UTT Throwback Thursday: President Should Drop Pakistan as Ally

Understanding the Threat, by John  Guandolo, Sept. 21, 2017:

It is being reported that President Trump is considering dropping Pakistan as a U.S. “ally” due to their obvious support for “terrorism.”

It’s about time.

Pakistanis showing support for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden

The Quranic Concept of War – written in 1989 by a Brigadier General SK Malik of the Pakistani army with the forward by the Army Chief of Staff/former Pakistani President Zia ul Haq and the Preface by the Advocate General of Pakistan – is doctrine for the Pakistani military.  It makes clear that war against non-muslim forces is obligatory until Islam dominates the world.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) aided Al Qaeda in moving men and equipment to safer locations anticipating U.S. retaliatory attacks.

Al Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan for several years up until the time he was killed in a U.S. raid.

Pakistan used “aid” money provided by the United States government during the Obama Administration to expand its nuclear program.

Pakistani ISI created Lashkar e Taiba, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. government, which has conducted numerous jihadi attacks including the four-day long Mumbai (India) attack of 2008 which killed over 160 people.

Pakistan has never been a friend to the United States, because it is a driving force in the global jihad.

Pakistan needs to be crushed along with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Al-Qaeda-Inspired Group Launches as Islamic State Alternative in Pakistan

AFP/STR

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, Sept. 12, 2017:

Former al-Qaeda fighters have launched a new group in terrorist safe haven Pakistan for jihadists who have severed ties with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) branch in the region.

Although the new group claims it has no official links to al-Qaeda or any other foreign terrorist group, it concedes that Osama bin Laden, the former al-Qaeda leader who was killed by the U.S. military, inspired its ideology, reports Voice of America (VOA).

ISIS and al-Qaeda are considered to be enemies.

Two former al-Qaeda members who had grown disgruntled with the terrorist group this year reportedly assembled the new jihadist group, dubbed Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan.

“The group was allegedly created to operate as a platform for militants who have parted ways with IS [Islamic State] in the country, it said in an online statement. It claimed to be active in several parts of the country,” notes VOA.

In an announcement disseminated through a Twitter account, Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan declared, “We give glad tidings to Muslim Ummah [community] that a large number of Mujahideen [jihadists] from Karachi, Punjab, and tribal areas are leaving ranks of IS and announce disassociation with [it].”

ISIS has “spread differences” and “secession instead of unity,” said the new terrorist group, which has vowed to continue its struggle through “jihad” against “infidel and apostates.”

VOA concedes that it was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the Twitter account linked to the newly formed jihadist organization.

However, the counterterrorism department of the Karachi police has acknowledged the new group’s existence, revealing that it maintains a presence in the Pakistani territory between Sindh and Baluchistan provinces.

Pakistani authorities believe the newly-emerged group primarily operates out of Pakistan’s largest city Karachi, which is also considered to house a significant presence of terrorists affiliated with the South Asia-based al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) branch.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Rangers paramilitary security force in Karachi, told local reporters that among the members of the new group are individuals with masters degrees in applied physics.

As it expanded its foothold in Pakistan, the local Islamic State branch known as the Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) reportedly recruited from a pool of individuals with sophisticated skills at universities across the country, including students, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and businessmen, and also used women for its fundraising operations.

Maj. Saeed revealed that Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan also has female members.

Terrorist groups in the region, namely the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have been engaged in efforts to recruit female jihadists, taking a page from ISIS’s playbook.

The U.S. military has linked TTP with the Islamic State, noting that the majority of ISIS-K members are former Pakistani Taliban jihadists.

Afghan and Pakistani Taliban members considered themselves to belong to two distinct groups with separate goals and led by different people.

The formation of the new jihadist group is a testament to the ongoing presence of al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, nearly 16 years after the U.S. military was deployed to defeat the terrorist organization in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the American homeland.

Despite the trillions of American taxpayer dollars invested in defeating the Afghan Taliban and its ally al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the thousands of U.S. military service members killed and injured trying to carry out that mission, the two groups are believed to have grown stronger in recent years.

