Since the U.S. allowed the Taliban-Qaeda forces to retake Afghanistan in 2021, there have been concerns that history will repeat itself: it was in Taliban- and Al-Qaeda-ruled Afghanistan that the 9/11 attacks were planned. It is, therefore, of interest that Al-Qaeda has put out a statement claiming it will not use Afghanistan as a launchpad for attacks on the West. There is, of course, little reason to believe Al-Qaeda or any other jihadist group. It does, however, constitute a milestone—this is the first “official”, public limitation Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) has put on its external operations—and it provides an opportunity, two decades on from that awful Tuesday morning, to assess Al-Qaeda’s intentions and capabilities when it comes to global terrorism.
Al-Qaeda has undergone major structural and strategic evolutions since 2001. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) physically impacted Al-Qaeda’s capacities and intensified changes in its strategic thinking, focusing it more locally and moving it away from global terrorism, a process quickened and expanded since 2011, by the demise of Usama bin Laden, the war in Syria, and above all the rise of the Islamic State as a challenger for the leadership of global jihad. With the death of Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in July 2022, it remains to be seen if Al-Qaeda will continue this trend, or turn back towards the kind of atrocities seen on 11 September 2001 that will forever be associated with its name.
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