US eyes co-operation with Central Asia as terrorist groups re-emerge in Afghanistan

By Pakistan Forward

Afghan municipal workers clean up the debris from inside a compound of a Sikh temple in Kabul on June 20, a few days after an attack claimed by ISIS. [Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP]

Afghan municipal workers clean up the debris from inside a compound of a Sikh temple in Kabul on June 20, a few days after an attack claimed by ISIS. [Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP]

The re-emergence of al-Qaeda and the Khorasan branch of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS-K) in Afghanistan over the past several months is prompting the United States to expand its co-operation with Central Asian countries to counter the threat of terrorism in the region.

Despite limited intelligence, the US is already seeing the re-establishment of terrorist training camps inside Afghanistan, Army Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, commander of US Central Command (US CENTCOM), told the Wall Street Journal in an article published June 23, without providing additional details.

Kurilla made his remarks while on a tour of Central Asian countries earlier in June, as he conferred with Tajik, Uzbek and Kazakh officials on security.

On June 15, the US and Tajik delegations considered the possible expansion of US-Tajik ties, especially in military and security matters.

They also discussed the regional and global situations, the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other trans-national crime.

Kurilla also met with Uzbek defence officials on June 14.

"During our discussions, we sought opportunities for our militaries to share lessons learned from our combat experience earned over a 20-year period," he said after the meeting, according to a statement from the US embassy in Tashkent.

"We will now share that hard-gained wisdom with our Uzbek partners. We also hope to learn the Uzbek training, techniques, and procedures that can be valuable for our American military."

"Another issue we discussed is the threat posed by violent ideology, a problem for which there is no purely military solution. We are jointly concerned about groups that espouse this kind of ideology that remain a threat," said Kurilla.

Kurilla and Kazakh Minister of Defence Ruslan Zhaksylykov weighed mutual security concerns and opportunities to expand defence co-operation in the Central Asian region in a meeting on June 11.

"Their top three concerns are: Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan," said Kurilla, according to a Washington Post article in June -- a reference to regional fears that ISIS-K or al-Qaeda could exploit the current state of destitution in Afghanistan to destabilise the broader region.

"The intelligence that Central Asian nations could provide the United States on the reconstitution of terrorist threats in Afghanistan is considerable, according to military and diplomatic officials engaged in the region," reported the Washington Post.

'Terror and violence'

Afghan analysts have also expressed concern over the re-establishment of ISIS-K and al-Qaeda training bases in Afghanistan.

"Unfortunately, Afghanistan is still a suitable staging ground for international terrorists. Not long ago, Osama bin Laden's son Abdullah traveled to Afghanistan, where he secretly met with rulers and visited the country's north," said Gen. (ret.) Sayed Samar Sadaat, an Afghan military analyst now in Turkmenistan.

"International terrorist elements including al-Qaeda members, dissidents and extremists from Chechnya [in Russia], Central Asia and other countries have started recruiting and establishing a foothold in Afghanistan," Sadaat said.

"Afghans are the real victims of al-Qaeda's revival," he added.

"Its revival will bring war, violence and anarchy and will isolate Afghanistan internationally."

Al-Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan was, and still is, a major threat to the region and the world, while posing a major risk to the security and stability of Afghanistan, Sadaat said.

A number of terrorist organisations, especially al-Qaeda, have regained strength and become active in Afghanistan in the past year, Matiullah Ibrahimzai, a Kabul-based political analyst, also said.

With its history and previous links to Afghanistan, the terrorist network has been easily able to re-organise itself and is currently recruiting and strengthening its forces in Afghanistan, Ibrahimzai said.

"Al-Qaeda's revival will sink Afghanistan in terror and violence once again and turn the country into a safe haven and centre for international terrorism," he added.

"It will also facilitate recruitment for terrorist organisations and lead to the collapse of Afghanistan's bankrupt economy," he said.

"Al-Qaeda now has a stronger presence in Afghanistan than before, which is a cause for concern for Afghanistan and the world," said Arif Kayani, an Afghan political analyst based in Iran.

"Al-Qaeda's objectives are both regional and beyond the region, [and] will have negative regional and global security implications," Kayani said.

"This requires the international community to take action to contain al-Qaeda. Otherwise, given the weapons and equipment in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda can threaten regional and world security," he said.

"Al-Qaeda is without a doubt trying to revive itself in Afghanistan and even in the region," said Sayed Muqadam Amin of Kabul, a political analyst.

"If revived, Afghanistan will turn into a centre for terrorist and destructive groups. War and instability will take over our country again."

[Hamza from Kabul contributed to this report.]

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