The defeat of the American-backed government in Afghanistan has increased the danger that the al Qaeda terrorist group will launch another attack against the United States very quickly, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said Tuesday.
“The current assessment conservatively is one to two years for al Qaeda to build some capability to at least threaten the homeland,” said Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier.
The chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan last month in the face of a lightning Taliban offensive reduced the ability of the military and intelligence agencies to monitor terrorists in Afghanistan. Gen. Berrier said his agency is seeking ways to regain access into Afghanistan and is focusing on the problem of terrorist threats through a DIA counterterrorism center.
“We are prioritizing that effort,” the three-star general said during the Intelligence and National Security Summit.
CIA Deputy Director David Cohen agreed that the al Qaeda threat is increasing and that the group will be capable of new attacks within a couple of years.
“We are already beginning to see some of the indications of some potential movement of al Qaeda to Afghanistan,” Mr. Cohen said. “But it’s early days and we will keep a very close eye on that.”
Terror attacks could also be carried out in that time frame by the Afghan-based Islamic State offshoot known as the Islamic State-Khorasan, Mr. Cohen said. Both groups were already operating inside Afghanistan before the collapse of the 300,000-troop Afghan military.
The decision to pull American and allied troops out of Afghanistan also impacted the CIA, Mr. Cohen said, noting the spy agency‘s capability in Afghanistan “is not what it was six months ago, or a year ago.”
But he also noted that the CIA has extensive experience gathering intelligence in locations that are difficult to access and is capable of intelligence work with or without a physical presence on the ground, Mr. Cohen said.
CIA will work “from over the horizon, principally,” he said. “We will also look for ways to work from within the horizon” of Afghanistan.