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But that is not an argument for US troops to stay on in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda has staged a remarkable comeback in Iraq in the last year. Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones has called it “al-Qaeda’s renaissance”. Al-Qaeda could stage another renaissance in South Asia if the American drawdown from Afghanistan is botched.
The rise of al-Qaeda affiliates in the fertile crescent from Beirut to Baghdad has been dramatic. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, once wrongly proclaimed defeated by many, has regenerated, more deadly than ever, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). Today, it is fighting to once again take control of the Anbar province. It has already successfully given birth to a Syrian franchise, the al-Nusra Front, and now competes with its own offspring for power in Syria. Together, the ISIS and al-Nusra are trying to destroy the century-old borders of the region, tearing down the hated Sykes-Picot borders drawn by London and Paris in the aftermath of World War I. Thousands of jihadis from across the Muslim world, many from Europe, have already flocked to Syria to join the fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Sunni-Shia sectarian violence is multiplying, feeding a fire that al-Qaeda has long stoked.
Al-Qaeda’s Lebanese franchise, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, is trying to import the Syrian civil war into Lebanon. Named after the Palestinian ideologue who was Osama bin Laden’s key partner in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades took credit for the attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut last November and have been linked to other car bombings since. The death of its leader, Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, a Saudi Arabian, is not likely to put an end to its efforts.
There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before 9/11, of course. The terror organisation moved into Iraq only when bin Laden saw that then US President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were getting ready to invade Iraq in 2003. He set a trap. By 2006, al-Qaeda in Iraq had plunged the country into civil war, pitting Shia against Sunni. Only the brave efforts of American Marines and GIs prevented the complete collapse of the state. Now al-Qaeda has come back in Iraq, raising its black flag over territory once fought over so hard by the Americans.
Can the same tragedy be repeated in Afghanistan and Pakistan? The longest war in American history will largely end for Americans this year. But it will not end for Afghans or Pakistanis. Pakistan will continue to be the principal supporter and patron of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan provides the Taliban with safe haven and sanctuary to train and recruit its fighters, and protects its leaders, including Mullah Omar. The Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, helps train and continued…