FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said Wednesday that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan raises concerns that the country will become a magnet for terrorism groups to plot and direct attacks.
The hearing was called to discuss security risks to the United States around the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but most of the discussion centered on lawmakers’ questions about migrants at the southern border, cyberattacks or the rising threat posed by domestic terrorism. Other witnesses included Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan last month, nearly 20 years after undertaking a mission to destroy the al-Qaeda organization that launched the 9/11 hijacking plot and to prevent that country from fostering any further attacks. Some U.S. national security officials worry that the absence of an American military presence there will allow al-Qaeda or other groups such as Islamic State-Khorasan to strengthen and rebuild.
Wray mentioned that concern, as well as the possibility that the United States’ retreat “can serve as a catalyst of inspiration for terrorists” around the world.
But most importantly, he said, the FBI is concerned that foreign terrorism groups “will have an opportunity to reconstitute, plot, inspire in a space that’s much harder for us to collect intelligence and operate against than was the case previously.”
The Biden administration has said it can conduct surveillance and strikes in Afghanistan from “over the horizon” — a euphemism for military or covert bases in countries outside the immediate region. But officials also concede that without a presence there, their ability to address threats is limited. U.S. security officials would like to strike more intelligence- or base-sharing agreements with neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, a move Russia opposes.
On Wednesday, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met in Finland with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, to discuss their countries’ differing views on the matter, according to a report by the Associated Press.
In July, a senior Russian diplomat called any U.S. deployment of troops in countries around Afghanistan “unacceptable.”