CIA sees early signs of al-Qaeda regrouping in Afghanistan, says US official

David CohenAMERICAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES ARE noticing early signs that al-Qaeda may be regrouping in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, according to the deputy director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The presence of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was the primary reason behind the invasion of the country by the United States in 2001. In subsequent years, the militant group, which was behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, suffered heavy losses, and saw its members disperse across the region. Many others were captured or killed.

Now, however, with the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, there are concerns that al-Qaeda may make a comeback in the war-torn country. Under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda worked closely with the upper echelons of the Taliban in the 1990s and early 2000s. Contacts between the two groups continue to exist, and could potentially deepen following the exit of the United States and its Western allies from Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, David Cohen, who serves as deputy director of the CIA, said that American intelligence agencies are closely monitoring the situation. Speaking at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, DC, Cohen acknowledged that the shuttering of the United States embassy in Kabul, as well as the closure of a network of CIA stations across Afghanistan, had “diminished” the ability of American intelligence agencies to assess conditions on the ground. He added, however, that current intelligence reports indicate “some potential motion of al-Qaeda [returning] to Afghanistan”.

Cohen added that much of the intelligence that has been collected in recent weeks comes from “over-the-horizon platforms”, meaning that the collection is taking place from countries that border Afghanistan. However, the CIA in particular is already working to develop “methods to work within the horizon”, he said. At the moment, the United States intelligence community estimates that it could take al-Qaeda between one and two years to amass its former strike capability, so as to directly threaten American interests.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2021 | Permalink

Russia denies rumors that its chief security official met with CIA director in India

Russian embassy India

A RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN has denied reports Moscow’s Security Council Secretary met secretly this week with the director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the India. The United States, however, has not commented on the reports.

As intelNews and others reported yesterday, General Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, arrived in Delhi on September 7, “for high-level consultations on Afghanistan”, according India’s Ministry of External Affairs. General Patrushev, who is Russia’s highest-ranked security official, traveled to India at the invitation of his counterpart there, National Security Adviser Ajit K. Doval.

Interestingly, The Hindu, one of India’s two newspapers of record, reported on Tuesday that “an American delegation of intelligence and security officials” were visiting Delhi, and had already “held consultations” with officials. According to the newspaper, the American delegation was led by no other than CIA Director William Burns, who is said to be touring the region, and is also expected to visit Islamabad in the coming days.

Like General Patrushev, Burns met with National Security Adviser Doval about “issues arising from the Afghanistan evacuation effort and Taliban government formation”, said The Hindu. But unlike the Russian delegation’s visit, which was announced by the Indian government, the alleged American delegation’s visit remains speculative, and has not been officially confirmed by either Delhi or Washington.

It was not long before Indian media began to report that the American and Russian teams had met in secret, allegedly in order to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, however, a spokesman for the Russian Security Council flatly refuted the rumors of a meeting between Burns and Patrushev. The Russian-government owned TASS news agency quoted Russian Security Council spokesman Yevgeny Anoshin as saying that “Patrushev did not plan to, and did not meet, with the CIA head in Delhi”.

The United States government has yet to comment on these reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 September 2021 | Permalink

High-level American, Russian intelligence delegations visit India on the same day

Nikolai PatrushevHIGH LEVEL DELEGATIONS OF intelligence officials from the United States and Russia visited India on the same day this week, for talks with Indian officials about the situation in Afghanistan, according to news reports. This development highlights the frantic pace with which Moscow and Washington are maneuvering around the region, following the dramatic takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban last month.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs announced on Tuesday that General Nikolai Patrushev (pictured), Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, would be in Delhi “for high-level consultations on Afghanistan” between September 7 and 8. General Patrushev —Russia’s highest-ranking security official— is traveling to India at the invitation of his Indian counterpart, National Security Adviser Ajit K. Doval, according to the announcement. He was scheduled to meet with, aside from Doval, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishanka.

Late yesterday, however, the Chennai-based English-language newspaper The Hindu reported that “an American delegation of intelligence and security officials” had visited Delhi on Tuesday, and had “held consultations” with officials there. According to the newspaper, the American delegation was led by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns, who is touring the region and is also expected to visit Islamabad in the coming days. The report also said that Burns spoke at length with Doval about “issues arising from the Afghanistan evacuation effort and Taliban government formation”.

