US strike shows Afghanistan still terror base

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is holding out the CIA operation that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri as a monumental strike against the global terror network responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001. But there’s a downside, too.

The drone strike also is putting into stark relief the mounting evidence that after 20 years of America’s military presence — and then sudden departure — Afghanistan has once again become an active staging ground for Islamic terror groups looking to attack the West.

The operation, carried out over the weekend after at least six months spent monitoring movements by al-Zawahri and his family, came just weeks before the one-year anniversary of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from the country.

The Biden administration is making the case that the operation shows Americans at home and allies abroad that the United States hasn’t lost focus — or the ability to strike terrorists in the region — and validates its decision to end two decades of fighting in Afghanistan with its withdrawal.

Announcing the strike from the White House, President Joe Biden said Monday night that “justice” had been exacted on a leader who in recent weeks had recorded videos calling for his followers to attack the United States and allies. And the White House on Tuesday framed the operation as an enormous counterterrorism win.

“The president has made good on his word when we left,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on NBC’s “Today” show. “After 20 years of war to keep this country safe, he said we would be able to continue to target and take out terrorists in Afghanistan without troops on the ground.”

But as details of the operation continue to emerge, the administration has also revealed troubling evidence of al-Qaida’s presence and of the Taliban once again offering refuge to the group that was behind the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

White House officials believe that senior members of the Haqqani Network, an Islamist terror group with strong ties to the Taliban, were aware that al-Zawahri was in Kabul. Sullivan said that while al-Zawahri wasn’t involved in day-to-day planning at the time of his killing, he continued to play an active role in directing al-Qaida and posed “a severe threat” against the U.S. and American citizens.

On Tuesday, the State Department updated its Worldwide Caution, warning U.S. citizens traveling abroad that “there is a higher potential for anti-American violence given the death of Ayman al-Zawahri.”

Concerns about al-Qaida efforts to regroup inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan are hardly new.

Before the strike, U.S. military officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said al-Qaida was trying to reconstitute in Afghanistan, where it faces limited threats from the now-ruling Taliban. Military leaders have warned that the group still aspired to attack the U.S.

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