Al-Qaeda could reform within “one to two years,” according to a report presented at Tuesday’s Intelligence and National Security Summit. The grim projection comes as members of the international terrorist organization responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 are returning to Afghanistan following the disastrous withdrawal of U.S. forces by President Joe Biden.
Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, addressed the summit on Tuesday detailing the resurgence of al-Qaeda’s presence and how it is ready to rebuild. The group’s likely target remains the United States.
“The current assessment probably conservatively is one to two years for al-Qaeda to build some capability to at least threaten the homeland,” Berrier said.
Officials at the conference say that members of the terrorist group have already started to return to Afghanistan following the Taliban overthrow of the democratically elected government, accelerating the timeline for which they could begin to pose a threat.
“The new timeline is not a drastic shift, but reflects the reality that the Taliban have a limited ability to control the borders of Afghanistan,” the New York Times reported. “While the Taliban have long fought the Islamic State affiliate, they are established allies of Al Qaeda. Though the Taliban pledged in the February 2020 peace agreement with the United States not to let Afghanistan be used by terrorist groups, analysts have said such promises ring hollow.”
Officials noted that the threat assessment may be revised pending further developments, but all indicators point to the resurgence of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, which had begun as soon as the United States withdrew.
David Cohen, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said that intelligence has noted a return of al-Qaeda forces into Afghanistan after being “dispersed” by the presence of U.S. forces for two decades.
“We are already beginning to see some of the indications of some potential movement of al Qaeda to Afghanistan,” Cohen said, per the Wall Street Journal. “But it’s early days and we will obviously keep a very close eye on that.”
Cohen added that due to the nature of America’s “over the horizon” intelligence gathering, the “difficult part of the timeline question was to know when Al Qaeda or the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan would ‘have the capability to go to strike the homeland’ before they could be detected,” per the New York Times.
“We will also look for ways to work from within the horizon, to the extent that is possible,” Cohen said.
“Mr. Cohen did not identify specific Qaeda members who have traveled back to Afghanistan since the fall of the American-backed government. But Osama bin Laden’s former security chief, Amin al Haq, who served with bin Laden during the battle of Tora Bora, was seen on video returning to the Afghan province of Nangarhar last month,” the New York Times reported.
Despite the dire report, the Biden administration remains adamant that al-Qaeda’s capability of attacking the United States are “vastly degraded, to the point where it is currently assessed that it does not have that capacity,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who addressed the Senate on Tuesday.