U.S. prepared to prevent return of extremist group: Austin
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday al-Qaeda may attempt to regenerate in Afghanistan following an American withdrawal that has left the Taliban in power.
Mr. Austin spoke to reporters in Kuwait City at the conclusion of a four-day tour of Gulf states. He said the U.S. was prepared to prevent a return by the extremist group in Afghanistan that would threaten the U.S.
“The whole community is kind of watching to see what happens and whether or not al-Qaeda has the ability to regenerate in Afghanistan,” he said. “The nature of al-Qaeda and (the Islamic State group) is they will always attempt to find space to grow and regenerate, whether it’s there, whether it’s in Somalia, or whether it’s in any other ungoverned space. I think that’s the nature of the organisation.”
The Taliban had provided al-Qaeda with sanctuary while it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The U.S. invaded and overthrew the Taliban after it refused to turn over al-Qaeda leaders following the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. During the course of the 20-year U.S. war, al-Qaeda was vastly diminished, but questions have arisen about its future prospects with the Taliban back in Kabul.
“We put the Taliban on notice that we expect them to not allow that to happen,” Mr. Austin said, referring to the possibility of al-Qaeda using Afghanistan as a staging base in future.
In a February 2020 agreement with the Trump administration, Taliban leaders pledged not to support al-Qaeda or other extremist groups that would threaten the United States. But U.S. officials believe the Taliban maintain ties to al-Qaeda, and many nations, including Gulf Arab states, are concerned that the Taliban’s return to power could open the door to a resurgence of al-Qaeda influence.
Mr. Austin has asserted that the U.S. military is capable of containing al-Qaeda or any other extremist threat to the U.S. emanating from Afghanistan by using surveillance and strike aircraft based elsewhere, including in the Gulf.
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