In its latest assessment of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, the Pentagon notes:

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e- Tayyiba, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Sanctuary on the Pakistan side and presence on the Afghan side remain a security challenge for both countries and pose a threat to regional security and stability.

Echoing Indian and Afghan officials, the Pentagon has long accused Pakistan of harboring terrorist groups, particularly the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their ally the Haqqani Network, considered one of the top threats facing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Islamabad denies the allegations.

Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan, the newly formed terrorist group, has already been linked to several terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, notes VOA, citing counterterrorism authorities in Islamabad.

The name “Ansar al-Sharia” has been used by jihadists groups in various countries affiliated with al-Qaeda.

In particular, the allegedly dissolved al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya that the U.S. believes was behind the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans called itself Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL).

Nevertheless, the newly-formed Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan insists it is not officially linked to any foreign terrorist organization, particularly al-Qaeda.

On This September 11th UTT Calls on American Leaders to Do Their Duty

Understanding the Threat, by John Guandolo, Sept. 10, 2017:

It has been 16 years since 19 jihadis from Saudi Arabia flew airplanes into the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and tried to reach the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. but failed because of the heroic efforts of American citizens.

Since that day, America has fought and lost two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not because of a failure of Marines, soldiers, sailors, or airmen, but because American political and military leaders failed to do their legal duty to KNOW the enemy.

Since that day, many American pastors and rabbis have misinformed their flocks and told them the god of Islam – allah – is the same as the God of Israel and the Father of Jesus the Christ of Nazareth.

Since that day, American political leaders have attacked and derided citizens who speak truthfully about the threat of the Global Islamic Movement, defended known suit-wearing jihadis, and even awarded these “terrorists” for being “helpful” in the “Global War on Terror.”

Since that day, U.S. government analysts across the board have attempted to identify the threat without including Islam in the analysis because Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama told them the threat comes from “Violent Extremism” not from Islam.

Since that day, many American citizens have come to understand the core doctrine of Islam – sharia (Islamic Law) – commands muslims to wage jihad (warfare) until the entire world is under Islamic rule.

Americans are realizing Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas, Iran, Saudi Arabia, other Islamic nations and jihadi groups as well as the pinnacle of Islamic jurisprudence – Al Azhar (Egypt) – are all correct in their doctrinal understanding of Islam.

Americans are also coming to realize their leaders are catastrophically clueless about this enemy.

Sixteen years after 9/11/01, the United States government has not identified the threat nor the enemy threat doctrine (sharia), and has no coherent strategy for victory.

If we want to honor the nearly 3,000 Americans who perished on 9/11/01 and all of the servicemen and women killed and wounded in combat, we must not rest until our leaders at the local, state, and federal level do their duty to protect America against “all enemies foreign and domestic” and identify and obliterate the jihadi network in the United States, and all of those Aiding and Abetting them.

To read UTT’s 9/11/2016 blog entitled  “This 9/11 Anniversary is a Call to Action” click HERE

To hear UTT’s Special Edition 9/11/17 Radio Broadcast click HERE and then click “Listen” under “John Guandolo”

To read about UTT President John Guandolo’s 9/11/01 experiences as an FBI Special Agent click HERE

Exploiting the fault lines of Islamic terrorism

Family Security Matters, by Lawrence Sellin, Sept.8, 2017:

The U.S. has largely viewed Islamic terrorism as a monolithic threat with varying degrees of extremism distributed among various geographic locations.

We have often not adequately appreciated the historical, ideological and geopolitical subtleties underlying Islamic terrorism and, consequently, missed opportunities to enhance our national security by effectively pitting one faction against another, if not by defeat, then by disruption.

For example, an extraordinary and mostly unnoticed diplomatic démarche occurred in Kabul on August 7, 2017, when the senior Saudi diplomat in Afghanistan, Charge d’affairs Mishari al-Harbi, accused Qatar of supporting Taliban “armed terrorists” even though Saudi Arabia itself had long been a financial backer of the Taliban and, together with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), officially recognized the group when it assumed control of Afghanistan in 1996.

At a high level, that event can be traced back to the centuries-old conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam upon which modern geopolitical interests are layered.

