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Biden’s ‘Over The Horizon’ Counter-Terrorism Strategy Comes With New Risks

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The Guardian

Biden’s ‘Over The Horizon’ Counter-Terrorism Strategy Comes With New Risks

Taliban in power may find themselves fighting their own insurgents

Analysis: new regime may face enemy composed not of fighters loyal to former US-backed government but those who see new rulers as sellouts

by Jason Burke

Joe Biden has said the US will maintain an “over the horizon” counter-terrorism capability to neutralise the threat posed by Islamist extremist groups in Afghanistan.

With no troops on the ground, no intelligence-gathering operation in the country and no ally with shared borders, this kind of long-range effort to stop plots targeting the west will not be easy – and is made significantly harder by the range of the organisations based in territory now nominally under Taliban control.

What any violent extremist group needs more than anything else is a secure location where it can plan, organise, recruit, strategise and gather resources. Without this, few insurgents and terrorists survive, let alone succeed. Pakistan provided this to the Taliban, greatly aiding their 20-year campaign that ended in victory this week. Al-Qaida had one from 1996-2001 – and it was the prospect of losing the haven that Afghanistan offered that led many of its most senior leaders to oppose Osama bin Laden’s plan to launch the 9/11 attack on the US.

Al-Qaida was forced to flee Afghanistan after the war of 2001 but has slowly returned. It does not have anywhere near the extensive infrastructure of 20 years ago when it ran a dozen training camps. Instead, its 200-500 fighters are dispersed across much of the country. Many are from al-Qaida in south Asia, an affiliate set up with Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi recruits in 2014 to further the organisation’s aims in the region. Others have been fighting alongside the Taliban, with whom they have “close relations”, intelligence services have told the United Nations.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organisation’s current leader, has eschewed long-range attacks against the west since taking over in 2011 to focus on building a grassroots presence in places such as the Sahel, Somalia, Yemen and, with limited success, Syria. But this could change.

Full story https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/18/bidens-over-the-horizon-counter-terrorism-strategy-comes-with-new-risks