Despite al-Zawahiri strike, US officers are involved about counterterrorism threats in Afghanistan

Greater than a yr after the creation of that activity drive, sources say it hasn’t despatched a single proposed goal to the Pentagon for approval — largely as a result of and not using a presence on the bottom, it hasn’t been in a position to construct sufficient intelligence on targets to satisfy 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 suitable intelligence, the US is completely able to tackling a particular goal from afar — however those self same sources additionally mentioned 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’s a difference between tracking one senior high value target and dealing with the resurgence of these terrorist groups inside Afghanistan,” mentioned Beth Sanner, a former presidential intelligence briefer below President Donald Trump and senior South Asia analyst on the CIA. “It’s a just a whole different ball of wax.”

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

Requested straight by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, if he was frightened about an assault on the homeland “emanating from places like Afghanistan,” FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday mentioned, “We are. Especially now that we’re out I’m worried about the potential loss of sources and collection over there.”

“I’m worried about the possibility that we will see al Qaeda reconstitute,” he added.

Hinting at how excessive the hurdles have turn out to be, 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 plenty of completely different nuggets of information from a number of streams of intelligence to find and goal Zawahiri.

“I think I’m more satisfied and more confident [in US intelligence in Afghanistan] than I was even a week ago because of what that collection just enabled, which was a pretty remarkable, pretty precise action,” a senior administration official advised CNN on Friday.

“The fact that there haven’t been other uses of force of that type in the past year means that we are monitoring and we are being judicious — and where we think it reaches the point of needing to act, we’re acting,” the official mentioned. “But I think it is a pretty powerful demonstration of what that capability can provide.”

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 and not using a US presence on the bottom, intelligence professionals anticipate human networks might degrade over time.

“I think we don’t know what we don’t know,” one former official mentioned.

Tough questions

For now, there’s broad consensus contained in the intelligence neighborhood that the quick risk that al Qaeda will have the ability to use Afghanistan as a protected haven to plan assaults on the US homeland or US pursuits stays low. However tough questions stay about whether or not that threat will develop over time.

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

“There are a ton of factors that play into this debate,” this particular person mentioned. “And all complicated.”

The intelligence neighborhood in its annual risk evaluation launched this yr charges the risk from al Qaeda associates in Yemen, Somalia and West Africa as a better threat to US pursuits overseas than its weakened management in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, officers consider, remains to be gauging its means to function below Taliban rule and can probably stay targeted on sustaining its protected haven relatively 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 “increased freedom of action” below the Taliban, in keeping with a latest UN report, there was no main inflow of recent 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 “all over the place.”

“What we don’t think we have occurring is some sort of regrowth [or] regeneration of an al Qaeda operational presence — even with less famous names [than Zawahiri],” the senior administration official mentioned.

There may be one faculty of thought that whereas some parts of the Taliban might really feel honor-bound to uphold its oath to defend outdated guard members of al Qaeda like Zawahiri, it has no obligation or incentive to make welcome a brand new era 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 prone to exchange Zawahiri.

In the meantime, the latest strike, some analysts argue, might dissuade terrorist leaders from touring to the nation from elsewhere. They argue that the far better threat is al Qaeda associates in Africa and elsewhere which are solely loosely related to core leaders in Afghanistan.

“There’s some people who are very worried,” mentioned Sanner, who’s now a contributor at CNN. “I personally think that AQ core in Afghanistan doesn’t do a 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-Ok — merely might not have the bandwidth to stop Afghanistan from being utilized by al Qaeda or its associates to plan assaults on the USA. There are additionally considerations that the remnants of al Qaeda might merely be absorbed into the Taliban.

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

How the Taliban reply

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

In keeping with one supply acquainted with the intelligence, it isn’t 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 type of rift between the Taliban and the Haqqani.

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

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

White Home officers mentioned 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 protected home and quickly relocating members of his household, together with his daughter and her youngsters.

“As far as we know, many people in the Taliban didn’t know the Haqqani were sheltering Zawahiri in Kabul. “Does that create a break up between the Taliban and the Haqqani?” the source familiar with the intelligence said.

The senior administration official said 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 military officials are hopeful, meanwhile, that the strike may help push the Taliban towards some sort of limited cooperation with the US to target ISIS-K, a common enemy and separate terrorist group in Afghanistan that the US military is far more concerned about than al Qaeda, according to two sources familiar with the dynamic.

“I feel this was a symbolic strike that eliminated an inspirational chief,” Sanner said. “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’s not a couple of present risk.”