Al Qaeda in Afghanistan Four Years After Bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, the founder of the terrorist group Al Qaeda, was killed four years ago in May, 2011. His hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan was attacked in the middle of the night on May 2nd by the US Navy Seals and other Special Forces Operation Neptune Spear. While the Pakistani government had consistently denied any knowledge of Bin Laden's whereabouts, the US government has solid evidence that the Pakistani spy master at the Inter Services Agency (ISI) knew his hideout and was perhaps complicit in hiding him. Pakistani officials had maintained that Bin Laden and his close aides had taken refuge in the mountainous regions of the Afghan Pakistan border. But his close proximity to the Pakistan's Military Academy without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities is farfetched. This shows the duplicitous nature of Pakistan's war on terror in the same way that Pakistan provides safe havens and support for the Taliban.

It is appropriate to remember that we, the US, supported individuals like Osama Bin Laden and others in the waning years of the cold war. The US and a number of other countries were outraged when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on the eve of Christmas in 1979. One reason for the invasion was to prevent the collapse of the Afghan communist regime beholden to the USSR. This regime was installed with the support of the USSR in a bloody coup d'état in 1978. The US and some of its allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others began arming Afghan groups through the Pakistanis to fight the invading Soviet Red Army. At the same time hundreds of individuals from some Gulf States, including wealthy people like Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia, flocked into the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Many others not so rich from Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, etc. joined in to fight the "right" fight or Jihad against the Godless USSR. The effectiveness of these groups and their efforts to help the Afghans fight the invaders are debatable. But there is no doubt about their radicalization and networking which would eventually lead to the creation of Al Qaeda in 1988 headed by Bin Laden.

Bin Laden goes back to his native Saudi Arabia and becomes disgruntled, denouncing the kingdom when that country allows its soil to be used by the American forces in the first Gulf war to evict Iraq from Kuwait. Saudi Arabia revokes his citizenship and Bin Laden is exiled to Sudan where he continues to strengthen Al Qaeda and plot attacks against the US and its interests. In 1996 he is forced to leave Sudan. He and his entourage fly to Afghanistan at that time where the Taliban have now established their reign. Afghanistan was a perfect environment (as a failed state) for Bin Laden to hatch the plan of attacks of September 11, 2001. Although in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Bin Laden was the number 1 target, President Bush later declared that the war on terror (WOT) was bigger than one person. The US forces went after him as he was fleeing Afghanistan in December of 2001. But the operation to kill or capture him in the mountainous region of Tora Bora was bungled. Bin Laden and his cohorts were able to get themselves to the safety of Pakistan and their old friends, the Pakistani intelligence or the ISI.

What is Bin Laden's legacy? While Bin Laden and the classic (original) Al Qaeda in south Asia were marginalized as a result of the US's relentless pursuit which eventually led to Bin Laden's demise as well as many of his associates, other copycat organizations emerged in the Middle East and elsewhere. Some of these terrorist groups will become even more violent such as Al Qaeda in Iraq under the leadership of Abu Mosab Al Zarqawi and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The Al Zarqawi followers will create the self-declared Islamic State (IS) which proves to be even deadlier and more destructive than the others.

At the moment Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is not very relevant, although some Taliban have pledged allegiance to IS. During my tours through the US Department of State and the Department of Defense in Afghanistan I had the opportunity to talk to many current and former Taliban members. They all told me that in retrospect the Taliban made a grave mistake by harboring Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in 1996. Bin Laden did share his plans of attack with his hosts, the Taliban. Those that I talked to indicated that had they not welcomed Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, they would not have been subjected to the wrath and fury of the American forces. Consequently they would still be in power in Afghanistan today.