Al Qaeda could rebuild itself inside Afghanistan within one to two years, senior intelligence officials said Tuesday, noting that some members of the terror group had already returned to the country.
Earlier this year, senior Pentagon officials said al Qaeda could recover within two years, then told lawmakers after the fall of the Afghan government that they were revising that timeline.
The new timetable is not a drastic change, but reflects the reality that the Taliban have limited ability to control the borders of Afghanistan. While the Taliban have long fought the Islamic State affiliate, they are established allies of Al Qaeda. Although the Taliban pledged in the February 2020 peace deal with the United States not to let Afghanistan be used by terrorist groups, analysts have said such promises ring hollow.
“The current assessment is probably one to two years for Al Qaeda to acquire some capacity to at least threaten the homeland,” Defense Director Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier said Tuesday. Intelligence Agency, at the annual Intelligence and National conference. Security summit.
David S. Cohen, the deputy director of the CIA, said the difficult part of the timeline question was when Al Qaeda or the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan would have “the capacity to go and strike. homeland ”before they can be detected. .
The CIA is closely monitoring “certain potential movements of Al Qaeda into Afghanistan,” Cohen said.
Mr. Cohen has not identified any specific members of Al Qaeda who have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the US-backed government. But former Osama bin Laden security chief Amin al Haq, who served with bin Laden in the Battle of Tora Bora, was seen on video returning to Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province last month. .
On Monday, speaking at the same conference, Avril D. Haines, director of national intelligence, said Afghanistan was not the greatest terrorist threat to the United States. Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Iraq, she said, all pose greater threats.
The CIA will need to increase its reliance on remote intelligence gathering in so-called “on the horizon” operations, Cohen said. He added that the agency hoped to do its job – including rebuilding informant networks – closer to Afghanistan. “We will also look for ways to work from the horizon, to the extent possible,” he said.
This intelligence gathering in Afghanistan will need to be stepped up, General Berrier said, at the same time as the agencies improve their ability to monitor China and Russia.
“We are thinking about ways to get back to Afghanistan with all kinds of sources,” the general said. But he added: “We have to be careful to balance these very scarce resources with this pivot to China and to Russia. “