Could al Qaeda and ISIS Return? Biden Warns of Terrorists Exploiting Afghan Situation

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Armed Taliban fighters stand next an Imam during Friday prayers at the Abdul Rahman Mosque in Kabul on August 20, 2021, following the Taliban's rapid takeover of Afghanistan. (Image: HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)

In a speech on August 22, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that terrorists based in Afghanistan might exploit the chaotic situation in the country to their benefit. Thousands of Americans and Afghans are trying to reach the Kabul airport and flee the country before August 31, the scheduled date of complete U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“The security environment is changing rapidly. There are civilians crowded at the airport, although we have cleared thousands of them. We know that terrorists may seek to exploit this situation and target innocent Afghans or American troops,” Biden said while adding that security forces are maintaining “constant vigilance” against threats.

The president pointed to the Afghan affiliate of ISIS, ISIS-K, as being the “likely source” of threat. ISIS-K, which refers to ISIS’s Khorasan Province branch, has grown in prominence ever since the parent organization’s influence in Syria and Iraq fell. ISIS-K has often clashed with the Taliban for territorial control and has a history of targeting civilians, specifically Shiite Muslims, especially girls.

Biden is facing criticism from all quarters for the botched evacuation program that has put at risk the lives of thousands of American citizens and Afghan aides. The rapid changes taking place in the country are also forcing the administration to confront the possibility of a resurgent al-Qaeda, the terror group responsible for the 9/11 attack.

“I think al-Qaida has an opportunity, and they’re going to take advantage of that opportunity… This is a galvanizing event for jihadists everywhere,” Chris Costa, who was senior director for counterterrorism in the Trump administration, said to Associated Press.

Though al Qaeda had lost much of its power in Afghanistan during the last two decades, it continues to remain active. A report by the UN Security Council this June warned that the terror outfit’s senior leadership and hundreds of operatives remain in the country. In addition, the Taliban, which sheltered al-Qaeda operatives prior to the September 11 attacks, maintains close ties with the terror group. 

In an interview with Breitbart, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that people should not lose sight of the fact that the terror threat from groups like al Qaeda is a global risk. He insisted that such threats must be confronted “every place we find it” and blamed the Biden administration for creating a situation that allows such threats to grow.

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former British government counter-terrorism adviser, said that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan makes a jihadist attack on the UK “highly likely.” He warned of an immediate threat from Britain-based jihadists who might be motivated by the events unfolding in Afghanistan. 

“Jihadists everywhere have been celebrating the Taliban victory. This will have re-energized them, encouraged them and motivated them to strike,” Kemp said in an interview with the Sunday Mirror.

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