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Al-Qaeda might search comeback in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan: Pentagon chief

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Despite pledging to not assist al-Qaeda in a February 2020 settlement with the Trump administration, U.S. officers imagine, the Taliban nonetheless preserve ties with the extremist group

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated on Thursday the al-Qaeda extremist group that used Afghanistan as a staging base to assault the United States 20 years in the past might try to regenerate there following an American withdrawal that has left the Taliban in energy.

“That’s the nature of the organization,” he instructed a small group of reporters in Kuwait City on the conclusion of a four-day tour of Persian Gulf states. He stated the United States is ready to stop an al-Qaeda comeback in Afghanistan that might threaten the United States.

The Taliban had offered al-Qaeda with sanctuary whereas it dominated Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The U.S. invaded and overthrew the Taliban after it refused to show over al-Qaeda leaders following the September 11, 2001 assault on the United States. During the course of the 20-year U.S. warfare, al-Qaeda was vastly diminished, however questions have arisen about its future prospects with the Taliban again 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 the 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 United States emanating from Afghanistan by using surveillance and strike aircraft based elsewhere, including in the Persian Gulf. He also has acknowledged that it will be more difficult without U.S. troops and intelligence teams based in Afghanistan.

Mr. Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared together in Qatar on Tuesday in a show of U.S. gratitude for that Gulf state’s help with the transit of tens of thousands of Afghans and others evacuated from Kabul. Mr. Blinken also visited an evacuee transit site in Germany, and Mr. Austin visited Bahrain and Kuwait.

Together, the Austin and Blinken trips were meant to reassure Gulf allies that President Joe Biden’s decision to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan in order to focus more on other security challenges like China and Russia does not foretell an abandonment of U.S. partners in the Middle East. The U.S. military has had a presence in the Gulf for decades, including the Navy’s 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. President Biden has not suggested ending that presence, but he — like the Trump administration before him — has called China the No. 1 security priority, along with strategic challenges from Russia.

Mr. Austin, a retired Army general, has a deep network of contacts in the Gulf region based in part on his years commanding U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq and later as head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East. This week’s trip, however, was his first to the Gulf since taking office in January.

Mr. Austin had been scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday as the final stop on his Gulf tour. But on Wednesday evening his spokesman, John Kirby, announced that the visit had been dropped due to “scheduling issues.” Mr. Kirby provided no additional rationalization however stated Mr. Austin appeared ahead to rescheduling.

Mr. Austin indicated that his go to was postponed on the Saudis’ request. “The Saudis have some scheduling issues; I can’t speak to exactly what they were,” he stated.

The Saudi cease notably was to occur two days earlier than the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist assaults on the United States that killed almost 3,000 individuals. Fifteen of the lads who hijacked business airliners and crashed them into the dual towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania area on September 11, 2001 had been Saudis, as was Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaeda community plotted the assault from its base in Afghanistan. The assault prompted the U.S. invasion that grew to become a 20-year warfare in Afghanistan.

U.S. relations with the Saudi authorities have been strained at occasions within the intervening years. In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman oversaw an unprecedented crackdown in opposition to activists, rivals and perceived critics. The 12 months culminated within the grotesque killing of Washington Post contributing columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi brokers within the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden directed the declassification of sure paperwork associated to the 9/11 assaults, a gesture to victims’ households who’ve lengthy sought the data in hopes of implicating the Saudi authorities. Public paperwork launched within the final twenty years, together with by the 9/11 Commission, have detailed quite a few Saudi entanglements however haven’t proved authorities complicity.

The Saudi authorities denies any culpability. On Wednesday the Saudi Embassy in Washington launched a press release welcoming the transfer to declassify and launch extra paperwork associated to 9/11, saying, “no evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the Saudi government or its officials had previous knowledge of the terrorist attack or were in any way involved in its planning or execution.”

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