US Central Command head says number of al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan ‘probably slightly increased’

Alex Brandon / Associated Press

The head of the U.S. Central Command told the Associated Press in an interview published on Thursday that the number of al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan has “probably slightly increased” following the U.S.’s withdrawal from the country.

“There’s a presence. We thought it was down pretty small, you know, toward the end of the conflict. I think some people have probably come back in. But it’s one of the things we look at,” Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie told the news outlet, adding that he did not feel confident putting a definite number on how many al-Qaeda members are inside Afghanistan.

McKenzie said that porous borders in the country have allowed some members to reenter, adding that they were trying to build their numbers back up.

“What we would like to see from the Taliban would be a strong position against al-Qaeda,” he told the AP, but also noted that “I think there are internal arguments inside the Taliban about the way forward.”

The international community is urging the Taliban not to create safe haven for the growth and development of other terrorist and extremist organizations, as the group once did for al-Qaeda.

However, a series of suicide bomb attacks in October, many of which were claimed by ISIS-K afterward, may complicate those efforts. Around the time that the Taliban seized the capital of Kabul and other major provincial capitals, ISIS militants were released from their prisons, according to the AP.

McKenzie warned that “we should expect a resurgent ISIS” and said he remained skeptical of how the Taliban will deal with them. ISIS-K and the Taliban each consider the other an enemy.

Curbing extremism and terrorism will also be complicated by the fact that recruiting both in Afghanistan and outside of the country is already underway by both al-Qaeda and ISIS, according to the U.S. Central Command head, per the AP.

The international community is concerned about the trajectory of Afghanistan and has held off on recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government in the country over worries about the resurgence of terrorism and the possibility that women’s rights — and the rights of others — may be rolled back under new leadership after two decades of gains.

The Hill has reached out to the U.S. Central Command for further comment.

Tags Afghanistan Al-Qaeda Defense Department Frank McKenzie ISIS ISIS-K Taliban U.S. Central Command

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