This past weekend, members of the Taliban terror group entered the national capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, as part of their final efforts to retake control of the country in the midst of the U.S. withdrawing its troops after almost 20 years there following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With the Taliban back in power after the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, fled the nation, there is ensuing chaos throughout the country and especially at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, where U.S. troops are assisting with evacuation efforts for the next several weeks.
The presence of the Taliban insurgent group in Kabul is devastating to the Afghan government, who has been fighting back against the aggressive takeover of the Taliban. Since the U.S. announced that it would withdraw troops from the nation, beginning in May and ending in August, the Taliban has been actively taking over regions throughout Afghanistan. Within the first few months of their expansion, the group overcame key border crossings throughout the nation and several small districts. In the past month alone, the group has made even more substantial strikes, as they managed to take over key provincial capitals such as Kandahar City, and now Kabul. With the takeover, many residents have been flocking to the airport in an attempt to flee the nation. The United Nations (UN) has warned that the situation in Afghanistan could be devastating to civilians. It is estimated that more than 1,000 civilians were killed in the past month and more than 250,000 people have been displaced from the Taliban offensive. The UN has appealed to neighboring nations to open their borders so civilians can flee to safety.
The current situation in Afghanistan raises questions over the future of the country and how greatly that will impact security concerns in the West. There are worries that Afghanistan may fall back into old patterns of harboring terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and allow them to breed and rebuild their pathways to terrorism. The influences of technology and social media growth over the past decade could exacerbate the threat as they allow for an even more connected and influential worldwide communication network.
Given how quickly the Taliban was able to take over the country and reinstitute its power in the past week, there is a strong likelihood that the U.S. and other western countries face some type of accelerated threat from those actions. The exact nature of that threat and timeline is still debatable; however, there is little doubt there will be long term, strategic consequences that need to be addressed and planned for on the security side right now. This aligns with statements from U.S. officials that say despite the warning of their resurgence, al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups are unlikely to have the capacity to carry out an attack on foreign soil in the near term, but will likely have the ability over time.
In the short term, there should be continued focus on the rising threat of homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) and lone wolf actors who are inspired and directed by foreign terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda to act on their behalf. Additionally, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan serves as a major propaganda boost for Islamic terrorism, which is always likely to motivate and inspire a greater number of followers to act. Currently, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies are preparing for possibly renewed threats targeting the homeland and are heightening their situational awareness and security apparatus as a precautionary measure. They are closely monitoring all relevant activity for potential domestic impacts, even though there are no specific or credible threats in response to the situation in Afghanistan at this time.
The prospect of al-Qaeda’s resurgence comes one month before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which were carried out by the group at the direction of Osama bin Laden. The attacks highlighted the attractiveness of plotting large-scale operations and marked the impetus for explosives tradecraft. They also set the tone for the threat landscape thereafter. Even though the threat spectrum has evolved over time to include other tactics like active shooters, the explosives threat remains a persistent and necessary one to counter with detection and mitigation strategies.