In written testimony prepared for a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Tuesday, Thomas Joscelyn from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think-tank told lawmakers:
Al-Qaeda is far from dead. Despite triumphalist claims about the organization’s supposed demise, al-Qaeda is a global terrorist and insurgent organization. Indeed, al- Qaeda’s loyalists are probably fighting in more countries today than ever before.
Eighteen years after 9/11, al-Qaeda is operating in the Middle East as well as across North Africa and South Asia.
Despite the heavy losses sustained by the group at the hands of the U.S. military, including the death of its founder, Osama bin Laden, the terrorist group remains strong.
Last year, the terrorist group boasted the “strongest fighting force in its existence.”
Joscelyn told the House panel:
The Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL], al-Qaeda, and allied groups are fighting or operating across an enormous amount of ground, stretching from the remote regions of West Africa, through North and East Africa, into the heart of the Middle East, and all the way into Central and South Asia.
The FDD expert acknowledged that the Taliban controls and holds sway over more territory now about half of Afghanistan than during any other time since 2001.
U.S. troops removed the Taliban regime from power at the end of 2001, soon after invading Afghanistan in response to the attack on America that year.
The Taliban currently contests or controls more ground than at any time since 9/11. Americans’ frustration with the war effort is well-placed. A number of regional or international terrorist organizations fight under the Taliban’s banner today, and there is no indication that the Taliban will truly break with them.
Members of the Taliban and their al-Qaeda counterparts remain tight in Afghanistan, Joscelyn pointed out.
“The Taliban remains closely allied with al-Qaeda, and this is not likely to change as a result of any [peace] agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban,” he declared.
Assessments conducted by the United Nations in recent years show that the relationship between the two groups has remained “firm” through the 18 years of the war on terror.
At the end of June, the U.N. reported, al-Qaeda, “members continue to function routinely as military and religious instructors for the Taliban,” the FDD expert noted.
Al-Qaeda “considers Afghanistan a continuing safe haven for its leadership, relying on its long-standing and strong relationship with the Taliban leadership,” the international body added.
In July, the Pentagon reported that al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) in particular is working with the Taliban, noting:
AQIS routinely supports and works with low-level Taliban in its efforts to undermine the Afghan government, and maintains an enduring interest in attacking U.S. forces and Western targets in the region. AQIS faces continuous [U.S.-led] coalition [counterterrorism] pressure and will focus on ensuring its safe haven remains viable. Additionally, AQIS assists local Taliban in some attacks, according to al-Qa’ida statements.
AQIS continues to work toward its stated goals of freeing occupied Muslim lands, establishing an Islamic caliphate, and implementing Shar’ia law.
The Pentagon acknowledged that continued counterterrorism pressure on the al-Qaeda branch has “reduced AQIS’s ability to conduct operations in Afghanistan.”
Wednesday marks the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. homeland, considered the deadliest assault on American soil.
Al-Qaeda carried out the massacre that killed nearly 3,000 people and wounded an estimated 6,000 others with the support of the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan at the time.
The Taliban government harbored Bin Laden in the years leading up to the massacre, prompting the United States to invade Afghanistan in October 2011 and remove the jihadi government by the end of that year.
American troops in Afghanistan remain focused on combating the Taliban and al-Qaeda in addition to the other terrorist groups that now call the South Asian country home.
Over the weekend, U.S. President Donald Trump canceled peace negotiations with the Taliban after nearly a year of talks.
On Monday, he deemed the negotiations “dead” and indicated that the U.S. had intensified attacks against the Taliban.
Trump cited an attack by the narco-jihadi group that killed an American service member days after the top U.S. negotiator announced that the negotiations with the Taliban had yielded a deal “in principle.”
Joscelyn told lawmakers the Taliban is not interested in peace. He urged the U.S. to maintain a residual presence in Afghanistan to prevent local terrorist groups from attacking the United States again.
President Trump continues to express a desire to pull U.S. troops out of the war-ravaged country. However, he has also conceded that the United States will need to maintain a limited counterterrorism footprint in Afghanistan.
According to the recent Pentagon assessment of the war, Afghanistan remains home to the “highest regional concentration of terrorist groups in the world,” including a resurgent ISIS.
The United States has devoted vast amounts of blood and treasure to the overall war on terror.
Brown University’s Cost of War Project has revealed that the war on terror has come at the cost of nearly $6 trillion, including about $1 trillion in Afghanistan alone.
The war has also resulted in the loss of up to half a million people, including about 7,000 American troops.
Terrorists have also maimed an estimated 53,000 other American troops.
In Afghanistan alone, the likes of the Taliban and al-Qaeda have killed 2,296 U.S. troops and injured 20,543 others.
Although the U.S. military has thwarted some plots, al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group has failed to conduct another attack inside the American homeland like 9/11.
While testifying alongside the Joscelyn, Peter Bergen from the New America think-tank acknowledged that al-Qaeda remains a menace in his written remarks. Nevertheless, he added that “the threat to the United States from jihadist terrorism is relatively limited”:
Al-Qaeda and its breakaway faction, ISIS, have failed to direct a successful attack in the United States since the 9/11 attacks and none of the perpetrators of the 13 lethal jihadist attacks in the United States since those attacks received training from a foreign terrorist group.
Bergen pointed out that U.S. authorities have charged 479 individuals with jihadist terrorism-related activity in the United States since 9/11.
He also said that jihadis had killed a total of 104 people in the United States since the heinous attacks.
Bergen warned that al-Qaeda could merge with its rival ISIS.