The basis of the Saudi action, however, was a continuation of the June 2017 diplomatic breakdown among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and isolation of Qatar, initially by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Eqypt, that included severing of diplomatic ties, border closing, an embargo and the expelling of Qatari diplomats and residents expelled from GCC countries. Qatar was accused of sponsoring terrorism and meddling in the affairs of other GCC countries, specifically through its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Although Qatar is indeed a major supporter of radical Islam, the root cause of the conflict is Qatar’s amicable relationship with Saudi Arabia’s Shia nemesis, Iran, with whom Qatar shares a natural gas field in the Persian Gulf. Because Qatar’s major export is gas not oil, it is less under the political domination of Saudi Arabia, often pursuing an independent foreign policy, which is not appreciated in Riyadh.

The Saudis’ hostile rhetoric in Kabul was meant to discourage independent Saudi donors from supporting the Taliban and, by de-legitimization of the Taliban, undercut Qatar’s effectiveness as a mediator between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

One factor contributing to the Saudi break with the Taliban is the increasing support the Taliban have accepted from Iran. In addition, the ambassador to Afghanistan of Saudi ally, the UAE, was wounded and five of its diplomats were killed in the January 2017 Kandahar bombing, which was allegedly planned at the Afghan Taliban-linked Mawlawi Ahmad Madrassa in Chaman, Pakistan.

Over the last decade, there has also been a shift in Saudi funding to Pakistan away from Deobandi groups like the Taliban to the more extreme Ahl-i-Hadith sect, the Pakistani equivalent of Wahhabism. Local sources in Pakistan have reported that Saudi Arabia is providing funding for Jihadi training camps in order to launch attacks on Iran from Balochistan.

All of the above accentuates the importance for U.S. policy makers to understand and exploit elements of the Sunni-Shia struggle, the divisions among Sunni extremist groups and the geopolitical vulnerabilities of the nations who sponsor terrorism.

The ideology that sustains radical Islamic terrorism is really an amalgamation of ideologies, whose inherent incompatibilities can be exploited to create conditions whereby the ideologues attack each other or, at a minimum, are kept continuously off balance.

That is what a winning strategy looks like, not troop levels and nation building.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of “Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution “. He receives email at lawrence.sellin@gmail.com.

The Danger of a Jihadist Pakistan

Gatestone Institute, by John R. Bolton, August 30, 2017

Almost certainly, the war in Afghanistan will be won or lost in Pakistan. President Trump’s announcement last week that he will send more U.S. troops—some sources say another 4,000—to Afghanistan represents a change in tactics from President Obama’s policy. But the ultimate objective is still opaque, and even once the specifics are articulated, what may ultimately matter more is the still-undeveloped “South Asia policy” promised by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

That means dealing with Pakistan. Islamabad has provided financial and military aid, including privileged sanctuaries, to the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Islamic State, al Qaeda and other malefactors, allowing them not just to survive but flourish. President Trump rightly says this must stop and is encouraging Pakistan’s principal adversary, India, to increase its economic assistance to Afghanistan.

But the task isn’t so straightforward. The Bush and Obama administrations also criticized Pakistan’s support for terrorists, without effect. Putting too much pressure on Pakistan risks further destabilizing the already volatile country, tipping it into the hands of domestic radical Islamicists, who grow stronger by the day.

Peter Tomsen, a former State Department regional expert, once described Pakistan as the only government he knew consisting simultaneously of arsonists and firefighters—often the same people, depending on the situation. Pakistan has teetered on the edge of collapse ever since it was created in the 1947 partition of British India. Its civilian governments have too often been corrupt, incompetent or both. The ouster last month of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif —he stepped down after the Supreme Court disqualified him for not having been “honest”—is no reassurance. If anything, it shows the judiciary’s excessive politicization, which further weakens constitutional governance.

Islamabad’s military, sometimes called the country’s “steel skeleton,” is equally problematic. It recalls the old remark about Prussia: Whereas other countries have armies, Pakistan’s army has a country. The military is also becoming increasingly radicalized, with Islamicists already in control of its intelligence services and now working their way through the ranks of the combat branches.

