U.S. President Joe Biden has hinted that al Qaeda has “disappeared” from Afghanistan, but the Pentagon appears to refute that claim, admitting that al Qaeda still exists in the region, FoxNews.com reported Tuesday.
“Let’s look at it from this perspective,” Biden said at a news conference Tuesday, defending his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is gone, what interest do we have in Afghanistan? About an hour later, Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin questioned Pentagon spokesman John Kirby about Biden’s claim.
Griffin asked Kirby to estimate how many al Qaeda members there are in Afghanistan, and Kirby could not give a specific number, adding, “I haven’t seen that estimate yet.” Well, I don’t know if we have an accurate estimate. Griffin asked, “Don’t you have any military intelligence estimates about how many al Qaeda members there are in Afghanistan?” Kirby replied, “We know that both al Qaeda and ISIS are in Afghanistan.” We have been discussing this problem for some time. We don’t think it’s too high, but we don’t have the exact number, and I think you should understand. ”
Later, Griffin asked Kirby what the president had said less than an hour ago, saying al Qaeda had “disappeared.” Griffin told Kirby, “The president just said there’s no al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, and that doesn’t seem right.” ”
Kirby replied: “What we don’t think is that we believe there is not a significant enough presence to pose a threat to our homeland.” It’s like 9-11 20 years ago. The president also said there was no national security interest in Afghanistan. ”
Griffin said she was “a little confused” and asked Kirby to explain why U.S. troops had been in Afghanistan for 20 years if there was no “national interest.” Mr Kirby said there had been such an interest 20 years ago, but now al-Qaeda had been “defeated” and the withdrawal was safe and the US would “be vigilant and monitor threats from Afghanistan”.
Griffin continued, “But you just said you don’t have ground intelligence in Afghanistan anymore.” How are you going to monitor it? And there is still al-Qa’idah in this country. Kirby said: “What I’m saying is that we don’t have enough flexibility and intelligence to give you a number, an accurate count of how many al Qaeda members there are in Afghanistan.” No one will escape the fact that they are not there. We will be as vigilant as possible in the absence of ground troops. ”
In addition, U.S. experts warned that Biden’s order to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover of the country had brought the global terror threat to its highest level in 20 years, and that a 9/11 attack by al Qaeda could be imminent without U.S. intelligence in the region.
Dr Tom Copeland, a US expert on intelligence failures and mass casualty terrorist attacks, warned that a full US withdrawal could herald another September 11-like attack on US soil. “Having an entire country as a haven will give al Qaeda more physical space and breathing space to reorganize and re-plan major events,” he said. So I think the U.S. withdrawal itself is a big part of the threat. ”
He explained that with the Taliban taking full control of Afghanistan, al-Qa’idah is expected to fully resume operations, and that terrorist attacks on the West will become a permanent national security issue. Worryingly, the United States will not be able to learn about the ground for the first time in nearly 20 years because there are no embassies, military bases and CIA sites in the region. “While we may be more organized in defending our homeland than we were in 2001, this withdrawal will give us a more limited window into terrorist activity in Afghanistan,” Copeland said. He believes U.S. intelligence agencies should be prepared for attacks “in the next four to five years.”
Victor Davis Hanson, a US military historian and FoxNews.com contributor, said Copeland’s assessment of an imminent attack on the West was “probably correct” and that “I think the next three and a half years will be the most dangerous period since the Cold War of the 1950s”.
“I am confident that the United States faces a higher risk of international terrorism today than at any time in the last 20 years,” said Paul D. Miller, who served in Afghanistan and later became a CIA agent before being appointed director of Afghanistan for the National Security Council during the Bush and Obama administrations. He believes that al-Qa’idah now has breathing space, which means that “all of us are at greater risk of terrorist attacks, not only by the United States, but also by our European partners”.