U.S. officials now admit they are hunting al-Qaida in new Afghan provinces, after nearly a decade of referring to the group as "decimated."
"Al Qaeda's core leadership has been decimated," President Obama roundly declared at his foreign policy debate with then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. The U.S. Department of State even claimed al-Qaeda was "severely degraded" in its 2016 country report on terrorism.
But the U.S. military is now hunting al-Qaeda leaders in seven different provinces, indicating a high level of growth since the U.S. invasion in 2001, Commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan Army Gen. John Nicholson admitted to reporters yesterday.
Al-Qaeda operations have increased throughout Afghanistan since the end of U.S. combat missions in 2014. The U.S. assisted an Afghan-led operation in 2015 that destroyed the largest al-Qaeda training camp seen in the history of the Afghan war. U.S.-backed Afghan forces raided another al-Qaeda training base Sept. 19. The base was well stocked with weapons, suicide vests, and fake identification.
"The US government and the military has downplayed al Qaeda's presence for more than six years, despite evidence that al Qaeda has remained entrenched in Afghanistan some 15 years after the 9/11 attacks," The Long War Journal noted Saturday.
Nicholson indicated al-Qaeda is increasingly taking advantage of the security vacuum in Afghanistan in remote parts of the country. The Taliban have made unprecedented battlefield gains against the U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces since the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014. The Afghan forces maintain control over approximately 70 percent of the country, according to testimony by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joesph Dunford before the Senate Committee on Armed Services Thursday.
The Taliban allowed al-Qaeda to use Afghan territory in the years leading up to 9/11 to plan attacks on the U.S. Al-Qaeda recognizes the leader of the Taliban as the true leader of the Islamic world. After the U.S. killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in May, al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri immediately swore his allegiance to the new Taliban leader.
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