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WASHINGTON: With no US troops or reliable partners left, jails emptied of militants and the Taliban in control, doubts are mounting within President Joe Biden’s administration over Washington’s ability to stem a resurgence of al Qaeda and other extremists in Afghanistan, six current and former US officials told Reuters.

Afghan security forces whom the United States helped train crumbled as Taliban militants made their way through Afghanistan in less than two weeks, leaving the United States with few partners on the ground.

“We’re not in a good place,” said a US defence official, who requested anonymity to discuss the issue.

Weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda, the lack of visibility regarding potential extremist threats is a chilling prospect for officials.

US-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering al Qaeda militants, leading to America’s longest war.

The US troop departure ordered for Aug. 31 by Biden and the subsequent collapse of Afghan security forces have stripped the CIA and other spy agencies of protection, forcing them to close bases and withdraw personnel as well.

The Biden administration cannot rely on neighbouring countries because it has so far been unable to strike accords on bases for US counterterrorism forces and drones, officials said.

That has left Washington dependent on staging counterterrorism operations from US bases in the Gulf and counting on the Taliban to adhere to the 2020 US pullout deal to stop militant attacks on the United States and allies.

But it is a costly endeavor. Flying military aircraft out of the Middle East, the nearest military hub Washington has in the region, may ultimately cost more than the 2,500 troops that had been in Afghanistan until earlier this year, the officials added.

Even deploying scarce US resources to monitor militants in Afghanistan will effectively have to compete with the administration’s key priority in Asia of countering China.

The Group of Seven industrialized nations made it a priority that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers break all ties with terrorist organizations and that the Taliban must engage in the fight against terrorism, an official at the French presidency said on Tuesday after a meeting of G7 leaders.

‘SEVERE DISADVANTAGE’

US military leaders estimated in June that groups like al Qaeda could pose a threat from Afghanistan to the US homeland in two years.

But the Taliban takeover rendered that estimate obsolete, officials said.

Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism until January, estimated it would now take al Qaeda six months to reconstitute the ability to conduct external operations.

The Taliban freed hundreds of detainees from prisons, stirring fears that some may include leading extremists.

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