Biden Afghanistan Withdrawal Likely Strengthened al-Qaeda, Pentagon Admits

President Joe Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan likely empowered Al-Qaeda, the Department of Defense admitted in a new report released Tuesday.

The new report from the department's inspector general, which assessed U.S. operations in Afghanistan, has added to concerns that terrorism could be on the rise as a consequence of the U.S. departure. The report outlined that the United States Central Command predicts that the Taliban will "likely loosen its restrictions on Al-Qaeda" within the next year or two.

The report came as experts raise concerns about human rights within Afghanistan, especially with regard to the rights of women and girls. Earlier in May, the Taliban ordered that women be covered from head to toe in public, while high schools for girls have not yet reopened despite past promises from Taliban leaders.

Taliban to loosen al-Qaeda restrictions
The Taliban is reportedly set to loosen restrictions on al-Qaeda in the next few years following the U.S. exit last fall. Above, Taliban fighters are seen in Kabul on August 23, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The relaxed rules will likely allow Al-Qaeda to have greater freedom of movement, as well as the ability to train, travel and potentially reestablish its capability for external operations. Still, the group has maintained a "low profile" in recent months, the report found.

Following the U.S. exit from Afghanistan last August, widely viewed as poorly executed, the Taliban quickly returned to power, renewing concerns about both human rights in the country as well as the future of U.S. national security, as experts raised concerns about the potential rise in terrorism that could occur due to the Taliban's rule.

The recent report also raised questions about the U.S. intelligence strategy being used in the country.

In order to conduct air surveillance, air assets "must travel long distances to arrive over Afghan airspace," creating logistical challenges with regard to gathering intelligence.

This limitation, combined with the loss of human intelligence on the ground, has significantly reduced the DoD's capacity to track terrorist targets in Afghanistan.
Department of Defense Press Release

"This limitation, combined with the loss of human intelligence on the ground, has significantly reduced the DoD's capacity to track terrorist targets in Afghanistan," the report said.

The report indicated that the Taliban has taken some steps to implement many counterterrorism commitments in the 2020 Doha Agreement with the U.S. government—though authorities believed continued monitoring and engagement "will remain essential."

The Taliban was allegedly "less firm in dealing with Al-Qaeda" than it was with ISIS-K, which has remained the most significant terrorist threat in Afghanistan, with about 2,000 members operating in the country, the report found.

ISIS-K has focused its attacks on the Taliban, religious minorities and economic infrastructure, the report stated. The group is allegedly aiming to weaken the country's security environment to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban's rule.

The report echoed previous concerns raised by officials about the potential rise of terrorism in Afghanistan. Last September, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Al-Qaeda could reorganize enough to threaten the United States within one year of the Taliban's takeover.