It is worth noting that India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the embassy of the United States in Delhi declined to confirm or deny the news about the CIA director’s visit to the country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Turkey and Qatar emerge as Taliban government’s main envoys to the West

Turkish embassy in Afghanistan

TURKEY AND QATAR, TWO countries with a growing diplomatic and intelligence network inside Afghanistan, are emerging as significant envoys to the Western world for the new government of the Taliban. Their newfound role in the Central Asian country puts them in direct competition with China and Russia, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open throughout the dramatic events of the past month. Three other countries with historically close ties to the Taliban, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also important players amidst the new reality in the war-torn country.

As a recent article by the BBC points out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s, when the group last held the reins of power in Kabul. But they quickly cut diplomatic ties with it following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their contacts with some of the older Taliban leaders remain strong, however.

In contrast to the older generation, some of the younger leaders of the Taliban see Qatar and Turkey as important mediators and conduits of communication with the outside world, and especially with the West. It is no accident that the Taliban entrusted the restoration of the —undoubtedly soon to be renamed— Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to technicians from Turkey and Qatar, who were hurriedly flown to the Afghan capital last week for that purpose.

In establishing relations of trust with the Taliban, Qatar is relying on a lengthy record of facilitating diplomatic connections between the militant group and Western powers. It should be recalled that it was in Doha that American and Taliban representatives negotiated the terms of Washington’s exit over several meetings spanning several administrations in the White House. In the past month, the Qataris used their links to the Taliban to assist numerous Western nations, including the United States, in evacuating their citizens from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Taliban appoint obscure figures in senior intelligence and security positions

Taliban

A NUMBER OF OBSCURE figures, largely unknown to Western observers, have been appointed to senior security and intelligence positions by the Taliban, just days after their return to power in Afghanistan. Some of the names of senior officials have been made public by news agencies in the Middle East. Others were publicized on Tuesday by Pajhwok Afghan News, an independent news agency that publishes reports in Dari, Pashto and English.

Arguably the most notable of those appointed to senior positions by the Taliban is Abdul Qayyum, known as “Zakir”, He is a former senior military commander of the militant group, who has been appointed Afghanistan’s Acting Defense Minister. The American government and intelligence agencies are well acquainted with Zakir, as he was captured by United States forces in Afghanistan in 2001. He was subsequently transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and from there to Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, from where he was released by the Afghan government in 2007, as part of a general amnesty. Upon his release, Zakir rose in the ranks of the Taliban and led its military wing until 2014.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Pajhwok Afghan News reported that Afghanistan’s intelligence agency would be led by a Taliban commander it named as “Najibullah”. No other information about him was provided in the statement. As intelNews reported on Monday, Ahmad Zia Sraj, who headed the National Directorate of Security (NDS) under the government of Ashraf Ghani, was evacuated by Turkish special forces troops earlier this month, and is today believed to be in Ankara. Last week, the Taliban proceeded to dissolve the NDS. It is reported that most of its 30,000-strong force is now dispersed into refugee camps in India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 August 2021 | Permalink

US-Taliban peace deal will empower ISIS in Afghanistan, say insiders

ISIS Islamic State AfghanistanAn imminent peace agreement between the United States government and the Taliban will inadvertently empower the Islamic State in Afghanistan, according to a number of insiders, who warn that the soon-to-be-announced deal may have grave unintended consequences for the war-ravaged country.

After nearly two decades or war, the United States is close to concluding a peace agreement with the Taliban, the Pashtun-based Sunni group that has waged an Islamist insurgency against the American-supported government of Afghanistan since 2001. The two sides have said that they will be signing a peace settlement on February 29, providing that an ongoing agreement for a week-long reduction in armed violence holds. If the current reduction in violence continues unabated, the United States has agreed to remove most of its troops from the country, while the Taliban have agreed to initiate peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

But a team of journalists with the American television program Frontline, who are working on the ground in Afghanistan, report that the impending peace deal may bear unintended consequences. They report that numerous sources in Afghanistan are warning that the peace deal will result in an increase in membership for the Islamic State forces in the country. This will happen, they say, because Taliban fighters who object to a peace treaty with Washington will abandon the Taliban and join the Islamic State. Some Frontline sources claim that the majority of the Taliban’s foot soldiers are preparing to join the Islamic State if a deal is struck between Washington and the Taliban.

