A resurgent al-Qaeda is “very active” and poses a “big threat” to Afghanistan, the country’s acting defense minister told CNN.
“They are really very active. They are working in quiet and reorganizing themselves and preparing themselves for bigger attacks,” declared Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanikzai.
“They are working behind other networks, giving them support and the experience they had in different places. And double their resources and recruitment and other things. That is how — they are not talking too much,” he added. “They are not making press statements. It is a big threat.”
Stanikzai also expressed concern about the growing relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
“The Afghan militant group was thought to have regretted its decision to harbor Osama bin Laden before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, because it led the U.S. to launch a war to remove them from power,” reports CNN.
“The big cover is the Taliban,” Stanikzai told the news outlet, adding, “They need the fighters, they need the support and they need recruitment from other places, and this is why [the Taliban] embrace them.”
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour assumed his position as leader of the Taliban in mid-2015. Since then, CNN notes, “the group has grown closer to al Qaeda.”
Citing U.S. officials, CNN adds, “The Taliban’s current deputy commander, Siraj Haqqani, is the head of the feared Haqqani militant network and al Qaeda’s top facilitator in Afghanistan.”
U.S. General John Campbell, former top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, reportedly said the two terrorist groups have “renewed” their partnership.
Maj. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, added that the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has “grown stronger.”
In October, U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos destroyed a training camp “with ties back to al Qaeda and a subset called al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent,” noted Buchanan.
The discovery and destruction of the al-Qaeda training camp in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban, prompted the U.S. to revise its estimate of the group’s strength in Afghanistan, according to the deputy chief of staff.
“If you go back to last year, there were a lot of intel estimates that said within Afghanistan al Qaeda probably has 50 to 100 members, but in this one camp we found more than 150,” Buchanan said, adding, “There’s not thousands of them, but clearly in remote parts of Afghanistan there are al Qaeda leaders we’re concerned about and what they’re capable of doing.”
“U.S. officials said the number of core al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan could be as high as 300, but that number does include other facilitators and sympathizers in their network,” reports CNN.