In this unstable environment, blunt pressure by the U.S.—and, by inference, India—could backfire. Just as America must stay engaged in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban and other terrorists from retaking control, it is also imperative to keep Islamabad from falling under the sway of radical Islamicists. Hence the danger of inadvertently strengthening their hand by supplying a convenient narrative of overt U.S. dominion. Such a blunder might help Pakistan’s radicals seize power even as the U.S. battles terrorists in Afghanistan.

The aftermath of a Taliban terror bombing attack at the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan on June 10, 2009, which killed 11 people. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Remember that Pakistan has been a nuclear state for nearly two decades. The gravest threat is that its arsenal of nuclear warheads, perhaps up to 100 of them, would fall into radical hands. The U.S. would instantly face many times the dangers posed by nuclear Iran or North Korea.

If American pressure were enough to compel Pakistan to act decisively against the terrorists within its borders, that would have happened long ago. What President Trump needs is a China component to his nascent South Asia policy, holding Beijing accountable for the misdeeds that helped create the current strategic dangers.

Of all the external actors, China bears primary responsibility for Pakistan’s and North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. For its own strategic reasons, China gave both countries direct financial, scientific and technological assistance and then flew political cover at the United Nations and elsewhere. Empowering Islamabad was a hedge against India, China’s biggest threat in South Asia. Helping Pyongyang was a play against the U.S. and its Asian allies. (And, increasingly, against the wider world, since North Korea appears to have sold its technology.)

In both cases China recklessly disregarded the risks of proliferation and breached its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By comparison, Beijing’s flagrant violations of its World Trade Organization commitments are trifles. China was hardly unaware that Pakistan has fostered and aided Islamic terrorists in Kashmir, threatening Indian control. Yet Beijing has done nothing to stop it, thus indirectly keeping Indo-Pakistani relations tense.

China has also made Pakistan a considerable beneficiary of the massive transportation infrastructure and other projects related to its “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Clearly Beijing intends to bind Islamabad ever more tightly into its modern-day “co-prosperity sphere.”

It must, therefore, be core American policy to hold China to account, even belatedly. The U.S. can use its leverage to induce China to join the world in telling Pakistan it must sever ties with terrorists and close their sanctuaries. The Trump administration should make clear that Beijing will face consequences if it does not bring to bear its massive interests in support of this goal. Washington could also point out that this is in Beijing’s own interest, lest the terrorists rise next among the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province, what was once “East Turkestan.”

Whether Beijing truly intends to be a “responsible stakeholder” in international affairs, as its U.S. advocates insist, should be put to the test—and not merely on monetary and trade issues. Fighting international terrorism and nuclear proliferation requires determination and action, not the kind of smiling repetition of bumper-sticker phrases that the People’s Liberation Army and China’s political leadership blithely ignore.

Starting now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, China should be told its bona fides as a state engaging in a “peaceful rise” are on the line. If real proof of that conceit does not emerge, Washington will be entitled to draw the appropriate conclusions.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”.

This article first appeared in The Wall Street Journal and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Also see:

Winning Afghanistan: Support Trump’s Strategy

A US soldier holds the national flag ahead of a handover ceremony at Leatherneck Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand on April 29, 2017. (Photo: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Aug. 22, 2017:

President Trump is pledging to “win” in Afghanistan by defeating the terrorist “losers.” He is correct about the disaster ahead if the U.S. retreats from Afghanistan, but his speech doesn’t seem to have addressed the concerns of those who believe that the campaign there is a lost cause.

Trump rightly pointed out that there are 20 groups designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. State Department operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the U.S. abandons Afghanistan, these groups will use the country as a launching pad to target the U.S. and destabilize the region, including nuclear-armed Pakistan.

From this base, they will likely be able to roll back progress we’ve made against terror havens in Iraq, Syria and Libya. And, of course, each success breeds a multitude of new members for the victorious terrorist group as momentum is interpreted as Allah’s blessing.

Yet, these realities do not address the core skepticism of those who oppose the war in Afghanistan — that there’s simply nothing more we can do. President Trump needed to confront this head on.

