The Taliban is on the verge of becoming a major force in Afghanistan again while al-Qaida's "shadow army" in the region is in danger of turning the strife-torn country into a terror haven once more, Congress has been warned.
A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee was told on Tuesday by Pentagon and counterterrorism officials that the country could be overrun by the Islamic militant groups when the United States pulls out all its troops, according to The Washington Times
David Sedney, who served until last year as deputy assistant defense secretary overseeing Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that al-Qaida is convinced it can take over Afghanistan the same way it defeated the Soviet invasion of the country.
"That same conviction is the bedrock for the coming [in their view] defeat of the United States and NATO in Afghanistan," Sedney said. "Increasing Taliban success in Afghanistan, leading to an eventual Taliban takeover, would be a major strategic victory for al-Qaida and its ideology."
The Obama administration has said that secretive drone strikes have downgraded al-Qaida's core leadership and prevented it from creating international terror strikes.
But the subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade was informed that al-Qaida has strengthened its forces again in Afghanistan and plans to train operatives and launch attacks from within the embattled country.
"Much recent commentary, both from U.S. officials and in the media, describes a 'core al-Qaida that is somewhere on a spectrum from on the road to defeat to degraded,'" Sedney said during the hearing.
"These analyses then claim that because al-Qaida is now more decentralized, has many regional franchises, and depends more on individuals than on centrally directed operations, it is less of a threat."
Sedney said the government analysis misses the "bigger strategic picture," while he also warned that al-Qaida is still a major threat to U.S. security.
"When the State Department's annual report on terrorism, released in April, shows an increase from 2012 to 2013 of 43 percent in worldwide terrorist attacks, it is important to ask whether policy views of al-Qaida is a spent or terminally weakened force are accurate," he said, according to the Times.
"It is clear that al-Qaida is evolving. However, it is likely that such evolution is making al-Qaida more, not less, of a threat."
A senior Pentagon official testified that because the American public has little interest in the 13-year Afghan mission, the White House to unwilling to maintain its peace initiative by keeping U.S troops in the region.
"There will be a great temptation for the administration to go to the 'zero option' and withdraw all our troops by the end of the president's second term," said Michael Sheehan, who served as assistant secretary of defense until last year and now chairs the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
"In my view, this would be a major error and jeopardize our security from future al-Qaida attacks from this region."
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said in prepared testimony Tuesday that "one way that al-Qaida operates in Afghanistan today is through the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, which is al-Qaida's primary paramilitary force in the region."
However, according to The Guardian,
a recent study by the nonpartisan think tank CNA on behalf of the Pentagon found that the Taliban insurgency, with the aid of al-Qaida, is likely to increase in the years following the upcoming U.S. and NATO military withdrawal.
The review warned that stability in Afghanistan will require tens of thousands more troops costing billions more dollars than NATO envisioned at a 2012 summit in Chicago.
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