Photo: Gage Skidmore

Biden: US Ready to Address Threats from Afghanistan

In a letter to Congress on Thursday, December 7, US President Joe Biden said that his government has enough military presence in the region to counter potential threats emanating from Afghanistan. The letter was sent to the American legislature as part of a supplemental report on the status and deployment of the American military for combat purposes.

“United States military personnel remain postured outside Afghanistan to address threats to the United States homeland and United States interests that may arise from inside Afghanistan,” Biden stated in his letter.

In justifying his highly criticized decision to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan, Biden’s administration said that they would maintain over-the-horizon capabilities in the region in case threats of terrorism emerge from Afghanistan in the future. Since then, many experts have raised concerns about the proliferation of regional and international terrorist groups under the Taliban.

Worries increased after the United States military carried out what it called an ‘over the horizon operation’ in downtown Kabul that killed Al Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who was reportedly living in the capital under Taliban protection. While the Biden Administration tried to project the operation as a testament to its “over the horizon” capabilities, many observers believe that the presence of the top Al Qaeda leader in Kabul’s green zone showed the extent of continued ties by Afghanistan’s rulers and international terrorist networks.

In a report in June, the UN sanctions monitoring team warned that the Taliban maintains a robust relationship with Al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and has undermined the Doha Agreement to cut ties with these terrorist groups as well as other transnational terrorist outfits including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and Jamaat Ansarullah. According to the report, the link between the Taliban and these terrorist groups remains “strong” and “symbiotic” and these outfits have expanded their operational activities, and enjoy “greater freedom of maneuver” under the Taliban. Therefore, the threat of terrorism is on the rise in the region.

Such concerns are even shared by security agencies in the US Government. In its annual report for 2022, released in April this year, the US Department of State highlighted the deep concern among Afghanistan’s neighbors regarding potential terrorist threats originating from the region. “While the Taliban committed to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan to conduct attacks against the United States and its allies, its ability to prevent al-Qaeda elements, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and ISIS-K from mounting external operations remained unclear.” Additionally, the report stated that the Taliban continued to provide shelter to terrorist groups despite their commitments not to allow Afghanistan’s soil to be used against other countries.

Despite such reports from American national security agencies, the Biden Administration holds that the Taliban abide by their commitments in the Doha Agreement that the group signed in February 2020 with the United States. As part of the agreement, the United States withdrew all of its forces in return for a Taliban commitment to not allow Afghanistan’s soil to be used by international terrorism, a promise that many argue the group has evidently not fulfilled.

Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors are increasingly expressing their concerns about the potential for terrorism emanating from the country and its destabilizing impact on the region. This concern was recently highlighted by Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon at the 5th Consultative Meeting of the Heads of States of Central Asia, held on September 14 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

“In recent years, we have encountered attempts by various terrorist groups to break through and illegally cross the state border,” the Tajik president said. “Not long ago we prevented two attempts by militants to break through the border. They aimed to commit a series of terrorist attacks in the capital and other regions of Tajikistan.”

Pakistan, Afghanistan’s southern neighbor, initially welcomed the departure of the US and its allies from Afghanistan. However, recent months have seen a sharp rise in terrorism-related deaths, particularly along its shared border with Afghanistan. Pakistan accuses the Taliban of supporting and sheltering the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group responsible for numerous deadly attacks on Pakistani military personnel and civilians. Pakistani authorities have repeatedly called on the Taliban to either act against terrorists using Afghanistan soil to attack Pakistan or hand them over to Islamabad. Earlier, Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister, Anwar ul Haq Kakar said that terrorist attacks in his country have increased by 60 percent since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021. Since then, some 2,300 people have been killed in these attacks.

In his letter to the Hill, the U.S. President says that his administration relies on collaboration with international partners, particularly in the areas overseen by the U.S. Central and Africa Commands “These ongoing operations, which the United States has carried out with the assistance of numerous international partners, have been successful in seriously degrading ISIS capabilities in Syria and Iraq,” the letter says.