But sometimes mere malice is inadequate.
KABUL—Fourteen years after the U.S. and its allies routed most al Qaeda militants from Afghanistan, the country is again becoming a haven for extremist groups, the result, in part, of inadequate surveillance of its far-flung territory, Afghan and Western officials say.
At the height of their presence five years ago, the U.S. military and its allies operated 852 bases and outposts across Afghanistan, many with their own informants, drones and surveillance balloons to monitor even remote areas of the vast and rugged country.
Today, these spy assets are largely gone. …
“We lost a lot of eyes and ears,” said an official with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. “Reporting from the provinces dried up.”
The Taliban and al Qaeda aren’t the only militant groups that appear to be exploiting the intelligence gap. Thousands of Central and South Asian Islamist militants have crossed into Afghanistan undetected this year after their havens in Pakistan were attacked by Pakistani military forces.
The takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1996 was a boon to Islamist militant groups from abroad. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda flourished there until they were scattered by the U.S. invasion that followed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
One of the primary goals of the 2001 U.S. invasion was to ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a safe haven for terrorists.
The lack of intelligence about militant activities in remote areas of Afghanistan stems from the drawdown of U.S. forces and the shutting of U.S. and NATO bases that began in 2012.
“There was a dramatic weakening of intel capabilities,” said Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s envoy to Afghanistan. “It was like a watershed—it should not have been. And we still feel the consequences.”