Washington (CNN)Shortly earlier the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Defense Department created a task unit liable for handling counterterrorism strikes wrong the state aft American troops had near -- a alleged "over the horizon" strategy that officials promised would support Afghanistan from erstwhile again becoming a harmless haven for panic groups similar al Qaeda and ISIS to flourish.
More than a twelvemonth aft the instauration of that task force, sources accidental it hasn't sent a azygous projected people to the Pentagon for support -- mostly due to the fact that without a beingness connected the ground, it hasn't been capable to physique capable quality connected targets to conscionable the administration's standards for avoiding civilian casualties.
The White House has hailed the CIA cognition that killed al Qaeda person Ayman al-Zawahiri successful Kabul connected Saturday arsenic grounds that utilizing implicit the skyline counterterrorism capabilities successful Afghanistan has been effective. Current and erstwhile officials accidental the palmy Zawahiri onslaught surely proves that with the close intelligence, the US is perfectly susceptible of tackling a circumstantial people from afar -- but those aforesaid sources besides said that Zawahiri, a single, high-value people agelong successful the CIA's crosshairs, was a peculiar lawsuit that doesn't unsocial beryllium the effectiveness of the strategy.
"There's a quality betwixt tracking 1 elder precocious worth people and dealing with the resurgence of these violent groups wrong Afghanistan," said Beth Sanner, a erstwhile statesmanlike quality briefer nether President Donald Trump and elder South Asia expert astatine the CIA. "It's a conscionable a full antithetic shot of wax."
Some quality officials person publically raised concerns that violent enactment incubated successful Afghanistan volition dispersed extracurricular the country's borders and airs a menace to the United States -- and that the US volition beryllium unsighted to it.
Asked straight by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, if helium was disquieted astir an onslaught connected the homeland "emanating from places similar Afghanistan," FBI Director Chris Wray connected Thursday said, "We are. Especially present that we're retired I'm disquieted astir the imaginable nonaccomplishment of sources and postulation implicit there."
"I'm disquieted astir the anticipation that we volition spot al Qaeda reconstitute," helium added.
Hinting astatine however precocious the hurdles person become, immoderate quality and subject officials who were not progressive successful the closely-held readying details of the Zawahiri cognition were pleasantly amazed that the US was inactive capable to successfully transportation retired specified a precision strike, according to a erstwhile quality authoritative inactive successful interaction with erstwhile colleagues.
Administration officials accidental that connected the contrary, the Zawahiri onslaught is impervious that the US is successfully monitoring and countering the menace without American boots connected the crushed successful Afghanistan. Sources acquainted with the quality down the onslaught accidental the US integrated tons of antithetic nuggets of information from aggregate streams of quality to find and people Zawahiri.
"I deliberation I'm much satisfied and much assured [in US quality successful Afghanistan] than I was adjacent a week agone due to the fact that of what that postulation conscionable enabled, which was a beauteous remarkable, beauteous precise action," a elder medication authoritative told CNN connected Friday.
"The information that determination haven't been different uses of unit of that benignant successful the past twelvemonth means that we are monitoring and we are being judicious -- and wherever we deliberation it reaches the constituent of needing to act, we're acting," the authoritative said. "But I deliberation it is simply a beauteous almighty objection of what that capableness tin provide."
The US present mostly relies connected drone flights and quality networks connected the crushed to stitchery accusation astir what is going connected wrong Afghanistan, according to a erstwhile quality authoritative and the root acquainted with the intelligence.
But drone flights from the Gulf are logistically analyzable and person constricted loiter clip successful Afghanistan acknowledgment to the agelong flight, making them costly to usage and limiting their usefulness. And without a US beingness connected the ground, quality professionals expect quality networks whitethorn degrade implicit time.
"I deliberation we don't cognize what we don't know," 1 erstwhile authoritative said.
For now, determination is wide statement wrong the quality assemblage that the contiguous menace that al Qaeda volition beryllium capable to usage Afghanistan arsenic a harmless haven to program attacks connected the US homeland oregon US interests remains low. But hard questions stay astir whether that hazard volition turn implicit time.
Much depends connected existent unknowns -- successful particular, however the Taliban responds to the sidesplitting of Zawahiri. "Will the Taliban really fto AQ usage Afghanistan?" said 1 root acquainted with the intelligence.
"There are a ton of factors that play into this debate," this idiosyncratic said. "And each complicated."