It’s extremely important that the American public understand that the war in Afghanistan is not like a videotape on loop. We have made progress, but the American public rarely heard about it because President Obama did not wish to bring attention to the war and its political liabilities. The progress was then lost due to the rapid withdrawal based on an arbitrary timeline.

“We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistakes our leaders made in Iraq,” Trump said.

Addressing the need to make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan to defeat the terror forces there, Secretary of Defense Mattis said it best when he told President Trump, “Mr. President, we haven’t fought a 16-year war so much as we have fought a one-year war 16 times.”

In 2014, 95% of all operations were being done by the Afghans and they were taking 95% of all casualties, according to Michael O’Hanlon. Foreign forces were only 15% of coalition manpower. The Taliban and other jihadists had a growing presence in the areas where foreign forces decreased, but this territory only encompassed about 10% of the Afghan population.

The Defense Department’s April 2014 report said that U.S. casualties had “dropped significantly” over the previous year and the Afghan forces conduct “virtually all of these operations independently.” The Afghan economy was lunging forward and the Defense Department reported a “dramatic increase in basic education.”

The mantra we always hear in the media is that the Afghans won’t fight the Taliban and other terrorists. They did.

There was also major economic, educational and political progress.

That year, Afghanistan held a hotly-contested presidential election where all of the major candidates agreed that the U.S. military should be asked to stay. The election was a big success, as U.S.-backed Afghan forces made the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists fail miserably in achieving their stated goal of wreaking havoc during the voting.

Despite the extremely high risk, voter turnout was about 58%, matching that of America’s 2012 presidential election. One in three voters were women and a record number of women were running for office, including two for vice president.

After the vote was held, accusations of fraud came from both sides. Sectarian tension was high as each candidate represented different constituencies. Amazingly, despite all these pressures, the parties then reached a power-sharing agreement and had Afghanistan’s first peaceful transfer of the presidency through elections.

It is absolutely essential for President Trump to mention this progress to the skeptical American public so that they can know we haven’t been simply running in circles in Afghanistan. It is also important for the U.S. military that sacrifices so much to hear that their gains are known and appreciated.

Any progress that this new strategy makes will be limited by the assistance that the Taliban and other terrorists are receiving from Pakistan, Iran and Russia.

President Trump put Pakistan on notice like never before. The Pakistani government is going to be held accountable for harboring and materially supporting the terrorist network that sustains the jihad in Afghanistan. It is probable that we’ll see an increase in cross-border operations.

Trump’s praise for India as a strategic partner is a powerful lever to pull to pressure Pakistan. The State Department’s recent designation of Hizbul Mujahideen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization shows that the Trump Administration is serious about this. Hizbul Mujahideen is a terror group that primarily targets India and is backed by Pakistan.

It was strange that Iran’s role in assisting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda went unmentioned in Trump’s speech. Iran is actively murdering U.S. and Afghan troops. However, Secretary of Defense Mattis’ desire to deliver some payback to the Iranian regime for targeting the U.S. military is well-known. You can bet he has plans in mind for that.

All of the talk about the war in Afghanistan inevitably brings up the experience of the Vietnam War. Although there is much to criticize about National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster, he wrote a critically-acclaimed book about the Vietnam War.

There should be no doubt that the lessons of Vietnam are in the mind of McMaster and have been discussed within the Trump Administration every step of the way towards crafting the U.S.’ strategy in Afghanistan.

As Trump acknowledged, Americans are understandably frustrated and sick of being at war in Afghanistan. But there is reason to believe we can be successful. Moreover, advocates of a withdrawal have yet to explain how we can withdraw and still stop Afghanistan from becoming an extremely dangerous terrorist base.

If we would withdraw from Afghanistan now, how would we feel seeing images on our TV screens of the Taliban coming back to power, carrying out massacres and once again stopping girls from going to school, knowing that we could have stopped it.

We’ve sacrificed too much already to hand Afghanistan back to the Taliban and regressive forces. The consequences of retreat are so dire that it’s worth giving Trump and his team a chance for their strategy to work.

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Clare Lopez: What is core US national security interest in Afghanistan?

