Nearly 15 years after the United States entered Afghanistan, the war-weary country is returning to its pre-September 11 status as a safe-haven for terrorists aligned with al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Taliban, U.S. military officials and contractors tell Circa.
Some of the most dramatic proof of the terrorist resurgence came when a U.S.-Afghan special forces operation uncovered the largest al-Qaeda camp ever found in the region last October. The multi-day battle killed more than 160 jihadist fighters in a training camp facility that spanned 30 square miles.
That operation occurred nearly four years after Osama bin Laden was killed, and years after President Barack Obama announced al-Qaeda was on its last legs. Terrorist activity has continued to rise since.
It's... been a systemic failure in strategy.
Rebuilding because it can
A Western counterterrorism professional in South Asia told Circa that al-Qaeda is rebuilding itself, because it can.
Afghanistan security forces lack resources and training and growing attrition due to a shaky economy and weak political system. "Afghanistan has been off the radar and the situation is deteriorating," the official said.
'Taliban growing with a vengeance'
"The Taliban is growing with a vengeance and the region is once again becoming the safe-haven the United States sought to dismantle in 2001," the official said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said earlier this year that "our fight against America and her puppets is taking place in a separate field and against Daesh [ISIS] thieves and bandits in a separate field which has been currently eradicated to a large part and Allah willing shall be completely finished off very soon."
Truce with Islamic State forces
But this summer, the Taliban, whose operational commander is a member of Pakistan's most dangerous terrorist organization Sirajuddin Haqqani, negotiated a truce with Islamic State groups operating in Eastern Afghanistan.
The Taliban has launched numerous bombings and suicide attacks in Kabul and other important cities in an attempt to soften its targets and destabilize Afghanistan's fledgling central government, which has been mired by distrust and corruption.
Another U.S. counterterrorism official with knowledge of the region said that while the United States and its allies have worked to dismantle al-Qaeda, the group is still a significant threat and Afghanistan has suffered some big setbacks.
"There is still a fair number of individuals who are hiding out in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, as well as formidable al-Qaeda franchises in Yemen and Syria, which maintain lethal capability that we cannot ignore," the counterterrorism official said on condition of anonymity, due to the nature of his work.
Situation is dire
"While the public attention has focused on ISIL [ISIS], U.S. intelligence have not taken their eyes off the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates."
Security contractors who spoke to Circa say the situation in the region is dire, and they worry about their safety and the future of the nation they are working in.
They say their warnings have gone unheeded by the Obama administration, and particularly the State Department.
We were supposed to take care of al-Qaeda and the Taliban more than 14 years ago, and now it's worse than it's ever been. And nobody seems to care.
'It isn't expected to get better'
And since Circa first reported that the State Department has failed to shared an adequate plan for evacuation, contractors say they still haven't been contacted by U.S. officials with a solution.
"The situation is grave, and it isn't expected to get better," said a contractor, who spoke to Circa on background for fear of retribution.
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