Al-Qaida could Regroup in Afghanistan in 2 years, says US Defence Secretary

Foreign Affairs

Washington: An extremist group like al-Qaida may be able to regenerate in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the US homeland within two years of the American military’s withdrawal from the country, the Pentagon’s top leaders said. It was the most specific public forecast of the prospects for a renewed international terrorist threat from Afghanistan since President Joe Biden announced in April that all US troops would withdraw by September 11.

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At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham,  asked Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley whether they rated the likelihood of a regeneration of al-Qaida or the Islamic State group in Afghanistan as small, medium or large. Gen. Mark Milley declined to say whether Afghanistan’s security forces are fully ready to stand up to the Taliban without direct international backing during a potential Taliban offensive.

“I would assess it as medium,” Austin replied. “I would also say, senator, that it would take possibly two years for them to develop that capability.” Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said he agreed. “I think that if certain other things happen — if there was a collapse of the government or the dissolution of the Afghan security forces — that risk would obviously increase, but right now I would say ‘medium’ and about two years or so,” Milley said.

Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley talk before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2022 for the Department of Defence in Washington.

The US invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on America, when the Taliban allowed al-Qaida safe haven in the country. The key goal of US and coalition troops in Afghanistan since then has been to prevent a resurgence and another attack against America or other allies. Military leaders have consistently said that combat operations in Afghanistan have greatly reduced the number of al-Qaida there. But they say that both al-Qaida and ISIS continue to aspire to attack America.

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The Pentagon has said the U.S. withdrawal after nearly 20 years in Afghanistan is a little more than half completed, and US-led coalition partners also are leaving.