Al Qaeda regrouping in Afghanistan: US expert
A top US expert has said Al Qaeda was reconstituting in Afghanistan in concert with the Afghan Taliban that provided sanctuary to the terrorist outfit.
Al Qaeda Senior Leadership, such as Ayman al Zawahiri and Hamza bin Laden, operated from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Katherine Zimmerman, research fellow American Enterprise Institute, said during a Congressional hearing organized by the Committee on House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
“Retaining al Qaeda`s sanctuary in Afghanistan is a secondary but important effort for the global organization because the victory against the Soviets in Afghanistan remains al Qaeda`s crown jewel, proving that the Mujahideen can defeat a superpower,” she said.
“Al Qaeda never fully lost its sanctuary in Pakistan and used this base to project forward into Afghanistan again as the US drew down militarily,” she said, adding that by 2015, al Qaeda was running large training camps inside Afghanistan.
The US began revising its assessments of al Qaeda`s strength in Afghanistan based on the discovery of these training camps, Zimmerman noted. “The US killed senior al Qaeda leaders operating in Afghanistan in an October 2016 air strike, their presence a telling indicator that al Qaeda had returned to the country,” she said.
Al Qaeda senior leadership, she said no longer concentrates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. Neither is it any longer synonymous with what the Obama administration dubbed “al Qaeda core“–the al Qaeda node in Afghanistan-Pakistan.
“This shift began in the early 2010s. AQSL is now dispersed throughout al Qaeda`s network with strong concentrations in Syria (primarily al Qaeda`s network that had been based in Iran), Yemen, and Afghanistan-Pakistan,” Zimmerman said.
Seth G. Jones Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center RAND Corporation said by 2017, al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent boasted several hundred members and had cells in Afghanistan`s Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Paktika, Ghazni, and Nuristan Provinces.
“Al- Qaida`s presence in Afghanistan was almost certainly larger and more expansive than five or even ten years before. This expansion may have been due partly to Taliban advances in Afghanistan and al- Qaida`s relationship with operatives from the Taliban and other groups, such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e Jhangvi,” Jones said.
Al-Qaida operatives in Bangladesh were particularly active, conducting a range of attacks. In addition, al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent conducted a steady propaganda campaign from its media arm, As-Sahab. However, the group conducted few attacks in Afghanistan or Pakistan and was largely irrelevant in the Taliban-led insurgency, he said.
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