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Despite al-Zawahiri strike, US officials are concerned about counterterrorism threats in Afghanistan

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Greater than a 12 months after the creation of that job drive, sources say it hasn’t despatched a single proposed goal to the Pentagon for approval — largely as a result of with no presence on the bottom, it hasn’t been in a position to construct sufficient intelligence on targets to fulfill the administration’s requirements for avoiding civilian casualties.

The White Home has hailed the CIA operation that killed al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul on Saturday as proof that utilizing over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan has been efficient. Present and former officers say the profitable Zawahiri strike actually proves that with the best intelligence, the US is completely able to tackling a particular goal from afar — however those self same sources additionally stated that Zawahiri, a single, high-value goal lengthy within the CIA’s crosshairs, was a particular case that does not alone show the effectiveness of the technique.

“There is a distinction between monitoring one senior excessive worth goal and coping with the resurgence of those terrorist teams inside Afghanistan,” stated Beth Sanner, a former presidential intelligence briefer underneath President Donald Trump and senior South Asia analyst on the CIA. “It is a only a entire totally different ball of wax.”

Some intelligence officers have publicly raised issues that terrorist exercise incubated in Afghanistan will unfold exterior the nation’s borders and pose a risk to the US — and that the US will likely be blind to it.

Requested immediately by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, if he was frightened about an assault on the homeland “emanating from locations like Afghanistan,” FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday stated, “We’re. Particularly now that we’re out I am frightened concerning the potential lack of sources and assortment over there.”

“I am frightened concerning the risk that we’ll see al Qaeda reconstitute,” he added.

Hinting at how excessive the hurdles have turn into, some intelligence and navy officers who weren’t concerned within the closely-held planning particulars of the Zawahiri operation had been pleasantly stunned that the US was nonetheless in a position to efficiently perform such a precision strike, in keeping with a former intelligence official nonetheless involved with former colleagues.

Administration officers say that quite the opposite, the Zawahiri strike is proof that the US is efficiently monitoring and countering the risk with out American boots on the bottom in Afghanistan. Sources acquainted with the intelligence behind the strike say the US built-in numerous totally different nuggets of knowledge from a number of streams of intelligence to find and goal Zawahiri.

“I feel I am extra happy and extra assured [in US intelligence in Afghanistan] than I used to be even per week in the past due to what that assortment simply enabled, which was a reasonably outstanding, fairly exact motion,” a senior administration official informed CNN on Friday.

Al Qaeda needs a new leader after Zawahiri's killing. Its bench is thinner than it once was.

“The truth that there have not been different makes use of of drive of that kind prior to now 12 months signifies that we’re monitoring and we’re being considered — and the place we expect it reaches the purpose of needing to behave, we’re appearing,” the official stated. “However I feel it’s a fairly highly effective demonstration of what that functionality can present.”

The US now largely depends on drone flights and human networks on the bottom to assemble details about what’s going on inside Afghanistan, in keeping with a former intelligence official and the supply acquainted with the intelligence.

However drone flights from the Gulf are logistically sophisticated and have restricted loiter time in Afghanistan due to the lengthy flight, making them costly to make use of and limiting their usefulness. And with no US presence on the bottom, intelligence professionals count on human networks might degrade over time.

“I feel we do not know what we do not know,” one former official stated.

Tough questions

For now, there may be broad consensus contained in the intelligence neighborhood that the quick risk that al Qaeda will be capable of use Afghanistan as a secure haven to plan assaults on the US homeland or US pursuits stays low. However troublesome questions stay about whether or not that threat will develop over time.

A lot is dependent upon present unknowns — specifically, how the Taliban responds to the killing of Zawahiri. “Will the Taliban really let AQ use Afghanistan?” stated one supply acquainted with the intelligence.

“There are a ton of things that play into this debate,” this individual stated. “And all sophisticated.”

