Top leaders in the U.S. military have issued a warning stating that it is possible terrorist group al Qaeda could end up strengthening itself in Afghanistan and once again threaten the American homeland in as little as a year, going on to testify that “over-the-horizon” operations will end up being very difficult, though not impossible.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, along with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, gave testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The Taliban was and remains a terrorist organization and they still have not broken ties with al Qaeda … A reconstituted al Qaeda or ISIS with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility, and those conditions to include activities in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12 to 36 months,” Milley went on to warn during his testimony.
Other members of the intelligence community have echoed a similar sentiment in the previous month.
Milley said the U.S.’s counterterrorism mission “will be much harder now but not impossible.”
He also said the military’s task to defeat terrorist threats in Afghanistan has gotten harder and that terrorists now have “more ability.”
Milley said it was “too early to tell” whether there was a greater terrorist threat in Afghanistan, arguing, “We’ve probably got about six months here to sort this out and see which direction things are going to go.”
Milley then admitted that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan “makes it much more difficult for us to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance find-fix functions.” He then added that “there is still” a human intelligence network that exists in the country.
“Over-the-horizon operations are difficult but absolutely possible,” Austin said in his testimony.
“The administration is telling the American people that the plan to deal with these threats is something called ‘over-the-horizon counterterrorism’ and that we do these types of operations elsewhere around the world,” countered Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican. “That’s misleading at best and dishonest at worst,” he continued.
“There is no plan. We have no reliable partners on the ground. We have no bases nearby,” he added.
Al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman said. “I believe they have aspirations to reconstitute, and if they develop the capability, I believe they have aspirations to strike … I think al Qaeda is at war with the United States still.”
“McKenzie pointed to prison breaks at Bagram Air Base and the Afghan National Detention Facility in Kabul as swelling terrorist ranks,” the Washington Examiner reported, adding, “When asked if he was confident the U.S. could prevent al Qaeda and ISIS from using Afghanistan as a launchpad for terrorist activity, McKenzie was noncommittal.”
“I think that’s yet to be seen,” McKenzie responded.
“We’re always going to reserve the right to go in to go after ISIS and al Qaeda targets as they present themselves … It will not be easy to do that. It will be possible to do that,” he continued.
Milley then stated that the “war on terror” was “absolutely not” over, and then McKenzie went on to argue that “the war on terror is not over, and the war in Afghanistan is not over either.”