Al-Qaida Working to Regain Footing in Afghanistan

Officials say a security agreement is needed to block the resurgence of large training camps.

US President Barack Obama (R) and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai leave after a joint press conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 11, 2013. Obama and Karzai said that American forces would hand the lead in the fight against the Taliban to Afghan forces in the next few months. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 28, 2014, 9:31 a.m.

Afgh­anistan’s al-Qaida lead­er is mov­ing to shore up his sup­port and re­train mil­it­ants, as the United States and Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai’s gov­ern­ment re­main at an im­passe over a post-2014 se­cur­ity agree­ment.

De­fense and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials told the As­so­ci­ated Press that a coun­terter­ror­ism cam­paign, in­clud­ing drone and mis­sile strikes, is un­der­way to keep Farouq al-Qahtani al-Qatari from re­start­ing the large mil­it­ant train­ing camps that he over­saw be­fore the war began.

Al-Qatari is in the Kun­ar and Nuristan provinces, near the Pakistani bor­der, where of­fi­cials would like to keep him. They ad­ded that without the con­tin­ued abil­ity to fly drones and jets from at least one air base — which could be blocked if a bi­lat­er­al se­cur­ity agree­ment between the U.S. and Afgh­anistan isn’t reached — the al-Qaida lead­er and his fol­low­ers could plan at­tacks against the United States.

Pres­id­ent Obama on Tues­day asked for the Pentagon to cre­ate a con­tin­gency plan for with­draw­ing all U.S. troops by the end of the year, re­ferred to as the “zero op­tion.” If all U.S. troops leave the coun­try, NATO will also pull its forces.

Obama’s re­quest fol­lowed a pub­lic cam­paign by U.S. and NATO of­fi­cials to get the Afghan pres­id­ent to sign the se­cur­ity agree­ment. Kar­zai pushed the sign­ing of the pact un­til after the coun­try’s elec­tions this spring.

Mil­it­ary and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, mem­bers of Con­gress, and out­side ex­perts have re­peatedly warned that if the United States pulls out all of its troops, the Taliban and al-Qaida would likely see a re­sur­gence in the coun­try.

That line of thought was echoed by Gen. Ray­mond Odi­erno, the Army chief of staff, earli­er this month. He said that Afgh­anistan’s in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing se­cur­ity forces, have made “quite a bit” of pro­gress, but aren’t strong enough to main­tain those ad­vances over the long term.

The De­fense De­part­ment has re­com­men­ded leav­ing 10,000 troops in the coun­try through 2017.

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