WASHINGTON — American secret agent businesses have concluded in a brand new intelligence evaluate that Al Qaeda has now not reconstituted its presence in Afghanistan for the reason that U.S. withdrawal final August and that just a handful of longtime Qaeda contributors stay within the nation.
The terror staff does now not be capable of release assaults from the rustic towards the United States, the evaluate mentioned. Instead, it mentioned, Al Qaeda will depend on, no less than for now, an array of unswerving associates out of doors the area to hold out attainable terrorist plots towards the West.
But a number of counterterrorism analysts mentioned the secret agent businesses’ judgments represented an constructive snapshot of a fancy and fast-moving terrorist panorama. The evaluate, a declassified abstract of which used to be supplied to The New York Times, represents the consensus perspectives of the U.S. intelligence businesses.
“The assessment is substantially accurate, but it’s also the most positive outlook on a threat picture that is still quite fluid,” mentioned Edmund Fitton-Brown, a former best U.N. counterterrorism professional.
The evaluate used to be ready after Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s best chief, used to be killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in Kabul final month. The demise of al-Zawahri, probably the most international’s most-wanted terrorist leaders, after a decades-long manhunt used to be a big victory for President Biden, but it surely raised quick questions on al-Zawahri’s presence in Afghanistan a yr after Mr. Biden withdrew all American forces, clearing the way in which for the Taliban to regain regulate of the rustic.
Republicans have mentioned that the president’s pullout has endangered the United States. The truth the Qaeda chief felt protected sufficient to go back to the Afghan capital, they argue, used to be an indication of a failed coverage that they predicted would permit Al Qaeda to rebuild coaching camps and plot assaults regardless of the Taliban’s pledge to disclaim the crowd a protected haven. Last October, a best Pentagon professional mentioned Al Qaeda may just be capable to regroup in Afghanistan and assault the United States in a single to 2 years.
Administration officers have driven again on the latest criticisms, noting a pledge Mr. Biden made when he introduced al-Zawahri’s demise.
“As President Biden has said, we will continue to remain vigilant, along with our partners, to defend our nation and ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism,” Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, mentioned in an e-mail on Saturday.
Yet some out of doors counterterrorism experts noticed the brand new intelligence evaluate as overly hopeful.
A U.N. document warned this spring that Al Qaeda had discovered “increased freedom of action” in Afghanistan for the reason that Taliban seized energy. The document famous that numerous Qaeda leaders have been in all probability dwelling in Kabul and that the uptick in public statements through al-Zawahri prompt that he used to be ready to guide extra successfully after the Taliban seized energy.
“This seems like an overly rosy assessment to the point of being slightly myopic,” Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst on the Soufan Group, a safety consulting company primarily based in New York, mentioned of the intelligence research. He added that the abstract mentioned “little about the longer-term prospects of Al Qaeda.”
Al-Zawahri’s demise has as soon as once more solid a focus on Al Qaeda, which after Osama bin Laden’s demise in 2011 has in large part been overshadowed through an upstart rival, the Islamic State. Many terrorism analysts mentioned Saif al-Adel, a senior Qaeda chief needed through the F.B.I. within the bombings of 2 United States embassies in East Africa in 1998, used to be more likely to be triumphant al-Zawahri. He is assumed to be dwelling in Iran.
“Basically, I find the I.C. assessment convincing,” mentioned Daniel Byman, a professor at Georgetown University, relating to the U.S. intelligence group and its new research of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Mr. Byman has up to now voiced skepticism a couple of resurgent Qaeda risk.
But different counterterrorism mavens disagreed. One level of dispute concerned claims within the intelligence abstract that Al Qaeda had now not reconstituted its risk community in Afghanistan and that al-Zawahri used to be the one primary determine who sought to reestablish Al Qaeda’s presence within the nation when he and his circle of relatives settled in Kabul this yr.
“Zawahri was THE leader of Al Qaeda, so his being protected by the Taliban while he provided more active guidance to the group was in of itself reconstitution,” Asfandyar Mir, a senior knowledgeable on the United States Institute of Peace, wrote in an e-mail.
“This approach fails to account for the group Al Qaeda is today and the fact that even a small number of core leaders can leverage Afghanistan to politically direct the group’s affiliate network,” Mr. Mir wrote. “Al Qaeda doesn’t need large training camps to be dangerous.”
Some counterterrorism mavens additionally took factor with the federal government analysts’ judgment that fewer than a dozen Qaeda core contributors with longtime ties to the crowd are in Afghanistan, and that the majority of the ones contributors have been most likely there sooner than the autumn of the Afghan executive final summer time.
“Their numbers of active, hard-core Al Qaeda in AfPak make no sense,” mentioned Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism student on the Council on Foreign Relations, relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “At least three dozen senior Qaeda commanders were freed from Afghan jails a year ago. I very much doubt they have turned to farming or accounting as their post-prison vocations.”
Mr. Hoffman mentioned that Qaeda operatives or their associates have been given necessary administrative duties in no less than 8 Afghan provinces. He prompt the timing of the federal government evaluate used to be “to deflect attention from the disastrous consequences of last year’s shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
The intelligence abstract additionally mentioned that contributors of the Qaeda associate in Afghanistan, previously referred to as Al Qaeda within the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, have been in large part inactive and targeted principally on actions like media manufacturing.
But a U.N. document in July estimated that the Qaeda associate had between 180 to 400 opponents — “primarily from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Pakistan” — who have been in different Taliban battle gadgets.
“We know from a range of sources that AQIS participated in the Taliban’s insurgency against the U.S. as well as operations against ISIS-K,” Mr. Mir mentioned, relating to the Islamic State’s department in Afghanistan, a sour rival of Al Qaeda.
There used to be extensive settlement on no less than two details within the intelligence abstract, together with that Al Qaeda does now not but be capable of assault the United States or American pursuits aboard from Afghan soil.
The United Nations document in July concurred with that judgment, explaining that Al Qaeda “is not viewed as posing an immediate international threat from its safe haven in Afghanistan because it lacks an external operational capability and does not currently wish to cause the Taliban international difficulty or embarrassment.”
And executive analysts in addition to out of doors terrorism mavens agreed that Al Qaeda in Afghanistan would, within the brief time period, perhaps name upon a spread of fellow workers out of doors the area to hold out plots.
None of those associates pose the similar roughly risk to the American native land that Al Qaeda did on Sept. 11, 2001. But they’re fatal and resilient. The Qaeda associate in East Africa killed 3 Americans at a U.S. base in Kenya in 2020. A Saudi Air Force officer coaching in Florida killed 3 sailors and wounded 8 other folks in 2019. The officer acted on his personal however used to be involved with the Qaeda department in Yemen as he finished his assault plans.