FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF ATTACKS AGAINST US AND WESTERN FORCES BY THE TALIBAN AND AL-QAEDA
FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF ATTACKS AGAINST US FORCES, WESTERN FORCES, WESTERN CIVILIANS, AND NATIVE CIVILIANS IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN FOLLOWING PROMISED ATTACKS BY THE TALIBAN AND AL-QAEDA AGAINST THE US FOR NOT MEETING MAY 1 WITHDRAWAL DEADLINE AND THE MAY 2 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE KILLING OF OSAMA BIN LADEN
May 2, 2021, | CTG CENTCOM Team
The Counterterrorism Group is issuing a FLASH ALERT to US Forces, Western forces, Western civilians, and native civilians, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Taliban (Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban), Al-Qaeda, and known affiliate groups of both organizations. The Current CTG threat matrix indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will conduct retaliatory attacks against US forces and Western forces that remain in the countries. The Current CTG threat matrix also indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will conduct mass-civilian attacks. This assessment is based on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda promising to attack foreign forces since the US did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1 as outlined by the US-Taliban deal. This assessment is also based on the 10 year anniversary of the killing of Al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden. The assessment of civilian casualties is underpinned by a continued increase of attacks against civilians by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent months that the CTG Afghanistan and Pakistan analysts have monitored on the CENTCOM teams’ 3D reports.
President Biden announced in mid-April 2021 that he will withdraw troops from Afghanistan on September 11, 2021, not May 1, 2021, as outlined in the US-Taliban deal. Since President Biden took office, it was said that he would review the deal with the Taliban and was considering all options. President Biden was a proponent of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan (and the Middle East as a whole) when he was Vice President in the Obama Administration, going into his presidency it was clear that he was going to remove troops at some point. However, given the threats of attacks from the Taliban, and now Al-Qaeda, it is roughly even odds that the US will remain in Afghanistan past September 11, 2021. This assessment is based on the idea that if the Taliban continues to attack US forces and Afghan forces, the US may not be willing to leave the country without a victory against the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. Despite the ongoing intra-Afghanistan peace talks, the Taliban continues to attack daily within Afghanistan against Afghan forces and civilians since there is no ceasefire in place. Since President Biden’s announcement, the peace talks have not progressed and it is probable the talks will stall and potentially end without a deal in sight. If this is the case, the Taliban does not have an incentive to stop attacks against Afghan forces or foreign forces in the country. This would leave Afghanistan in a more vulnerable position than they already are and will very likely end in the continued conflict in the country with foreign influences from countries such as Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, and India. The US has already seen attacks against forces from the Taliban since the announcement, when the Taliban launched rockets that landed near a NATO airbase used by US and coalition troops providing support to Afghan forces in early April 2021. On Saturday, May 1, the original date of the troop withdrawal, Taliban forces launched a rocket attack on the Kandahar airfield. Attacks against US forces, bases, and embassies are almost certainly going to continue and rise between now and September 11, 2021. The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) is likely to attack any US personnel in Pakistan as well.