The Frontline team quotes one Islamic State commander in Afghanistan, who claims that the peace deal will “make the caliphate rise”, as “Taliban fighters have promised to join us”. The United States is trying to pre-empt this expected trend, according to reports. The Pentagon expects that, as soon as the peace treaty with the Taliban is signed, it will need to redirect its remaining troops in the country to focus their attention to the forces of the Islamic State.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 February 2020 | Permalink

ISIS in Afghanistan is now more dangerous than the Taliban, say experts

ISIS Islamic State AfghanistanThe Islamic State group in Afghanistan is now more threatening than the Taliban to both Afghan and Western interests, according to some experts, who warn that many of its fighters are moving there from the Middle East. It was in late 2014 when the Islamic State, known formerly as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), made its initial appearance in Afghanistan. Soon an official Islamic State affiliate emerged in Afghanistan, calling itself Islamic State – Khorasan Province. Security observers estimated the group’s strength to below 150 armed fighters, most of them Pakistani Taliban who had sought refuge in Afghanistan, or small cadres of Afghan Taliban who pursued a more globalized Salafist agenda. Aided by the growing worldwide notoriety of its parent organization in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province grew in size in 2015 and 2016. Its armed cadres were joined by Salafist-jihadists from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, as well as by radical Muslims from China’s northwestern Xinjiang Province. In 2016, as the Islamic State began retreating in the Middle East, fighters from there gradually began to make their way to Afghanistan, adding to the numerical strength of the organization’s Khorasan Province branch.

Today, the strength of the Islamic State in Afghanistan is concentrated in four northeastern Afghan provinces, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. Nearly all of these provinces border Pakistan and none are far from the Afghan capital Kabul. According to the Associated Press’ Kathy Gannon, who wrote an extensive article about the current state of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, the primary military goal of the group’s Khorasan Province branch is to expand its territory. Some believe that the Islamic State aspires to one day conquer Jalalabad, a city of nearly 400,000 residents that serves as the administrative center of Nangarhar Province. This aspiration is not delusional; Gannon cites an unnamed US intelligence official who insists that the Islamic State is now a more deadly threat than the Taliban to Afghan and Western security. Islamic State fighters are acquiring increasingly sophisticated military hardware, which enables them to broaden their tactical capabilities. Additionally, unlike the Taliban, who largely follow a policy of limiting their attacks on government and military targets, the Islamic State appears to be deliberately targeting civilians. What is more, security experts see these attacks as “practice runs for even bigger attacks in Europe and the US”. In other words, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province is actively using its Afghan base to plan “external attacks in the US and Europe [and] it’s just a matter of time” before these occur, says a US intelligence official.

According to Gannon, the growth of the Islamic State in Afghanistan is so alarming that some security experts are beginning to see the Taliban as a potential partner of the West in containing the danger. One expert says that the Taliban remain bigger and stronger than the Islamic State, and their fighters “know the terrain [and] territory” of northeastern Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Islamic State has declared war on the Taliban and the two groups are active adversaries in the region. Gannon claims that Russia would not be opposed to the idea of utilizing the Taliban to fight off the Islamic State. As intelNews reported last month, Russia’s Federal Security Service warned that thousands of Islamic State fighters were operating in Afghanistan’s northern border regions and were attempting to destabilize former Soviet Republics with substantial Muslim populations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 June 2019 | Permalink

Late Taliban leader’s regular trips to Iran helped US spies track him down

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad MansourFrequent trips to Iran caused the demise of the late leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a secret American operation on May 21. The death of Mansour, who had led the Afghan Taliban since July 2015, when he succeeded Mullah Mohammad Omar, was announced by the Taliban on May 26. Early reports stated that Mansour was killed while traveling to the Pakistani city of Quetta from Iran. He is believed to have been visiting family or seeking medical treatment in Iran, which he appears to have entered using a forged passport.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States found out in February that Mansour made regular trips to Iran, as well as the precise route that the Taliban leader took to enter the country. American intelligence agencies also received “details about the devices [Mansour] used for communications” while in Iran. They then intercepted communications from Iran that matched Mansour’s electronic signature and followed these signals across the border into Pakistan. The Taliban leader entered Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on Saturday, May 21. Once in Pakistan, Mansour entered a Toyota Corolla, believed to be a taxi, and made his way through the N-40 National Highway, heading to Quetta.

The Journal report states that the Taliban were aware that Baluchistan’s airspace is outside the Central Intelligence Agency drones’ operational area, and thus “felt more comfortable there”. Indeed, the paper claims that no CIA drones were actively targeting Mansour at the time. However, US President Barack Obama had given ordered the Joint Special Operations Command to have the Taliban leader killed. Reaper drones were deployed to launch two Hellfire missiles at Mansour’s car, which was totaled, killing the Taliban commander and his driver. According to the Journal, the White House had decided to ambush Mansour before he entered the city of Quetta, in order to prevent civilian casualties. After firing at it, the American drones hovered over the remains of Mansour’s vehicle to ensure that there were no survivors, before exiting Pakistani airspace.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 May 2016 | Permalink

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