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The Hellfire missile attack, which knocked out Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri and reported no civilian casualties, was an extraordinary tactical success in the fight against terrorism. Zawahri, who was indicted in 1998 for his role in planning the bombings of US embassies in East Africa, was a high-value target, which has been pursued by the intelligence community for decades.
But the strike also reflected a strategic failure as the same toxic mix of a Taliban regime that provided refuge to al Qaeda that resulted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks was repeated after the US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer.
Afghanistan has turned into a failed terrorist state. Both Al Qaeda and ISIS have a growing presence, threatening the region and beyond.
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For the Taliban, their past is the prologue. As before 9/11, the Taliban deliberately provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda. Zawahri was murdered on a balcony in the Sherpur neighborhood of central Kabul, a stone’s throw from the former British embassy. Acting Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was designated a Global Terrorist by the US State Department in 2008 in connection with the Haqqani network’s alliance with al-Qaeda, reportedly oversaw security from Zawahri and arranged what turned out to be a not very safe, “safe home” for Zawahri and his family.
The Taliban have extended their safe haven to the Pakistani Taliban, who have their sights set on the Pakistani civilian population, government and nuclear program.
Afghanistan, suffering a humanitarian crisis under a Taliban regime that is adept at insurgency but lacks a base government, is a virtual magnet for terrorist recruitment.
Afghanistan is once again a source of regional instability, overrun with terrorist fighters as well as unruled space, which we learned from 9/11 poses a clear and present danger to our homeland.
The successful attack on Zawahri, the first reported counter-terrorism operation in Afghanistan since the US withdrawal, does not prove the effectiveness of the Biden administration’s “over the horizon” strategy”, an otherwise pleasant-sounding expression, which describes the significant deterioration of the find, restore and complete the counter-terrorism capability in Afghanistan, which has kept our country safe since 9/11.
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And let’s be clear. The horizon is at the edge of our view over land or water. It is impossible to look over the horizon. The attack on Zawahri was above the dead terrorist’s horizon. The intelligence community tracked Zawahri like a patient sniper, reportedly for more than six months, not over the horizon but close enough without being noticed to confirm Zawahri’s identity and precise location. This one attack, monumental as it was, does not prove that the US counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan can continue at a pace sufficient to degrade the growing capacity of Al Qaeda and ISIS to harm us.
Effective counter-terrorism operations depend on gathering intelligence from human sources. The complexity and challenge of the CIA’s mission to recruit spies and steal secrets without an official presence and embassy in Kabul has grown exponentially. We also lost our most effective ally in the region, the former government of Afghanistan, whose intelligence officers and soldiers have been a powerful force-multiplier in the fight against terrorism.
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So let’s not forget that the Taliban’s alliance with Al Qaeda makes Afghanistan more of a threat to our nation than at any time since 9/11.
And we must not allow this counter-terrorism success, important as it was, to lull us to sleep with a false sense of security about our ability to detect and prevent future threats from Afghanistan before they happen. to be visited on our coasts.
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