Reward for bin Laden and al-Zawahiri
Al-Qaeda has been very quiet within Afghanistan in recent months and years, seemingly more focused on expanding their network into Africa then attacking forces. However, al-Qaeda seems to be just as disgruntled as the Taliban on the change of date in removing troops from Afghanistan, with two al-Qaeda operatives stating that "war against the US will be continuing on all other fronts unless they are expelled from the rest of the Islamic world." Historically, al-Qaeda has rarely answered questions, focusing more on propaganda. While it is unclear why they chose now to speak, it is probable that the group is feeling the weight of their recent losses and trying to navigate the path of the group after the suspected passing of leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Compared to bin Laden, al-Zawahiri was more strategic in expanding the network of al-Qaeda where bin Laden was more focused on attacks against the US and other western countries. This puts the new unknown leader of al-Qaeda in a hard position, trying to determine whose footsteps to follow. Since it is unknown who the successor of al-Zawahiri may be or how the group has responded to his alleged (though likely) death internally, this means that the Intelligence Community cannot discount the possibility of fragmentation within the organization’s ranks. Where some factions may continue to pursue the late al-Zawahiri’s strategy, others may begin to take the opportunity to stake their own claim and return to the ideology and agenda of bin Laden. May 2 is the 10-year anniversary of the killing of bin Laden, and between the anniversary and the September 11 US troop withdrawal, it is likely al-Qaeda will attack US forces or even US interests. Al-Qaeda has not had a major attack in recent years, so while less likely, it is possible al-Qaeda could be planning a mass civilian casualty attack on US soil or against US interests. Likely targets for this type of attack include US embassies (foreign), bases (both foreign or domestic), or highly-populated areas in major cities including New York (potentially the 9/11 Memorial and Museum), Los Angeles, Washington, etc. Though not likely, it is possible that al-Qaeda, as part of any attacks relating to the anniversary of the killing of bin Laden, could conduct attacks in Pakistan.
It is extremely likely that the methods of attacks will include IEDs, sticky bombs, shootings, rockets, and other explosive devices attached to cars, buildings, or through the use of suicide bombers. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) CENTCOM Team recommends that US forces, embassies, and personnel in Afghanistan remain vigilant and consistently conduct counter-IED operations in order to protect themselves and civilians. The CENTCOM Team also recommends that US and western civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan consider relocating due to potential targeted violence. It is important for Afghan forces to continue counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and consider revamping counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda. Afghan forces, Pakistani forces, and US forces should continue all joint operations regarding the two groups. Afghan citizens and Pakistani citizens should remain vigilant and relocate if possible to avoid civilian attacks from both groups, this includes citizens living in Taliban-controlled areas and non-Taliban-controlled areas as counterterrorism operations may have civilian casualties.
CTG assesses that the current threat of attacks by the Taliban and al-Qaeda is HIGH. Our analysis indicates that increased violence against US military and diplomatic personnel by these groups in existing areas of conflict such as Afghanistan and Pakistan is HIGH given the fact that such aggression from the Taliban has been ongoing for a long period of time. There is a MEDIUM-HIGH probability that al-Qaeda will seek to conduct attacks against US forces within countries in Africa where the group has a presence.
If any individuals are interested in learning more about security measures to protect their facilities and personnel, please contact The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone 202-643-248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
 U.S. commander warns against attacks on troops in Afghanistan as deadline passes, Reuters, May 2021.https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/kabul-high-alert-amid-deadline-us-troop-withdrawal-afghanistan-2021-05-01/
 Al Qaeda promises 'war on all fronts' against America as Biden pulls out of Afghanistan, CNN, April 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/30/asia/al-qaeda-afghanistan-biden-intl-cmd/index.html
 Biden will withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, The Washington Post, April 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/biden-us-troop-withdrawal-afghanistan/2021/04/13/918c3cae-9beb-11eb-8a83-3bc1fa69c2e8_story.html
 Taliban attack on covert US base in Afghanistan complicates Biden withdrawal decision, CNN, April 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/08/politics/taliban-attack-afghanistan-covert-base-biden-withdrawal-decision/index.html
 Taliban attacks airfield as U.S. troops begin withdrawal from Afghanistan, Yahoo/CBS, May 2021. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/taliban-attacks-airfield-u-troops-225117106.html
 “Reward for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri” by CIA licensed under Public Domain.
 Al Qaeda promises 'war on all fronts' against America as Biden pulls out of Afghanistan, CNN, April 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/30/asia/al-qaeda-afghanistan-biden-intl-cmd/index.html.
 Security Brief: Al-Zawahiri, CENTCOM Team, The Counterterrorism Group, December 2020. https://www.counterterrorismgroup.com/post/the-death-of-al-qaeda-chief-al-zawahiri-and-the-future-of-al-qaeda-security-brief