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Also see:

Sending more troops to Afghanistan is a good start

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, Aug. 21, 2017:

Editors’ note: A version of this article was first published at The Weekly Standard

In a primetime speech Monday evening, President Trump is expected to announce the deployment of several thousand more American troops to Afghanistan. We doubt this will be enough to win the war, but it is better than the alternatives offered to the president. A complete withdrawal would have been disastrous.

The premature withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State, which evolved into an international menace after overrunning much of Iraq and Syria. A similar scenario could have unfolded in Central and South Asia. The Taliban-led insurgency currently contests or controls more territory today than in years. And a withdrawal would have cleared the jihadists’ path to take even more ground, possibly leading to dire ramifications throughout the region.

Therefore, President Trump deserves credit for making a decision that went against his gut instinct, which told him to get out. In the process, America and its Afghan allies avoided the near-certain catastrophe that would have followed.

But if America is really going to put the Afghan government on the path to victory, then the Trump administration will have to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors. In particular, the US government needs to drastically reassess America’s jihadist enemies and avoid the policy pitfalls of the past.

With that in mind, the Trump administration has the opportunity to make the following course corrections.

Stop underestimating al Qaeda

President Trump can explain to the American people that al Qaeda is still a significant problem in South Asia—a potentially big one. President Barack Obama frequently claimed that al Qaeda was “decimated” and a “shadow of its former self” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That wasn’t true. The Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign dealt significant blows to al Qaeda’s leadership, disrupting the organization’s chain-of-command and interrupting its communications. But al Qaeda took measures to outlast America’s drones and other tactics. The group survived the death of Osama bin Laden and, in many ways, grew.

Consider that from June 2010 until 2016—that is, most of the Obama administration—the US government repeatedly insisted that there were just 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives in all of Afghanistan. This was clearly false at the time, and US officials were eventually forced to admit that this figure was far off.

From October 2015 until the first week of December 2016, the US and its allies killed or captured 400 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan—four times the longstanding high-end estimate. In October 2015, American and Afghan forces raided two large training camps in the Shorabak district of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province. One of them was nearly 30 square miles in size. US officials described the camp as likely the largest al Qaeda training facility in the history of Afghanistan. Both of the Shorabak camps were supported by the Taliban.

Think about that: In October 2015—more than 14 years after the 9/11 hijackings —the US led a raid on what was probably the largest al Qaeda training camp in history. So much for being “decimated.”

Al Qaeda continues to fight under the Taliban’s banner as well. Its newest branch, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is deeply embedded in the Taliban-led insurgency. And just days before the 2016 presidential election, the US killed a veteran al Qaeda leader in eastern Afghanistan who was both planning attacks against the American homeland and supporting the Taliban’s insurgency. Incredibly, al Qaeda is still able to plot attacks against the US from inside Afghanistan.

Some of the Americans newly deployed to Afghanistan will be called upon to perform counterterrorism missions. Similar efforts have disrupted anti-American plots in the past. But al Qaeda has used its broader role in the insurgency to regenerate its threats against the West. The American mission needs to root out al Qaeda, much more so than in the recent past. Are there other Shorabak-type training camps? How many fighters does al Qaeda really have in Afghanistan— taking into account its ethnically diverse membership? The Trump administration needs to focus on these types of questions. Otherwise, al Qaeda will keep coming back.

Forget about a grand bargain with the Taliban’s senior leadership

Many officials in the US government think the only way the Afghan war ends is by negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. There’s just one problem: The Taliban has never shown any real interest in peace.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton oversaw negotiations with the Taliban during the Obama administration. The talks were a fiasco. The Taliban extracted various concessions and the US never got anything in return, other than Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an accused deserter. The current Taliban honcho is Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, whose son carried out a suicide bombing in July. Akhundzada is a jihadist ideologue, not a prospective peace partner. Negotiating with him would be sheer folly. The Obama administration also pursued talks with the Taliban under the theory that the group could forswear al Qaeda. See the details above—that idea was always a dangerous fantasy.

The US and the Afghan government can and should attempt to peel away mid- to low-level Taliban fighters and commanders. But the idea that a grand bargain can be had with the Taliban has never been rooted in reality.

