Kirby said Friday after Biden’s remarks: “What we believe is that there isn’t a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago.” He said he did not have an estimate for the number of al Qaeda fighters but the administration doesn’t believe it is “exorbitantly high.”
Asked about Biden’s claim, a White House official who commented on condition of anonymity said in an email: “As the President reiterated today, we have achieved our objectives in going to Afghanistan in the first place 20 years ago by bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice and decimating al Qaeda to the point where it longer presented a threat to the homeland.”
What the US and UN have said
“The Taliban and Al-Qaida remain closely aligned and show no indication of breaking ties. Member States report no material change to this relationship, which has grown deeper as a consequence of personal bonds of marriage and shared partnership in struggle, now cemented through second generational ties,” said the UN report released in June.
The report also said that “Al-Qaida’s own strategy in the near term is assessed as maintaining its traditional safe haven in Afghanistan for the Al-Qaida core leadership.” And the report said that an al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, “is reported to be such an ‘organic’ or essential part of the insurgency that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate it from its Taliban allies.”
The threat level
Berrier told Congress that “there was little discernible activity” out of the affiliate by the end of 2020 and “throughout 2021,” the group “very likely will be unable to conduct terrorist attacks. Instead, the group will bolster its relationship with the Taliban.”
Clarke, of the Soufan Center, said the threat to the US from al Qaeda in Afghanistan “is probably minimal right now compared to where it has been.” But he argued that the threat level “will definitely increase over time,” especially because the US will have far less intelligence capacity in the country following its withdrawal.