Since 2001, al-Qaida largely
has been driven out of its former base of operations in Afghanistan but not out
of striking distance. The organization left a strong legacy in the country and
continues to attack Afghan targets from outside the borders.
is a militant Islamic terrorist network working to fight foreign influences in
Muslim countries and carry out jihad, or holy war, to put Islamic fundamentalist
governments in power. Suicide hijackers from the group flew airliners into the
World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001,
killing nearly 3,000 people.
In response, U.S.-led coalition forces invaded
Afghanistan in October 2001, targeting al-Qaida members and overthrowing the Taliban
government that sheltered them. The troops captured and killed some al-Qaida members
and forced the remains of the organization to flee the country.
suffered serious damage to its infrastructure and leadership, but survives in
a decentralized form outside of Afghanistan. The group's two leaders, Osama bin
Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, have managed to evade U.S. intelligence and, as of
September 2006, were believed to be living in Pakistan.
"The network has
been severely degraded, but it is still there and a lot of the personal connections
are still there," Daniel Byman, director of the Center for Peace and Security
Studies at Georgetown University, said in 2006. "If there isn't constant pressure
there is a very good chance of a resurgence."
Since the U.S. occupation
began, bombings by groups associated with al-Qaida have occurred in other regions,
including Iraq and Western Europe. While al-Qaida has kept a lower profile around
Afghanistan, a resurgence of attacks along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border by
Taliban and other jihadist groups show some ties to the organization.
is difficult to characterize the relationship between the Taliban insurgents and
al-Qaida, but they are loosely affiliated, according to Greg Sullivan, a spokesperson
for the State Department's Near East Asian Affairs bureau. Bin Laden plays a spiritual
and philosophical leadership role to jihadists, but the operational logistics
are being carried out by smaller groups in many cases.
Al-Qaida and the
Taliban do have the shared goal in Afghanistan of driving out all foreign presence
and reinstalling the Taliban as the government.
Afghanistan's democratically elected president, Hamid Karzai,
who took power in 2002 with the endorsement of U.S. President
Bush, took a strong stance against terrorism from the beginning
of his presidency. He reacted with frustration to growing insurgent
attacks in the country and called on the international community,
especially Pakistan, to help root out terrorism at its source.
"We must concentrate on the sources
of training and financing ... all that outside of Afghanistan, if we are to be
able to defeat terrorism forever," Karzai said in September 2006.
President Pervez Musharraf defended his country's policies on terrorism but acknowledged
that al-Qaida and Taliban forces "are crossing from Pakistan's side and causing
bomb blasts and terrorist activity" in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is probably
the most central location of al-Qaida now, according to Byman, though the organization
does not have a strong base of operations and training like it once enjoyed in
Afghanistan's intertwined history with al-Qaida can be traced
to the Afghan Mujahadeen, a group of international Muslim fighters that fought
against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the late 1970s and the 1980s.
of the Muslims that fought with the Mujahadeen were not from the country, but
joined because of their dedication to jihad. The Mujahadeen received support and
training from foreign governments, including the United States, Pakistan and Saudi
bin Laden became one of the first Arabs to join the Mujahadeen in 1979. He helped
organize and prepare fighters in Pakistan to cross into Afghanistan to battle
After the Soviets were successfully expelled, bin Laden founded
al-Qaida in 1988 to consolidate the international network he had established.
core goals of al-Qaida are the advancement of Islamic revolutions throughout the
world, the establishment of fundamentalist Islamic regimes and fighting foreign
intervention in Muslim countries.
Though bin Laden was in Saudi Arabia and
Sudan for years after founding al-Qaida, in 1996 he returned to Afghanistan and
made the country the network's home base. Afghanistan's de facto government, the
Taliban, played a major role in this decision.
"Afghanistan would take them
when no one else would," said Byman. "There was also a sense among some al-Qaida
members that the Taliban was a true Islamic government, the only one."
two groups formed a symbiotic relationship. The Taliban providing a base of operations,
while al-Qaida provided defense for the group. The al-Qaida network recruited
foreign fighters and trained them into elite fighting forces that backed the Taliban.
the war, the people of Afghanistan were the main victims of al-Qaida," said Ashraf
Haidari, political counselor at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington, D.C.
supported the Taliban to victimize and oppress the people of Afghanistan."
al-Qaida flourished in the country and expanded to train thousands of fighters,
the network continued to organize terrorist strikes.
In 1998, bin Laden
and al-Zawahiri released a fatwa, a declaration of war, against America.
ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is
an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is
possible to do it," the fatwa stated.
This message alerted the world to
al-Qaida's violent intentions and turned attention on the country harboring the
group. The August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed
224 people were allegedly the work of al-Qaida members, creating even more criticism
The United States sought extradition of bin Laden and indicted
him in connection with the bombings. The Taliban refused to turn him over, however,
saying there was insufficient evidence to implicate bin Laden in terrorist activities.
U.N. Security Council imposed air and economic sanctions on Afghanistan in October
1999 for refusing to cooperate. The sanctions were strengthened in December 2000
after pressure from the United States and Russia. Though the sanctions were damaging
to the economy, the Taliban still refused to produce bin Laden.
2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. targets, the Taliban would only go as far as asking
bin Laden to leave the country, but would not force him out. The U.S. led invasion
ensued, leading to more than five years of occupation of Afghanistan and the creation
of a democratic government for the country.
Al-Qaida has suffered many losses,
including the deaths of leading members Mohammed Atef in 2001 and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, in 2006.
But, while these victories for the
U.S. war on terror were highly publicized in the United States and the smaller
network itself has suffered, the jihadist movement continues to grow and as of
October 2006 the United States still had not captured bin Laden.