Think Tank (4/2021)
U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries/U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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The End of the War on Terror?
11 Aug 2021

The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan had begun in line with President Joe Biden’s decision to end the “forever war” in the country. The key question is this: What would be the lingering threats from jihadist groups to the US and other countries in the region?

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, former National Security Advisor to the US President and currently the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford University, was invited to share his insights into the subject at a RSIS webinar held on 11 August 2021. He spoke about the current terror-threat landscape emanating from Afghanistan, and provided a glimpse of what future American counter-terrorism efforts might look like.

General McMaster argued that nobody had paid close attention to Al-Qaeda pre-9/11 despite their terror attacks in 1993 in New York City, and in 1998 in East Africa. This inattention had paved the way for the “strategic shock” of 9/11. He noted that the “Afghan alumni” of the 1979 Soviet-Afghan war had been responsible for 9/11. Likewise, in the present context, the counter-terrorism community needs to be wary of the threat posed by the “Al-Qaeda alumni” that has morphed into groups such as the Islamic State (IS). The latter has become dangerous due to its control of territory and resources, use of encrypted communications, and determination in obtaining destructive weapons for attacks. It is also much larger than the previous “Afghan alumni”, and is able to connect with other affiliates around the world.

With regards to the US intervention in Afghanistan, General McMaster was of the view that there were achievements that should be noted. These included the transformation of Afghanistan from a state mired in instability into one that had been relatively stable, with marked improvements in its life expectancy, economy, education, press freedom, law enforcement and intelligence. The US efforts had also denied the safe haven that was provided by the Taliban to Al-Qaeda. This had in turn greatly weakened the group and prevented subsequent large-scale attacks on the US homeland.

With the current US withdrawal, the Khorasan region and other countries such as Iraq and Syria, will continue to be epicentres of terrorism. The crucial elements of future counter-terrorism efforts would be to understand the enemy’s goals, strategy and objectives and prevent them from gaining strength by interdicting elements that sustain them, both physically and ideologically. This would entail sustained and effective efforts by security forces, multinational cooperation, and robust intelligence sharing on the part of strong, sovereign states.

Note: This webinar was held before the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.
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