more real in the last year — despite President Biden's promises that the U.S. could prevent groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS from again gaining a stronghold via "over the horizon" capabilities.
Currently, the greatest terror threat from Al Qaeda and ISIS is to those living in active conflict areas: South and Central Asia, Africa, and the Levant in countries like... Afghanistan. There, conditions rapidly devolved during — and in the year since — President Biden's disastrous withdrawal that only brightened terrorists' future prospects.
Those conflict zones, especially Afghanistan, in the vacuum allowed under Biden's foreign policy are unlikely to be resolved and will "incubate an external operational capability" for Al Qaeda, or ISIS, or one of their smaller affiliates, according to a July report on the threats posed by terror groups in the Middle East. In the last year, Al Qaeda and other terror groups in Afghanistan "view the victory of the Taliban as a motivating factor for disseminating their propaganda in the neighbouring regions of Central and South Asia, and globally." That is, Biden's chaotic withdrawal is a gift to terrorists that keeps on giving.
And while Al Qaeda has been consolidating power, Biden's current focus has been on eliminating ISIS targets, weakening that side of the terrorism equation while allowing Al Qaeda to continue growing. To his credit, the Biden administration has carried out successful strikes that eliminated ISIS leaders in the region, but Al Qaeda's leader Aiman al-Zawahiri is confirmed to be alive and active. What's more, "al-Zawahiri's apparent increased comfort and ability to communicate has coincided with the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and the consolidation of power of key Al-Qaida allies within their de facto administration," reports from the region explain.
For Al Qaeda's leaders and fighters, terrorizing their own region is not their end-game — they aspire to project their power into regions outside the immediate Middle East conflict zones, and Afghanistan has become the perfect venue for those capabilities to be developed under Biden's policies. A report from May stated that Al Qaeda is "pleased with developments in Afghanistan" — Biden's disastrous withdrawal that saw the Afghan government fall to the Taliban despite the president's assurance that such an event was "anything but inevitable."
Al Qaeda "quickly framed the Taliban takeover as a collateral triumph." And, after the last U.S. military personnel had left Afghanistan, Al Qaeda "celebrated the Taliban's perseverance and highlighted historical links between the groups." In the last year, Al Qaeda has "used the Taliban's takeover to attract new recruits and funding and inspire… affiliates globally." Again, thanks to Biden.
While it's a debate still worth having, the issue of Al Qaeda's revival in Afghanistan is less about the merits of an American boots-on-the-ground presence in the country and more about another Biden failure that started badly during his withdrawal of U.S. forces and has only gotten worse.
After capitalizing on Biden's failed U.S. departure from Afghanistan and subsequent failure to use his often-mentioned "over the horizon" capabilities to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a stronghold, Al Qaeda's core leadership continues to reside in Afghanistan. Their leader, it's reported, "may be able to lead more effectively than was possible before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan."
Thanks to Biden's deadly departure from Afghanistan — and subsequent failure to exhibit his promised "over the horizon" ability to prevent terrorists, such as Al Qaeda, from using Afghanistan as a launching point for future attacks — Al Qaeda "appears free to pursue its objectives."