The intelligence neighborhood in its annual risk evaluation launched this 12 months charges the risk from al Qaeda associates in Yemen, Somalia and West Africa as a larger threat to US pursuits overseas than its weakened management in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, officers consider, continues to be gauging its skill to function underneath Taliban rule and can probably stay centered on sustaining its secure haven quite than planning exterior operations — at the least for now.

Biden's al Qaeda strike reveals an inconvenient truth about America's war on terror

And though al Qaeda leaders have loved “elevated freedom of motion” underneath the Taliban, in keeping with a current UN report, there was no main inflow of latest fighters to Afghanistan for the reason that US withdrawal — a mirrored image of how al Qaeda has advanced away from centrally-planned assaults, in keeping with some analysts.

However as for what occurs subsequent, one US supply described the evaluation throughout intelligence businesses as “in every single place.”

“What we do not suppose we’ve got occurring is a few type of regrowth [or] regeneration of an al Qaeda operational presence — even with much less well-known names [than Zawahiri],” the senior administration official stated.

There’s one faculty of thought that whereas some components of the Taliban might really feel honor-bound to uphold its oath to protect previous guard members of al Qaeda like Zawahiri, it has no obligation or incentive to make welcome a brand new technology of fighters. And in keeping with intelligence officers, there are vanishingly few members of the unique al Qaeda management who stay in Afghanistan, none of whom are more likely to exchange Zawahiri.

In the meantime, the current strike, some analysts argue, might dissuade terrorist leaders from touring to the nation from elsewhere. They argue that the far larger threat is al Qaeda associates in Africa and elsewhere which can be solely loosely linked to core leaders in Afghanistan.

“There’s some people who find themselves very frightened,” stated Sanner, who’s now a contributor at CNN. “I personally suppose that AQ core in Afghanistan does not do a whole lot of operational planning.”

Others assess that it is extra probably that the Taliban — consumed with making an attempt to legitimize its authorities amid a monetary implosion and an ongoing battle with ISIS-Okay — merely might not have the bandwidth to forestall Afghanistan from being utilized by al Qaeda or its associates to plan assaults on the US. There are additionally issues that the remnants of al Qaeda might merely be absorbed into the Taliban.

The UN report discovered a “shut relationship” between al Qaeda and the Taliban.

How the Taliban reply

How the Taliban responds to the dying of Zawahiri stays an open query — and one which intelligence and navy officers are watching carefully, a number of officers stated.

Based on one supply acquainted with the intelligence, it is not clear to US intelligence how many individuals within the Taliban knew that Zawahiri was holed up in Kabul in a home owned by the highly effective Haqqani faction — a militant group that’s a part of the Taliban authorities. The Taliban has publicly denied that they had been conscious of his presence previous to the strike and analysts are carefully watching to see if his publicity ushers in any sort of rift between the Taliban and the Haqqani.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no details about Ayman al-Zawahiri’s arrival and keep in Kabul,” a press release by the Taliban stated.

Images show Kabul house where al Qaeda chief was killed by US strike

White Home officers stated on Monday that senior Haqqani Taliban figures had been conscious of Zawahiri’s presence within the space and even took steps to hide his presence after Saturday’s profitable strike, proscribing entry to the secure home and quickly relocating members of his household, together with his daughter and her youngsters.

“So far as we all know, many individuals within the Taliban did not know the Haqqani had been sheltering Zawahiri in Kabul. “Does that create a break up between the Taliban and the Haqqani?” the supply acquainted with the intelligence stated.

The senior administration official stated Friday that the Taliban “is scrambling a bit to determine who knew what and who did not — and furthermore, to get their story straight on what occurred.”

Some US navy officers are hopeful, in the meantime, that the strike might assist push the Taliban in the direction of some type of restricted cooperation with the US to focus on ISIS-Okay, a standard enemy and separate terrorist group in Afghanistan that the US navy is way extra involved about than al Qaeda, in keeping with two sources acquainted with the dynamic.

“I feel this was a symbolic strike that eliminated an inspirational chief,” Sanner stated. “It completes the duty of eradicating the 2 individuals who had been on the middle of 9/11. However it’s the finish of an period — it isn’t a couple of present risk.”