U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin believes that groups like al Qaeda could regroup in Afghanistan and America and its allies within the next two years. Biden’s decision to withdraw troops completely by September has raised concerns that the country could erupt in full-scale civil war, providing al Qaeda space to rebuild and plan new attacks on U.S. and other targets.
“It would take possibly two years for them to develop that capability,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a congressional hearing Thursday. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley concurred with the timeline but categorised the risk as “medium”.
“If there was a collapse of the government or a dissolution of the Afghan security forces, that risk would obviously increase,” Milley said.
The comments are some of the most apparent signs of concern in the military and the intelligence community about the threat militant groups could pose from Afghanistan and the risks of a complete withdrawal.
A United Nations report in January said there were as many as 500 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that the Taliban maintained a close relationship with the Islamist extremist group. The Taliban denies al Qaeda has a presence in Afghanistan.
Biden has said the United States can keep an eye on any resurgence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan without keeping a military footprint. However, his administration is still trying to negotiate basing agreements in the region.