House Foreign Affairs Republicans warn of 'reconstitution' of al Qaeda, ISIS-K in Afghanistan

"The American people have seen proof of al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan: Ayman al Zawahiri was found living freely in downtown Kabul," says a report from the House Foreign Affairs Committee minority.

Updated: August 19, 2022 - 11:29pm

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans are issuing warnings in a new report about the "reconstitution" of al Qaeda and ISIS-K in Afghanistan since the Biden administration's "unconditional withdrawal" last year.

The report from the committee's minority members also points out connections between the Taliban and al Qaeda.

"Following the unconditional withdrawal, the committee minority also believes Afghanistan has once again become a safe haven for terrorist entities," according to the full, 115-page interim report called, "'A Strategic Failure'; Assessing the Administration's Afghanistan Withdrawal."

"The unconditional military withdrawal and the simultaneous end of the American diplomatic presence in Kabul would leave the U.S. government without a counterterrorism partner in an Afghanistan now awash with militants and terrorists — many released from prison by the Taliban," reads the report.

The committee's minority, led by ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), said the strike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri earlier this month serves as an example of terrorist activity in Afghanistan. 

"The American people have seen proof of al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan: Ayman al Zawahiri was found living freely in downtown Kabul in a home reportedly owned by a member of the Haqqani network, the members of which occupy senior positions in the new Taliban regime," reads the report. "Thankfully al Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month but officials warn that al Qaeda and ISIS-K continue to grow their presence in Afghanistan."

Almost as if in confirmation of the report's findings, a bombing Wednesday at a mosque in Kabul killed 21, and while no one has yet claimed responsibility, ISIS is widely suspected of being behind the attack.

The Republican members on the committee cautioned that the U.S. military's "inability to have access to bases in countries bordering Afghanistan means that the U.S. does not have as effective surveillance or strike capabilities as it did when the U.S. military had a presence in multiple bases in Afghanistan, or as effective as it could have been had the Biden Administration successfully negotiated basing arrangements with one of Afghanistan's neighbors."

The report notes that the United Nations has warned the international community about the rise of terrorist groups within Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal. The GOP members report that "senior U.S. commanders have said the two terror groups could reconstitute and target the United States as early as six months following the date of the withdrawal."

Citing a February 2022 U.N. report that "there are no recent signs that the Taliban has taken steps to limit the activities of foreign terrorist fighters in the country," the GOP minority write, "On the contrary, terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom there than at any time in recent history."

The committee Republicans report that a U.N. member state has revealed that Osama Bin Laden's son, Abdallah, "visited Afghanistan in October for meetings with the Taliban" and that al Qaeda's regional affiliate "retains a presence in Afghanistan, in the Provinces of Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Paktika, and Zabul, where the group fought alongside the Taliban."

The White House released a memo criticizing the GOP report as partisan. 

"The president refused to send another generation of Americans to fight a war that should have ended long ago — and we fundamentally disagree with those who advocated for miring the United States' fighting men and women in an indefinite war with no exit strategy," reads the memo. 

McCaul rejected the White House's characterization of his report.

"The devastation caused by President Biden's unconditional withdrawal and the resulting chaotic and deadly evacuation continues to this day," McCaul said. "Most of the claims made by the Biden administration since the release of my report are demonstrably false, and are clear attempts to rewrite history in an effort to sweep one of the worst foreign policy failures in American history under the rug."

McCaul vowed to complete a full investigation into the Biden administration's handling of the withdrawal.

"My colleagues and I will not let up until we have a thorough and complete investigation into how this happened and why it went so badly so we can ensure it never happens again," he said. "The American people and our service men and women deserve a full accounting of the facts."

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