Friday, August 27, 2021
Combat drones and secret units
Biden opens the next anti-terror war
From Roland Peters
Bombs explode at Kabul airport, dozens of people die. US President Biden’s striking threats in the direction of the masterminds are no coincidence. US military and intelligence agencies begin a new war on terrorism.
When the World Trade Center collapsed 20 years ago, US President George W. Bush had a simple message: “The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” The mastermind was in Afghanistan. The USA marched into the gigantic nest of terror that threatened the USA and Europe, this enigma of regional amalgamations, radical interpretations of Islam and hatred of the values of the north. This is how the world saw the Central Asian country 20 years ago.
Now, after the longest war in US history and three presidents later, two bombs have exploded at Kabul airport. At least 90 people died, including 13 US soldiers. The terrorist network Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The dimension is completely different from 9/11, but Joe Biden utters similar words as he did back then: “We will make you hunted and atone.” He had instructed his commanders to work out operational plans to attack ISIS and its leaders. “We will strike with strength and precision when and where we want,” he threatened.
How is that supposed to happen, especially in the future? For ten years the withdrawal and the time thereafter were prepared, the Afghan forces trained and equipped. The withdrawal is as good as complete, but reality has overtaken plans. “We will not be forgotten. We will not be forgiven,” said Biden in familiar war presidential fashion. It doesn’t sound like the US is withdrawing to its continent. The bomb in Kabul shredded the cover of what had already been decided: the constant campaign against terrorism continues, only without an open troop presence.
Even after the bloodiest day for US forces in Afghanistan in ten years, the evacuations will soon be completed. If the airport is attacked, the US would defend itself with air forces, said General Frank McKenzie of the Central Command responsible. The Pentagon expects further attacks. Biden has emphasized several times that the US will take action against extremists from its bases in the region, for example with the use of special forces and unmanned combat drones. This is the United States’ new war on terrorism.
New informants, new killings
Ever since the Taliban took control of all of Afghanistan in a lightning offensive, the US military and secret services have been rescheduling the US presence in Central Asia. The attacks have made the situation even more urgent. First, it is about how agents should act without contact points on site, because diplomatic missions and military bases are also contact points for spies. The US secret services are still well networked; they had warned of the current attacks. But the withdrawal would silence many informants, said intelligence officials of the “New York Times”.
Second is the question of where the CIA’s foreign intelligence service will be able to facilitate drone attacks and the deployment of special forces in the future. The CIA can use its own spies for assignments or work with special military units, as was the case with Osama bin Laden. Navy Seals had killed the al-Qaeda head under the leadership of the secret service in Pakistan.
Without an open troop presence, the secret services can focus in the future on monitoring terrorist groups that could attack the United States. The Taliban are allied with the Haqqani network and Al-Qaeda, which in turn are enemies with the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K). The branch of the Islamic State has been active in Afghanistan since 2015 and has carried out a number of deadly attacks since then. His manpower is said to have been around 2000 last. Khorasan is the name of an earlier caliphate that spanned parts of what is now Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
As early as March, IS-K expert Amira Jadoon from the West Point military university saw the current situation – no US presence, the Taliban in power – as ideal prerequisites for the activities of the terrorist organization. “The current main goal of IS-K is to remain politically relevant (..) and to undermine the credibility of the Taliban,” Jadoon told the Washington Post after the bombing.
The Islamists have used the power vacuum and the Taliban’s campaign to expand their activities to several Afghan provinces, including Kabul. From March to June, the United Nations attributed 88 attacks in Afghanistan to the Islamic State. In the same period last year there were 16. In the past few months, Taliban fighters are also said to have defected to IS-K. “Afghanistan is now the Las Vegas of terrorism, radicals and extremists,” a former Afghan security official told the New York Times. Up to 10,000 extremists from other Asian countries came to join the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and IS-K.
The promise of the Taliban
The leader of IS-K is Shabab al-Muhajir, an expert on urban warfare. The emir moved to the top of the organization in mid-2020 and is said to have planned the more complex attacks afterwards, for example the 20-hour siege of a prison in the Afghan city of Jalalabad in August last year. If the USA wanted to kill the emir of IS-K or other leaders, as Biden announced, they would also have to do this via a special task force or with drones.
The unmanned flight units are currently taking off from the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf, writes the New York Times. From the point of view of the US military, this is not ideal. The longer the flight takes, the less the drones can operate and their success rate. In order to shorten their flight times, new bases in Central Asia would be necessary – whether official or secret. Russia has made it clear that it is against any US military presence in the region. In any case, the US military often kills innocents with its combat drones. Their family and friends then potentially become enemies.
The impression remains that the Taliban may not be able to fulfill their contractual promise that no international terrorist attacks will originate in Afghanistan. Whether they will break away from al-Qaeda as announced under the current circumstances is highly questionable. The greater the perceived threat posed by IS-K, the more the US is forced to work more closely with the Taliban. To put it bluntly, the United States may be entering into a pact with a demon to keep the devil in check.
For the past two weeks, the US military has shared its information with the Taliban to prevent attacks. It didn’t help. The rulers in Kabul would benefit from an alliance with the USA, and they might even need foreign support to establish themselves. Biden tried to dispel suspicions about an alliance between the Taliban and IS-K: There was “no evidence of collusion,” he said. His General McKenzie made the same point.