Michael Morell, former President Barack Obama’s Acting CIA Director, said during a CBS News interview on Sunday that the Biden administration’s actions in Afghanistan have “inspired jihadists” all over the world and that the Taliban is already back to harboring al-Qaeda.
Morell responded to the news that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al-Qaeda, had issued a video on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks when asked by host Margaret Brennan if al-Zawahiri was living in Afghanistan, as a U.N. report recently said.
“We think so, which means that the Taliban is harboring Zawahiri today,” Morell said. “The Taliban is harboring al-Qaeda today. And I think that’s a very important point.”
.@MichaelJMorell on keeping Al Qaeda threat at bay following Afghanistan withdrawal: “We have to figure out how we're going to collect two types of intelligence — how we're going to make sure that Al Qaeda is not rebuilding its capabilities and is planning on attacking us again.” pic.twitter.com/hA7JzJJbma
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) September 12, 2021
Morell discussed the numerous issues that the U.S. is now facing since President Joe Biden pulled U.S. forces out of the country, noting that it’s going to be significantly harder to collect intelligence and to execute operations aimed at eliminating threats.
Morell also noted that al-Qaeda could completely “bounce back” within the next 12 months because of the safe haven that Afghanistan provides and that makes Afghanistan the greatest long-term risk for the U.S. when it comes to terrorism.
“I think that the Taliban winning the war in Afghanistan and then the way our exit happened has absolutely inspired jihadists all over the world,” Morell later added. “The Taliban is saying we just didn’t defeat the United States. We defeated NATO. We defeated the world’s greatest military power ever. So there’s a celebration going on. We defeated the Soviet Union. Then it fell. Now we’ve defeated NATO. Right? Maybe they can fall, too.”
“I think not only will jihadists be inspired, but a lot of them are going to come to Afghanistan to be part of the celebration, to be part of jihadist central,” he added. “So after 9/11, they all scattered from Afghanistan. I think we’re going to see a flow back in, and that’s one of the things that makes Afghanistan more dangerous than other spots on the planet.”
Obama's Acting CIA Director Michael Morell: Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal “absolutely inspired jihadists all over the world” pic.twitter.com/4RKUW4E7HK
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) September 12, 2021
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA CBS NEWS:
MARGARET BRENNAN: Holly, thank you. For more analysis on the threats facing the country, we turn to Michael Morell. He’s a former acting director of the CIA and a CBS News contributor. Great to have you here.
MICHAEL MORELL, OBAMA’S ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: Great to be here, Margaret. Good to have you back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al-Qaeda, issued a video on the twentieth anniversary of the attacks. The U.N. said in July he’s living in Afghanistan, is he?
MICHAEL MORELL: We think so, which means that the Taliban is harboring Zawahiri today. The Taliban is harboring al-Qaeda today. And I think that’s a very important point.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So is that just a complete false premise then to say that pulling out of Afghanistan, we can still keep the threat from al-Qaeda at bay?
MICHAEL MORELL: We have a lot of work to do in order to do that, right? We have to figure out how we’re going to collect intelligence — two types of intelligence. How are we going to make sure that al-Qaeda is not rebuilding its capabilities and is planning on attacking us again? And then we have to — if we do that, then we have to collect the kind of intelligence that gives you the precision you need to conduct strikes, right? Drones need to be told exactly where on the earth to go. What tells you that is precision intelligence. So, a lot of work for the intelligence community to do here going forward.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’ve seen some of that. If you follow headlines, the CIA director in Pakistan this week, he’s already said under oath, Bill Burns, that you will have fewer intelligence tools if you pull out U.S. troops. So what exactly do we need, and isn’t building up in the region the opposite of what the president intended to do, which was look at Asia and threats elsewhere?
MICHAEL MORELL: So we have China, right? China is a big problem. It’s the big strategic threat facing the United States. We got to — we have to — we have to pivot to that, but we also have to keep our eye on terrorism. And there’s terrorists in a lot of different places in the world. The president is right about that. But I think the place where we are most at risk from over the long-term, and the intelligence community is saying twelve months, so the long-term is kind of short here, is Afghanistan, right? So al-Qaeda could bounce back in as quickly as twelve months in Afghanistan if we don’t do what we need to do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So when I talk to sources about this, what they say to the argument you just laid out is, well, why Afghanistan? Why regroup there? Why shouldn’t we be as worried about Central Africa and al-Qaeda’s presence there? What’s your response to that?
MICHAEL MORELL: So right now, the places I’m most worried about are ISIS in Africa and al-Shabab in Somalia. But longer-term, I worry most about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and — and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Why? Because at the end of the day, the most important thing that a terrorist group can have, the most important determinant of their success is safe haven.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
MICHAEL MORELL: Right? And you have safe haven in Afghanistan that you really can’t have anywhere else because you’re being harbored now by the Taliban. And Afghanistan is a big place. It’s tough to get to. It’s tough to find partners. We just heard about that earlier in the show. So that’s why I worry more about Afghanistan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So are we more at risk then without the military presence there?
MICHAEL MORELL: We are more at risk, without a doubt, because we haven’t yet, as we heard from Representative Kinzinger, we haven’t yet put together a strategy for how we’re going to do the two things. So one, right, is to collect that intelligence that I talked about. The intelligence community’s got to figure that out. Then the Department of Defense has to figure out this over the horizon capability, right? So when the intelligence community says, Mister President, they’re rebuilding again, they’re getting to the point where they can attack the homeland again. And the president says, take action. The military has to be able to reach in and degrade al-Qaeda, right? We haven’t figured those two things out yet.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Secretary of State will sit for questions tomorrow. For the very first time the administration is going to have to explain this chaotic withdrawal. You hear about the Taliban effect, that jihadists looked at this, looked at American troops exiting and said, it’s possible that they are inspired by this. How much should we be concerned about that now?
MICHAEL MORELL: I think that the Taliban winning the war in Afghanistan, and then the way our exit happened has absolutely inspired jihadists all over the world. The Taliban is saying we just didn’t defeat the United States. We defeated NATO. We defeated the world’s greatest military power ever. So there’s a celebration going on. We defeated the Soviet Union. Then it fell. Now we’ve defeated NATO. Right? Maybe they can fall, too. I think not only will jihadists be inspired, but a lot of them are going to come to Afghanistan to be part of the celebration, to be part of jihadist central. So after 9/11, they all scattered from Afghanistan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
MICHAEL MORELL: I think we’re going to see a flow back in, and that’s one of the things that makes Afghanistan more dangerous than other spots on the planet.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We will keep an eye on it.
MICHAEL MORELL: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mike Morell, thank you for your analysis.
We’ll be right back.