Even as the Obama administration scrambles to confront the Islamic State and a resurgent Taliban, an old enemy seems to be reappearing in Afghanistan: Qaeda training camps are sprouting up there, forcing the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies to assess whether they could again become a breeding ground for attacks on the United States.
Most of the handful of camps are not as big as those that Osama bin Laden built before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But had they re-emerged several years ago, they would have rocketed to the top of potential threats presented to President Obama in his daily intelligence briefing. Now, they are just one of many — and perhaps, American officials say, not even the most urgent on the Pentagon’s list in Afghanistan.
The Times says these developments seem to have surprised American officials, and that, after an October assault on one of Al Qaeda’s new bases, other installations have become difficult to detect. Some of the camps have been operating for upwards of a year and a half, but went unnoticed. In other words: Officials likely don’t really know how many training camps Al Qaeda is operating in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has returned right under America’s nose.
We knew the fight against the Taliban was not going well (this Washington Post map helpfully shows their gains), but this news about Al Qaeda is especially disconcerting. This White House has insisted that Al Qaeda is on the run and that ISIS is contained. But even as the Iraqis have retaken Ramadi from ISIS, the situation in Afghanistan—the “just war” in President Obama’s book, remember—paints a bleaker picture. President Obama has been trying to calm terrorism-inspired fears, and that’s a difficult message to get across to a frightened public even if threats are well-monitored. But news like this makes it even harder. Ultimately, President Obama’s attempt to calm fears is being undercut by the way the Middle East has deteriorated under his watch.