In a press briefing, Tuesday, the Pentagon said it now has the ability to evacuate as many as five to nine thousand people a day from Kabul Airport. But as the U.S. focuses on its evacuation efforts, counterterrorism experts warn about who is now flooding into Afghanistan.
"There's real concern that with the Taliban back in charge of Afghanistan, that al Qaeda is going to be able to rebuild networks in that country," said Nathan Sales, former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department.
Sales tells CBN News that one of the terms of former President Donald Trump's deal with the Taliban was that they break all ties with al Qaeda. They haven't done that.
"Just a couple of weeks ago the United Nations released a report about the relationship between Taliban leaders and al Qaeda. Unfortunately, that relationship remains robust," Sales explained.
Many foreign services and intelligence officials believe the Taliban's victory has re-energized other jihadists around the world.
"Unfortunately the stage really has been set for al Qaeda to reassert itself in Afghanistan to our detriment," said Sales.
Previous intelligence estimates suggested it would take up to two years after a full U.S. withdrawal before al Qaeda could again pose a threat to the United States. According to Sales, the Taliban victory changes everything.
"They see Afghanistan as the site of a great victory. They will try to pull recruits into Afghanistan to fight for them, in much the same way that ISIS was a magnet for jihadists from around the world into Syria and Iraq several years ago. Al Qaeda is going to take a page out of that playbook and look to reconstitute their networks there," said Sales.
The intelligence community has been warning the Biden administration that pulling forces there would hurt our ability to contain extremist threats. Biden, though, maintains that counterterrorism efforts don't require boots on the ground.
"In order to do counterterrorism, you need to have intel. You need to know where the bad guys are located and you need to know what they're plotting. And in order to collect that information, you need to have drones flying overhead vacuuming up signals intelligence, and you also need to have a network of spies, human intelligence, who are collecting information," explained Sales.
A U.S. presence in Afghanistan offered reassurance to our assets on the ground that they would have protection if they were discovered. With our withdrawal, Sales says those abilities have been eliminated outright or dramatically reduced.
The Taliban held their first official press conference, Tuesday. A spokesperson is claiming that Afghanistan is now free after 20-years of occupation. He claims women's rights will be protected within the framework of Islam, and that they wish for peaceful relations with other countries.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Vice President is now saying he's in charge and urges people to rise up against the Taliban.