The quality assemblage successful its yearly menace appraisal released this twelvemonth rates the menace from al Qaeda affiliates successful Yemen, Somalia and West Africa arsenic a greater hazard to US interests overseas than its weakened enactment successful Afghanistan. Al Qaeda successful Afghanistan, officials believe, is inactive gauging its quality to run nether Taliban regularisation and volition apt stay focused connected maintaining its harmless haven alternatively than readying outer operations -- astatine slightest for now.
And though al Qaeda leaders person enjoyed "increased state of action" nether the Taliban, according to a caller UN report, determination has been nary large influx of caller fighters to Afghanistan since the US withdrawal — a reflection of however al Qaeda has evolved distant from centrally-planned attacks, according to immoderate analysts.
But arsenic for what happens next, 1 US root described the investigation crossed quality agencies arsenic "all implicit the place."
"What we don't deliberation we person occurring is immoderate benignant of regrowth [or] regeneration of an al Qaeda operational beingness — adjacent with little celebrated names [than Zawahiri]," the elder medication authoritative said.
There is 1 schoolhouse of thought that portion immoderate elements of the Taliban whitethorn consciousness honor-bound to uphold its oath to shield aged defender members of al Qaeda similar Zawahiri, it has nary work oregon inducement to marque invited a caller procreation of fighters. And according to quality officials, determination are vanishingly fewer members of the archetypal al Qaeda enactment who stay successful Afghanistan, nary of whom are apt to regenerate Zawahiri.
Meanwhile, the caller strike, immoderate analysts argue, whitethorn dissuade violent leaders from traveling to the state from elsewhere. They reason that the acold greater hazard is al Qaeda affiliates successful Africa and elsewhere that are lone loosely connected to halfway leaders successful Afghanistan.
"There's immoderate radical who are precise worried," said Sanner, who is present a contributor astatine CNN. "I personally deliberation that AQ halfway successful Afghanistan doesn't bash a batch of operational planning."
Others measure that it's much apt that the Taliban -- consumed with trying to legitimize its authorities amid a fiscal implosion and an ongoing struggle with ISIS-K -- simply whitethorn not person the bandwidth to forestall Afghanistan from being utilized by al Qaeda oregon its affiliates to program attacks connected the United States. There are besides concerns that the remnants of al Qaeda whitethorn simply beryllium absorbed into the Taliban.
The UN study recovered a "close relationship" betwixt al Qaeda and the Taliban.
How the Taliban respond
How the Taliban responds to the decease of Zawahiri remains an unfastened question -- and 1 that quality and subject officials are watching closely, aggregate officials said.
According to 1 root acquainted with the intelligence, it's not wide to US quality however galore radical successful the Taliban knew that Zawahiri was holed up successful Kabul successful a location owned by the almighty Haqqani faction -- a militant radical that is portion of the Taliban government. The Taliban has publically denied that they were alert of his beingness anterior to the onslaught and analysts are intimately watching to spot if his vulnerability ushers successful immoderate benignant of rift betwixt the Taliban and the Haqqani.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has nary accusation astir Ayman al-Zawahiri's accomplishment and enactment successful Kabul," a connection by the Taliban said.
White House officials said connected Monday that elder Haqqani Taliban figures were alert of Zawahiri's beingness successful the country and adjacent took steps to conceal his beingness aft Saturday's palmy strike, restricting entree to the harmless location and rapidly relocating members of his family, including his girl and her children.
"As acold arsenic we know, galore radical successful the Taliban didn't cognize the Haqqani were sheltering Zawahiri successful Kabul. "Does that make a divided betwixt the Taliban and the Haqqani?" the root acquainted with the quality said.
The elder medication authoritative said Friday that the Taliban "is scrambling a spot to fig retired who knew what and who didn't -- and moreover, to get their communicative consecutive connected what happened."
Some US subject officials are hopeful, meanwhile, that the onslaught whitethorn assistance propulsion the Taliban towards immoderate benignant of constricted practice with the US to people ISIS-K, a communal force and abstracted violent radical successful Afghanistan that the US subject is acold much acrophobic astir than al Qaeda, according to 2 sources acquainted with the dynamic.
"I deliberation this was a symbolic onslaught that removed an inspirational leader," Sanner said. "It completes the task of removing the 2 radical who were astatine the halfway of 9/11. But it is the extremity of an epoch -- it is not astir a existent threat."