The withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan in 2021 and the lack of “over the horizon” capabilities have led to a resurgence of terrorist activities, particularly by the ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) group. The US’s unreliable intelligence gathering and limited capabilities to run counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan have made it difficult to prevent the spread of terrorism in the country. Distance is also a major limitation since the US can only send assets such as drones from faraway places, giving them very little time to hover over the battlefield before having to return.
Despite these limitations, the US has shown its ability to strike in the country when an opportunity presents itself. The US Department of Defense announced a drone strike in Kabul nearly a year after the final US troops left Afghanistan that killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri. However, strikes in Afghanistan have been rare ever since despite the Biden administration’s 2021 promises that the US could maintain over-the-horizon operations. This is partly because the administration has allowed itself to be boxed in by the Taliban.
The Taliban now control the state apparatus, including all the weapons that the US left behind, ammunition, and bases, and they are sheltering Al-Qaeda. As a result, the biggest threat emanating from Afghanistan is Al-Qaeda. While the Islamic State is a secondary threat, it continues to test the new Taliban government’s security capabilities in Afghanistan. Concerns have grown that the group could become a threat to US interests outside the country since a US intelligence report earlier this year indicated that ISIS-K has expressed a clear desire to attack the West.
The lack of US counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan and the resurgence of terrorist activities in the country have raised concerns about the safety and security of Afghans and the global community. This article discusses the impact of the US withdrawal on Afghanistan’s security and the resurgence of terrorism in the country.
US Counterterrorism Operations in Afghanistan
The United States has been involved in Afghanistan since 2001 when it invaded the country to dismantle the Taliban regime and eliminate Al-Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks. The US-led coalition also sought to establish a democratic government in the country that respects human rights, including women’s rights.
During the war in Afghanistan, the US relied heavily on intelligence gathering to locate and target terrorists. The US also established military bases in the country, including the Bagram Air Base, which was once the largest US military base in Afghanistan. The base was used to store weapons, ammunition, and equipment for the US and its allies.
The US was able to maintain a significant military presence in Afghanistan and conduct counterterrorism operations as long as it had troops on the ground. However, with the full military withdrawal in 2021, the US has lost its ability to run counterterrorism operations in the country effectively.
The lack of “over the horizon” capabilities has also contributed to the resurgence of terrorist activities in Afghanistan. Over-the-horizon capabilities refer to the ability of the US military to conduct airstrikes or other military operations from outside the country’s borders. The US has had to rely on this approach since it no longer has a significant military presence in Afghanistan. However, the distance between the US and Afghanistan makes it difficult to gather reliable intelligence and to respond to emerging threats quickly.
The US is not the only country that has lost its ability to run counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of foreign troops has also led to the closure of many embassies and consulates, limiting the ability of foreign governments to gather intelligence and monitor terrorist activities in the country.
The Resurgence of Terrorism in Afghanistan
The resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan has been a major concern for the global community. The Taliban’s takeover of the country has created a power vacuum that has been exploited by terrorist groups, including ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda. These groups have taken advantage of the chaos and instability in the country to launch attacks on civilians, government officials, and security forces.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda has also raised concerns about the group’s ability to launch attacks against the West. Despite the Taliban’s promises to break ties with Al-Qaeda, there is evidence that the group still maintains close connections with the terrorist organization. The US intelligence community has warned that Al-Qaeda could use Afghanistan as a base to plan and launch attacks against the US and its allies.
ISIS-K, on the other hand, has emerged as a significant threat to the new Taliban government. The group has carried out a series of attacks in Kabul, targeting civilians and government officials. The group’s desire to establish a caliphate in the region and its willingness to use violence to achieve its goals have made it a major threat to regional stability.
The resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan has had a devastating impact on the country’s civilian population. The UN has reported a significant increase in civilian casualties in 2021, with many of these attributed to terrorist attacks. The lack of security and the resurgence of violence has also forced many Afghans to flee their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis.
The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2021 and the subsequent resurgence of terrorist activities in the country have highlighted the limitations of the US’s counterterrorism capabilities. The lack of over-the-horizon capabilities and the Taliban’s control of the state apparatus have made it difficult for the US to gather reliable intelligence and to respond to emerging threats quickly.
The resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan has also raised concerns about the safety and security of Afghans and the global community. The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K’s desire to attack the West have made the situation even more precarious.
The international community must work together to address the security challenges in Afghanistan. This will require a coordinated effort to gather intelligence, monitor terrorist activities, and take decisive action to prevent attacks. The US and its allies must also continue to provide support to the Afghan people and work towards building a stable and democratic government that respects human rights and promotes regional stability.