Thought al Qaeda Was Finished in Afghanistan? Think Again
Policy + Politics

Thought al Qaeda Was Finished in Afghanistan? Think Again


It might not come as a total surprise to most Americans to find out that al Qaeda is still operating in Afghanistan, 14 years after the invasion of the country. Al Qaeda is a notoriously difficult group to eradicate completely because of the diffuse nature of its cell-based structure.

However, it would probably come as a shock to most that, as the Long War Journal reports, the U.S. military last week launched what Army spokesman Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner called “one of the largest joint ground-assault operations we have ever conducted in Afghanistan” to take out a pair of training camps operating in southern Afghanistan.

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The measures, which involved 63 U.S. airstrikes and more than 200 U.S. and Afghan ground troops, focused on one camp that occupied approximately one square mile in Kandahar province and a second that occupied a remarkable 30 square miles in the same area.

“The goal of the operation was to degrade the terrorist network in Afghanistan,” Shoffner said, according to multiple media reports. “Aside from validating the accuracy of our intelligence, we were able to seize a large amount of data and weapons. Based on the digital media equipment collected from the site, it also appears that this was the location of a large media cell.”

Reports in Afghan media reported a hundred or more Al Qaeda militants killed and various supplies captured, including “heavy weapons, IED-making material and other valuable intelligence data including foreign passports, laptops and associated IT media, digital cameras and cards, documents, and mobile phones … anti-aircraft weapons; rocket-propelled grenade systems with associated hardware and warheads; machine guns, pistols, rifles and ammunition.”

“The enormous success of this operation validates our ongoing campaign. Working with, by, and through our Afghan partners, we’re building their capabilities while we fight our common enemies,” said Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

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As the Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn point out, the existence of two major al Qaeda training camps in a country the U.S. has spent so much blood and treasure to secure raises serious questions and suggests that “al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is far more significant than U.S. officials have claimed in the past.”

And the need to mount such a major operation suggests that President Obama’s persistent claims that the war in that troubled country is over may be more wishful thinking that real analysis, and that his promise to withdraw all but a handful of U.S. troops before his term is over may be hollow.

In fact, just days before touting the success of the recent mission, Gen. Campbell appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said that, in his view, a large contingent of U.S. troops will be necessary well past January 2017.

Those troops would need to deal not just with al Qaeda but with a resurgent Taliban, which last month was able to briefly take over the city of Kunduz.

Related: How the U.S. Wasted Billions of Dollars Rebuilding Afghanistan

According to a New York Times report this morning, it is becoming increasingly clear to the White House that a clean break with Afghanistan is probably not achievable without risking that the country will revert to the terrorist playground that it was in the years prior to the 9/11 attack. Assuming it hasn’t already.