As information emerges about the Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-Khorasan – the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for last week’s suicide attack that killed 13 US soldiers and more than 160 Afghans – there is a growing effort to predict how Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, will turn out. , may again emerge as a breeding ground for terrorist groups.
a UN report Released in June, it is estimated that thousands of fighters from the region have already poured into Afghanistan. Many of them are believed to be affiliated with either the Taliban – still viewed as a terrorist organization – or al-Qaeda or ISIS-K.
New York times Reports That ISIS-K was created six years ago by members of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban. There is a range of ideas among experts about what their ability to successfully carry out a terrorist attack in a Taliban-controlled area means for the terrorist threat going forward.
Cipher Briefing spoke with noted terrorism experts Bruce Hoffman, Mitch Silber, and Colin Clark to get their thoughts on the current risks of terrorist attacks against Americans at home and abroad.
Bruce HoffmanTerrorism expert and professor at Georgetown University
coding brief expert Bruce Hoffman He is a professor at Georgetown University and served as a commissioner on the independent committee reviewing the FBI’s response to terrorism and extremism after 9/11. He is also a resident scholar on counterterrorism at the CIA.
Mitch Silber, former director of analysis, NYPD
coding brief expert Mitch Silber He served as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York City Police Department and served as principal advisor to the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence on counterterrorism policy and analysis. He is now the Executive Director of the Community Security Initiative.
Colin ClarkDirector of Policy and Research, The Soufan Group
Colin P. Clarke is Director of Policy and Research at The Soufan Group. Clark’s research focuses on domestic and transnational terrorism, international security, and geopolitics. He is also a senior researcher at the Soufan Center.
Code brief: if it was UN report Issued in June is accurate, and there are thousands of fighters from the region who have flocked to Afghanistan – many of them linked to known terrorist groups – is there any way the administration could say “mission accomplished” in terms of downplaying the presence of terrorism in Afghanistan?
Hoffman: No, as these figures in the report by the United Nations Sanctions Support and Monitoring Team show, Afghanistan is once again becoming a magnet for jihadists and is likely to continue to do so in the future. The suicide attacks outside the gates of Kabul International Airport last Thursday underscore the multiplicity of terrorist groups that already exist in that country.
In addition to ISIS Khorasan, there is the Haqqani network, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, of course. Terrorism thrives in conditions of chaos and instability that terrorists hope will spread to other countries and eventually across regions.
Salafi-jihadi terrorists also migrated from the battlefields of South Asia to the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus in the 1990s. It spread to East and West Africa in the early 2000s; It flourished during the Arab Spring, waging civil wars in Syria, Libya, and the Sahel in the early 1920s. The same phenomenon is unfolding in Afghanistan.
silver: Frankly, I don’t think any of the four administrations can claim that the political goal of making Afghanistan inhospitable to being a safe haven for al-Qaeda or other similar jihadist groups has been achieved. Certainly, a number of times over the past twenty years, the threat posed by jihadist groups, the most important of them – al-Qaeda – has diminished in terms of their ability to pose a threat to the United States, and so has the threat. It was only temporary.
Code brief: How confident are you that al-Qaeda and ISIS are unable to plan and carry out attacks against the United States domestically?
Hoffman: The naive Doha negotiations with the Taliban, which led to the withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan, then the Taliban’s blitzkrieg across Afghanistan and then the shameful evacuation of our diplomats and citizens, painted a huge target on America’s back. Like sharks in water, terrorists smell blood. As my colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations, Jacob Weir, I wrote in The war on the rocksIn May, each time terrorism forced the United States to withdraw from a conflict zone in which it had committed ground forces, both in Lebanon in 1984; Somalia in 1993; And Iraq in 2011, it led to more terrorism around the world, not less, thus making the United States less safe.
At a time when our country continues to grapple with the COVID pandemic; When climate change crushes the Gulf states with Hurricane Ida and California with raging wildfires; When January 6NS Mutiny in the US Capitol keeps burning With incidents such as the bomb threat that crippled the area near the Library of Congress and the Cannon House office building earlier this month; combined with ongoing cyberattacks, peer competition from China and Russia, and concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions; Our terrorist adversaries may conclude that the United States is sufficiently occupied or distracted by any or all of the foregoing, and thus conclude that the time is right to strike the homeland. It is unlikely that a repeat of the 9/11 disaster will resultNS the 2001 attacks. But a terrorist strike similar to the 2019 shootings on Naval Air Force Base Pensacola; 2017 suicide bombing at a concert venue in Manchester, England; Coordinated suicide attacks on London transport in 2005; 2004 Madrid train bombings; Or any kind of major lone wolf incident perpetrated in the name of some current terrorist movement is likely to re-create the widespread fear and anxiety that is terrorism’s stockpile in commerce. It should also be noted that twice in the past three years, members of Al-Shabab – perhaps the least technologically proficient Al-Qaeda franchise – have been captured both in the Philippines and in an undisclosed African country by participating in the same flight training that It was carried out by four of the 9/11 hijackers before their fateful, coordinated attack that changed history.
silver: At this very moment, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda or ISIS-K will have the infrastructure, resources, recruits, and ability to externally plan a strike on the United States based on statements by the ICRC and senior Defense Department officials to Congress. However, without any external pressure or limited external pressure from the US military as a result of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, these networks and capabilities can be reconfigured in the coming months and groups like Al-Qaeda have certainly not given up their desire to strike US forces. homeland.
Clark: I think it is very unlikely that Al Qaeda or ISIS will be able to attack the United States. We have spent the greater part of the past two decades supporting the defense of the homeland. We now have CT tools that we didn’t have twenty years ago. However, the picture may look completely different 6, 12, 18 months from now. Both of these organizations are able to renew the ability to plan external operations. There are also fears of inspirational attacks.
Code brief: Some analysts said that the morale among terrorist or extremist Islamic groups is very high due to the circumstances surrounding the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, do you agree and if so what does that mean?
Hoffman: Yes really. naturally. Sunni and Shiite terrorist movements around the world have praised the Taliban’s reoccupation of Afghanistan and the defeat of the US military. For Salafi-jihadi Sunni terrorists, the events of the past month validate the strategy laid out by Osama bin Laden just prior to 2004. US presidential election, when he described the ease with which al-Qaeda was able to “bleed Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and had to withdraw defeated” from Afghanistan in 1989, and predicted that the same fate would befall the United States in the end as Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah, which is A Shiite terrorist organization, for example, delivered a sermon last week in which he described the “historic and humiliating defeat of America in Afghanistan as representing”America’s moral fall. “
silver: Jihadist chat rooms and extremist online networks feel like the wind is behind them. It took twenty years, but before the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks an Islamic emirate was re-established in Afghanistan. Suddenly, what seemed impossible became possible and Islamist insurgencies across the Middle East and South Asia could draw inspiration from the Taliban’s resolve in their efforts to overthrow a secular democratic government and replace it with an Islamic one.
Clark: I expect morale to rise among the terrorists, especially the Islamic extremists, in light of the development of events we have witnessed in Afghanistan. We have a week and a half to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and the leaders of al-Qaeda are back in Afghanistan (this is shown in al-Qaeda propaganda). We have seen al-Qaeda affiliates all over the world congratulating the Taliban on their victory. I don’t want to overstate the issue here, but I believe what happened in Afghanistan will be a powerful boost to the global jihadist movement at the same time as the United States and its allies shift from counterterrorism to great power competition. There will be few resources and energy to deal with the terrorists, as we face significant threats spreading in Afghanistan, likely with both a resurgent al-Qaeda and a stubborn ISKP.
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