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Threat of terror groups builds following ISIS suicide bombing in Afghanistan

Saturday's bombing in Afghanistan caps a chaotic week throughout much of the Muslim world. Violent conflicts are now raging in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and the threat posed by terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula are seemingly intensifying. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    Today's bombing in Afghanistan caps a chaotic week throughout much of the Muslim world. Violent conflicts are now raging in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and the threat posed by terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula seemingly are intensifying.

    To help us analyze these developments, we are joined from Washington by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Cordesman previously served in the State Department and was the director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

    So, it's nearly 2,000 miles from Damascus, Syria, to Kabul, Afghanistan. And violence seems to be spreading throughout this entire region.

    What's the bigger picture that we need to understand?

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES:

    I'm afraid that is the bigger picture because what we are watching — and we have been watching almost since 2010 — is a very sharp rise in the number of terrorist incidents. And now, what we're watching is civil war and basically some forms of insurgency.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We mentioned that suicide bombing in Eastern Afghanistan today, that the president of that country blames on ISIS. How significant is it that ISIS is now involved in Afghanistan?

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    We need to be very careful. I think part of the problem is it's convenient to blame ISIS if you're trying to negotiate with the Taliban. But a lot of groups have sort of had this cosmetic set of alignments with the Islamic State without there being real ties. These movement movements are generally independent.

    And long before any of these alignments occurred, Afghanistan, for example, saw a very sharp rise in casualties last year. There's been another rise this year. What I think we had hoped for in terms of much stronger Afghanistan forces, a much stronger Afghan government, has yet to appear. There certainly is no more stability in Afghanistan than there is in Yemen or Syria or Iraq or on the other areas in this region.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You mentioned Iraq, and ISIS forces are now battling government troops for control of Ramadi and of the nation's largest oil refinery in Baiji. What does this say about the effectiveness of our bombing campaign against them?

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    We're dealing with a scattered force. It isn't really dependent on a lot of heavy equipment. It can embed itself in buildings and cities, which makes bombing very difficult unless it's supported by ground troops. And in both the case of Ramadi and the refinery, that simply not something where air power alone can be fully effective. Where it has done well is in reducing the revenues they've had through oil exports. It has had some impact on hitting key leadership cadres, but this coming campaign so far has been relatively limited and it has not had any major strategic impact.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    If we turn our spotlight to Yemen for a second. Yesterday, al Qaeda forces there overran a weapons depot, seized dozens of tanks, rocket launchers, small arms. How concerning is that group's gains given that it was responsible for the Paris terrorist attacks in January?

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    Well, it is concerning because it also is the movement which has been best organized in trying to launch attacks against the United States. A rebirth of that group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is seriously dangerous.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What about the humanitarian aspect of all this?

  • CORDESMAN:

    The most recent estimates from the USAID for Syria are a good example. It has a population of a little over 18 million. There's something like 3.7 million that have been driven out of the country as refugees. More than 4 million people are so caught up in the fighting that there's no form of aid that can reach them.

    Just over the last few weeks, we've seen something close to that building up in Yemen — a breakdown in food supply, in basic operations of the economy, the spread of violence throughout the entire country in the populated areas. So, the human cost just keeps rising.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    If someone's just kind of opening up the paper, so to speak, or watching this program, considering the string of headlines that they've been seeing all week, what should the takeaway be?

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    This is going to be a very long set of struggles. It isn't centered in one place. We're going to be dealing with this problem for years. We've already said we've had our chief military warn us that in Iraq, it could easily be years before Mosul is liberated, and no one has said anything about when this conflict will end in Syria, end in Yemen, end in Afghanistan.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Anthony Cordesman joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    My pleasure.

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