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New US intelligence assessment finds al-Qaeda ‘has not reconstituted its presence in Afghanistan’

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A summary of the intelligence assessment obtained by CNN indicates that the consensus view of the intelligence community is that while fewer than a dozen “core members” of al-Qaeda remain in Afghanistan – and were there probably before Kabul fell to the Taliban last year – Zawahiri was the only key figure who tried to reestablish himself in the country after US forces left.

The United States believes that these remaining members are not involved in planning external attacks and that the group as a whole “does not have the capability to launch attacks against the United States or its interests abroad. from Afghanistan”.

Despite the new assessment, tough questions remain about whether the risk could increase over time, US officials told CNN. Concerns also remain about whether terrorist activity from Afghanistan could spread outside the country’s borders, and that the United States might be blind to it given its diminished intelligence capabilities at the moment. interior of Afghanistan.

The new assessment also warns that al-Qaeda “has several affiliates that we believe it would call on outside the region to drive potential plots.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the United States “will continue to remain vigilant, with our partners, to defend our nation and ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for the terrorism”.

“We demonstrated our commitment to this last month when we removed the leader of al-Qaeda from the battlefield. In doing so, we have shown that, without US forces on the ground in Afghanistan and at risk, we remain able to identify and locate even the world’s most wanted terrorist, then act.”

Despite the successful drone attack on Zawahiri this month, the fact that a key al-Qaeda leader was living in Kabul – with the knowledge of the Taliban, US officials said – raised immediate questions about whether al-Qaeda was again using Afghanistan as a safe haven. It also raised questions about the quality of US intelligence-gathering capabilities, which have declined since the US withdrawal.

The new intelligence assessment also represents a stark departure from predictions made a year ago by senior U.S. intelligence and defense officials, who said al-Qaeda could regroup in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the United States within one to two years.

“The current assessment is probably conservative at one to two years for al-Qaeda to build a capability to at least threaten the homeland,” Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in a statement. last September.

As CNN has previously reported, US officials believe al-Qaeda is still evaluating its ability to operate under Taliban rule and that in the short term it will likely remain focused on maintaining its safe haven rather than planning. external operations. FBI Director Chris Wray continued to express concern over the potential threat. “I worry about the possibility of al-Qaeda coming back together,” he told Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, during a congressional hearing earlier this month.

When asked if he feared an attack on the homeland “from places like Afghanistan”, Wray replied: “We are. Especially now that we are out, I worry about the potential loss of sources and collection there.”

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