What Zawahri’s Death Tells Us About Afghanistan’s Future


Safety is a rising fear

Because the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s almost instant takeover final August, the development in safety for the typical Afghan has improved. Civilian casualties, for instance, have declined on account of the tip of the lengthy civil struggle waged by the Taliban towards the U.S.-supported authorities.

Nonetheless, the menace from terrorist teams of concern to the worldwide group has steadily elevated previously yr.

Essentially the most virulent of those is the Islamic State-Khorasan, a company that was on the rebound even earlier than the U.S. withdrew. Since then, IS-Ok has elevated in measurement to between 1,500 and 4,000 fighters and is now one of many “most vigorous” regional networks of the Islamic State. The group, which routinely conducts assaults towards Taliban safety forces, has additionally engaged in horrific assaults towards minority groups and rocket assaults towards Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Al Qaeda isn’t as robust as IS-Ok in Afghanistan (possible numbering several hundred individuals). However in contrast to the adversarial relationship that IS-Ok has with the Taliban, al Qaeda enjoys shut and abiding relations with the group that now governs the nation. A current United Nations report acknowledged that because the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, al Qaeda senior leaders had “loved a extra settled interval” and had begun recruiting new members and funding within the nation. That report additional acknowledged that the Taliban’s takeover had given Zawahri himself “elevated consolation and skill to speak” with al Qaeda’s followers.

The truth that Zawahri was killed in the midst of Kabul — in a neighborhood identified to accommodate senior Taliban figures — means that each he and the Taliban believed the nation’s capital was an efficient sanctuary for the world’s most wished terrorist. Additional, Zawahri’s behavior of spending time on an open balcony, combined with reports that foreigners had been detected in his neighborhood by native Afghans months in the past, illustrates the elevated sense of freedom that members of al Qaeda have loved in Afghanistan over the previous yr.

Over-the-horizon counterterrorism is much less efficient — however it might work

Earlier than the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, it was maintaining several thousand special operations forces in Afghanistan, accompanying counterterrorism strike platforms (e.g., drones), a CIA station and native companion forces such because the Afghan Military Commandos and the elite Ktah Khas. Within the wake of the withdrawal, the U.S. misplaced all of these capabilities, and was left with no residual presence or companion forces within the nation.

To mitigate these losses, the U.S. established an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism cell in Qatar, supposed to handle threats in Afghanistan remotely. It has been flying routine drone sorties from its airbases there, by Pakistani airspace and over varied areas of Afghanistan. These drones present the U.S. with some residual technique of intelligence assortment on terrorist actions within the nation. However as of final December, according to the former commander of U.S. Central Command, the U.S. was “at about 1 p.c or 2 p.c of the capabilities we as soon as needed to look into Afghanistan.”

With a tiny fraction of the capabilities it as soon as had, the U.S. has been far much less efficient at placing stress on teams like IS-Ok or al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which accounts largely for his or her enlargement since final fall. And but, the Zawahri strike illustrates that even with this small quantity of functionality, the U.S. stays capable of finding, repair and end even essentially the most elusive of terrorist targets there.

Whereas the complete particulars of Sunday’s strike haven’t but been revealed, studies have emerged of the CIA having a “floor workforce” in place before and apparently after the strike was carried out. The infiltration or cultivation of such a workforce represents a notable enlargement in U.S. intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan over the previous six months and the profitable strike will reignite the fears and reinvigorate the protection protocols of al Qaeda and IS-Ok leaders.

For Afghans, no excellent news

Whereas Zawahri’s demise is a victory for U.S. intelligence businesses and can possible hobble al Qaeda’s core cadre till a brand new chief is firmly on the helm, it nonetheless bodes unwell for the typical Afghan.

Over the previous yr, Afghanistan’s inhabitants of roughly 40 million individuals have suffered immensely. Monetary help to the nation, which shaped the predominance of its nationwide funds earlier than the U.S. withdrawal, has decreased precipitously and its economic system has contracted by 30 to 40 percent since final August.

Previous to this strike, the U.S. had been engaged in regular talks with the Taliban on issues equivalent to humanitarian help, opening of secondary colleges for women and the possible release of Afghanistan’s sovereign wealth to a modified Central Financial institution. By means of these talks, the U.S. aimed to inject extra sources into the Afghan economic system — with out instantly aiding the Taliban authorities — to ease the struggling of Afghans.

Now, with the information that Zawahri was not solely in Kabul, however being sheltered there by the Taliban’s appearing Minister of Inside, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the connection between the Taliban and the U.S. is prone to transfer into a chilly, tense section. The Taliban have already condemned the strike as a violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the only formal agreement between the group and the U.S. that the 2 sides signed in Doha in 2020. The U.S., for its half, called the Taliban’s harboring of Zawahri a violation of the identical settlement.

Negotiations had been beforehand wholesome sufficient that U.S. Particular Consultant Tom West was capable of exchange proposals with the Taliban that had been designed to jump-start macroeconomic help to the nation. On this new environment, it’s uncertain that he will likely be given the identical diploma of latitude to fulfill with the Taliban, and it appears possible that no additional progress on any of the problems he had been discussing with them will likely be made quickly.

Within the meantime, the one fixed of the previous 4 a long time of Afghanistan’s historical past — the struggling of its common residents — is prone to stay.

With new information comes new questions

Whereas the Zawahri assault illuminates lots concerning the present scenario in Afghanistan, it additionally raises a bunch of further questions. For instance, why did the Taliban permit Zawahri to come back to Kabul? Was it to maintain him secure from discovery and U.S. strikes elsewhere? Or was it to maintain tabs on him and his actions, in order to forestall al Qaeda from attacking different international locations from Afghanistan, as the Taliban has repeatedly pledged it will do?

Much more necessary, trying ahead: If Zawahri was dropped at Kabul and sheltered by the Taliban, who else are they hiding and defending? Different leaders of al Qaeda? Leaders of different militant teams? And when will the Afghan individuals see aid from the cycle of terrorism, violence and struggling that they’ve endured for therefore lengthy?

Yesterday’s announcement was a second to rejoice. But it surely was solely a second. Immediately brings new information, new questions, new targets, new challenges and new collateral injury within the never-ending struggle between the U.S. and al Qaeda.


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