Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, the jihadi allies responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the American homeland, have grown stronger in the last 16 years despite the thousands of U.S. military casualties from the ongoing fight against the terrorist groups.
In the 16 years since 9/11, the Pentagon reports that at least 6,786 U.S. service members have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, primarily while fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban in response to the September 11 attacks that killed 3,000 Americans and wounded an estimated 6,000 others.
Terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan have also maimed at least 52,570 American service members and killed an estimated 21 Pentagon civilians.
Among the thousands of American troops killed since 9/11, Breitbart News included the 44 fatalities and 53 injuries from the ongoing efforts in Iraq and Syria to annihilate the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The majority of U.S. military fatalities took place during the war in Iraq between March 19, 2003, and the end of 2011, when the authority allowing the American forces to remain in Iraq expired.
In 2014, ISIS forced the United States military to return to Iraq and expand its operations into Syria.
Soon after 9/11, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2011, to go after the Taliban regime for facilitating the al-Qaeda attacks against the United States.
The United States remains in Afghanistan, where the Taliban continues to provide sanctuary to its ally al-Qaeda.
Although experts now believe al-Qaeda is stronger in Syria than in any other country, Afghanistan remains an important place of operations for the terrorist organization.
“Al Qaeda senior leadership (AQSL) no longer concentrates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater,” Katherine Zimmerman from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) told a House panel in July.
“This shift began in the early 2010s. AQSL is now dispersed throughout al Qaeda’s network with strong concentrations in Syria (primarily al Qaeda’s network that had been based in Iran), Yemen, and Afghanistan-Pakistan,” she continued, adding, “The dispersion of the AQSL cadre creates certain operational challenges, such as rapid coordination, but also complicates Western efforts to eliminate the group.”
The Afghan Taliban continues to provide sanctuary to al-Qaeda nearly 16 years after the United States military invaded Afghanistan to defeat both groups.
“Al Qaeda is reconstituting in Afghanistan in concert with the Afghan Taliban, which provides sanctuary to al Qaeda,” Zimmerman told the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, and continued, saying:
AQSL, such as Ayman al Zawahiri and Hamza bin Laden, operates from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Retaining al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Afghanistan is a secondary [after Syria] but important effort for the global organization because the victory against the Soviets in Afghanistan remains al Qaeda’s crown jewel, proving that the mujahideen can defeat a superpower.
“Al Qaeda never fully lost its sanctuary in Pakistan and used this base to project forward into Afghanistan again as the US drew down militarily,” she continued. “By 2015, al Qaeda was running large training camps inside Afghanistan.”
Within a year after former U.S. President Barack Obama declared the American-led combat mission in Afghanistan over and withdrew most U.S. troops from the country at the end of 2014, Afghanistan experienced a Taliban resurgence.
The U.S. State Department designated the Taliban to be the world’s most prolific terrorist group in 2015, carrying out more attacks (1,093) in Afghanistan than ISIS did worldwide.
Terrorists, primarily the Taliban and to a lesser extent al-Qaeda, have killed a total of 2,258 American service members and wounded another 20,265 others in Afghanistan since the war began there in October 2001.
Despite the U.S. efforts to annihilate al-Qaeda and its ally the Taliban, the two groups are believed to be stronger now than when the 9/11 atrocities took place.
According to various assessments, including one conducted by the United Nations in late 2015, the Taliban terrorists control more territory now than at any time since 2001, when the American-led invasion removed the jihadi regime from power in Afghanistan.
Since that assessment, the Taliban has continued to conquer territory, according to Breitbart News’s analysis of quarterly reports to Congress by the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency.
As of May of this year, terrorists, predominantly the Taliban, controlled or contested about 40 percent of Afghanistan.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has inherited deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan from his predecessor.
The new administration has decided to escalate the war, deploying an additional 3,500 American troops to force the Taliban to negotiate peace with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
While the U.S. State Department deemed ISIS to be the world’s deadliest jihadist organization last year, the Taliban came in second place, carrying out 848 attacks that killed an estimated 3,615 people and injured another 3,572.
Moreover, in 2016, al-Qaeda’s Somalia-based affiliate al-Shabaab was listed as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world after ISIS, the Taliban, and Maoists/Communist Party of India, respectively — carrying out 332 attacks that killed 740 people and wounded 921 others.
Experts believe al-Qaeda has been capitalizing on the American-led coalition’s single-minded focus on its rival ISIS to grow stronger.
The “US strategy is setting the stage for al Qaeda to lead the Salafi-jihadi movement again when that movement is the strongest it has ever been globally,” declared Zimmerman in July, only a few months after the Trump administration had taken over the fight against ISIS. “Al Qaeda has adapted and evolved as America focused myopically on retaking two cities [Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria] from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). Al Qaeda has become more resilient and ready to exploit our own strategic weaknesses.”
“It seized the opportunity presented by conflicts in the Muslim world to advance its strategic objectives,” the AEI expert added. “It has acted deliberately below the thresholds that would set off alarms in Washington. It embedded itself in local insurgencies from Mali to Syria to Afghanistan that will serve as a source of strength for the global organization.”
More than a thousand rescue and recovery workers had also died as of July 2016 from diseases linked to the 9/11 attacks and an estimated 400,000 more are believed to continue to be affected by diseases affiliated to the incident, Newsweek reported last year.