Stop treating the Haqqani Network as a separate group

The US has long operated under the delusion that the powerful Haqqani family and its loyalists are somehow distinct from the Taliban. It was always a curious assumption given that Jalaluddin Haqqani, the network’s eponymous founder, formally joined the Taliban in the mid-1990s. His son, Sirajuddin (a key al Qaeda ally), has been the Taliban’s No. 2 leader since 2015 and oversees much of the Taliban’s military operations. Sirajuddin’s ascent within the Taliban’s ranks means that no one can pretend that the Haqqani Network and the Taliban are distinct entities any longer. The Haqqani Network has long been designated a terrorist organization by the US government. The Trump administration should extend the designation to cover the entire Taliban, thereby making it clear to anyone who does business with the Taliban that they are backing a terrorist group.

The Islamic State is a threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not nearly as much of a threat as the Taliban-al Qaeda axis

The US has spent disproportionate resources fighting the Islamic State’s “province” in eastern Afghanistan. Earlier this year, for example, the US military dropped the “mother of all bombs” on the group’s stronghold in Nangarhar province. Several Americans have died during operations against Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists in country.

There’s no question that the Islamic State remains a serious problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it still doesn’t threaten the Afghan government to the same degree that the Taliban-al Qaeda axis does. The Islamic State controls parts of perhaps several Afghan districts. But the Taliban and its allies contest or control approximately 40 percent of the country. Therefore, the US has focused a lot of resources on a, relatively speaking, smaller threat. The Trump administration will need to devise a more offensive approach to dealing with the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance, an effort that has been hampered by restrictive rules of engagement in the past.

Pakistan continues to be a big problem

It is no secret that Pakistan harbors much of the Taliban’s senior leadership. But the US has only occasionally targeted these figures inside Pakistan proper. If Pakistan won’t turn on the Taliban—and it won’t—then the Trump administration should take more aggressive action against the group’s Pakistani safe havens.

The drone campaign can be expanded to target known Taliban leaders operating inside Pakistan. For example, the organization’s leader, Mullah Mansour, was killed in a May 2016 airstrike in Pakistan after he returned from a visit to Iran. Mansour’s death was intended to open the door to possible peace talks, which didn’t materialize.

If the Taliban is allowed to continue operating unencumbered, then the administration will be repeating the mistakes of the past. For too long, the Taliban’s leaders have been able to direct the insurgency in Afghanistan from their cozy confines in Pakistan. American aid to Pakistan can and should be withheld until the country’s military and intelligence establishment proves willing to make meaningful changes in its behavior. No one should hold their breath waiting for this happen, however, and the Trump administration can’t afford to wait.

Iran remains a problem, too

The Iranian government has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since 2001. Although this assistance is not as pronounced as Pakistan’s, it is meaningful. The US government has also repeatedly noted that Iran hosts al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which moves fighters, funds, and communications to and from South Asia. Any successful strategy for turning the Afghan war around will have to deal with the Iranian government’s nefarious role.

The Russians are on the opposite side of the Afghan war. The Russians are, at a minimum, providing rhetorical support to the Taliban. There are reports that Russia has provided arms to Taliban insurgents as well. President Trump has made no secret of the fact that he seeks better relations with Vladimir Putin’s government. But Russia’s flirtations (and maybe more) with the Taliban are a stark reminder that this will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. In the meantime, the US will have to take steps to disrupt Putin’s relationship with his favorite jihadis in the Taliban.

The rural areas matter

US military officials often downplay the importance of rural areas, arguing that they need only bolster the Afghan government’s defenses in the more heavily populated areas. But this is a mistake. The Taliban’s insurgents have been using their advances in Afghanistan’s more rural territory to orchestrate sieges on several provincial capitals. If the US and Afghan forces don’t go on the offensive in these areas, then the jihadists will continue to squeeze the more populated terrain.

These are just some of the issues that confront the US on the road ahead.

With his decision, President Trump has ensured that the worst-case scenario won’t unfold. But that is a long way from victory. And to win, the US is going to have to get real about our jihadist enemies in Afghanistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.