In a recent call to action, Saif al-Adl, al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan, has issued an appeal to jihadists worldwide, urging them to migrate to Afghanistan and join the notorious terror group. This development, highlighted in a report by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal, marks the clearest indication from al Qaeda that Afghanistan has become a safe haven for terrorists since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021.

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Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the editor of Long War Journal, warns that al Qaeda has established training camps, religious schools, safe houses, a weapons depot, and a media operations center in ten provinces across Afghanistan. Roggio emphasizes that al Qaeda plans to utilize this infrastructure to orchestrate attacks against the West.

The terrorist network has organized these training camps throughout all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, including Panjshir, previously the center of anti-Taliban resistance. While the United Nations estimates al Qaeda’s strength to be around 600 members, Roggio believes that official estimates have consistently underestimated the group’s true numbers.

Roggio and co-author Caleb Weiss further note in their report that al-Adl recently released a pamphlet titled “This is Gaza: A War of Existence, Not a War of Borders.” Exploiting the anger over the Israeli-Gaza conflict, the pamphlet encourages individuals to acquire training, experience, and knowledge necessary to carry out attacks against “Zionist” and Western targets. Adl’s vision includes striking all “Zionist interests” in Islamic lands, calling for a response similar to the 9/11 and October 7 attacks. The report highlights Adl’s admiration for and encouragement of homegrown terrorism within Western countries, acting as a force of deterrence on domestic territories.

Observers of the region express concern regarding al Qaeda’s promotion of Afghanistan as a base for launching attacks on the West, more than two decades after 9/11. Terrorism expert Max Abrahms notes that al Qaeda leaders calling for foreign fighters to come to Afghanistan will likely increase the number of individuals heading there. This development validates the warnings of those who opposed the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Adl envisions Afghanistan as a model for Muslims globally to settle in, holding up the Taliban as an exemplar of Islamic governance for future Islamic states. This contradicts previous beliefs that al Qaeda would primarily focus on local affairs in Afghanistan and other regions where the group operates. Adl’s recent call to action demonstrates al Qaeda’s ambitions to extend its reach beyond Afghanistan’s borders and target the West.

According to a United Nations report from February 2023, Adl became al Qaeda’s third emir after Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Adl, who served in the Egyptian army and fought during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, joined al Qaeda in 1988. He played a significant role in planning major international terrorist attacks, including the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

The 2020 Doha Agreement, negotiated under the Trump administration and implemented by Joe Biden, paved the way for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In exchange, the Taliban pledged not to allow any terrorist organization to use Afghan soil to threaten or attack the United States or its allies. However, the extent to which the Taliban has severed its longstanding ties with al Qaeda remained uncertain at the time.

The U.S. State Department has indicated that it will continue to pressure the Taliban to fulfill its counterterrorism commitments and ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched from Afghan soil. In case the Taliban fails to uphold its pledges, the U.S. retains over-the-horizon capabilities to address threats, as demonstrated by the strike that killed al-Zawahiri in 2022.

United Nations Monitoring reports reveal that the Taliban and al Qaeda maintain a close alliance, showing no indication of breaking ties as of 2024. The U.S. Intelligence Community Annual Threat Assessment acknowledges that while al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan has diminished, its regional affiliates in Africa and Yemen remain operational and pose a sustained global threat, particularly targeting the United States and its citizens.

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