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The Hellfire missile strike, which eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri and caused no reported 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 that the intelligence community had tracked for decades.
But the strike also reflected a strategic failure as the same toxic mix of a Taliban regime offering sanctuary to al-Qaeda that culminated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks was repeated after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer.
Afghanistan has turned into a failed terrorist state. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have a growing presence, which threatens the region and beyond.
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For the Taliban, their past is a prologue. As they did before 9/11, the Taliban deliberately offer refuge to al-Qaeda. Zawahri was killed on a balcony in the Sherpur district of downtown Kabul, a stone’s throw from the former British Embassy. Acting Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, whom the US State Department labeled a global terrorist in 2008 because of the Haqqani network’s alliance with al-Qaeda, reportedly oversaw Zawahri’s security and organized this which turned out to be a not very safe “safe house” for Zawahri and her family.
The Taliban have extended their haven to the Pakistani Taliban, who have their sights set on the civilian population, the government and Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Suffering from a humanitarian crisis under a Taliban regime skilled in insurgency but no grassroots government, Afghanistan is a virtual magnet for terrorist recruitment.
Afghanistan is once again a source of regional instability, awash with both terrorist fighters and ungoverned space, which we learned from 9/11 poses a clear and present danger to our homeland. .
The successful strike on Zawahri, the first reported counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan since the U.S. pullout, does not prove the effectiveness of the Biden administration’s ‘beyond the horizon’ strategy,” a phrase by the way. nice, which does not recognize the significant degradation of the find, repair and complete 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 the limit of our vision of land or water. It is impossible to see on the horizon. The strike on Zawahri was above the dead terrorist’s horizon. The intelligence community followed Zawahri like a patient sniper, apparently for more than six months, not over the horizon but close enough without being spotted to confirm Zawahri’s identity and precise location. This single strike, however monumental, does not prove that the US counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan can proceed at the pace required to degrade the growing ability of al-Qaeda and ISIS to harm us.
The effectiveness of counter-terrorism operations depends on collecting intelligence from human sources. The complexity and challenge of the CIA’s mission to recruit spies and steal secrets without an official presence or embassy in Kabul has increased exponentially. We have also lost our most effective ally in the region, the former government of Afghanistan, whose intelligence officers and soldiers were a powerful force multiplier in the fight against terrorism.
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So let us remember that the Taliban’s alliance with al-Qaeda makes Afghanistan a threat to our nation more than ever since 9/11.
And we should not allow this success in the fight against terrorism, important as it is, to lull us into a false sense of security about our future ability to detect and prevent threats emanating from Afghanistan before they reach our shores.
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