Some thoughts on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Iran-al-Qaida nexus speech: 1/n
1. Pompeo today made a case for how al-Qaida poses a major threat to the US and allied interests in the Middle East in a host of ways. But last few years, the Trump admin -- led by him -- has been arguing the opposite to overstate own CT track record and withdraw from Afghanistan
In March 2020, he said on Fox and Friends: "Al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self"…
In 2020, on the eve of 9/11, current acting-secretary of defense and previously director NCTC Miller argued in an op-ed that al-Qaida is on the verge of defeat:…
In November, Pompeo's coordinator for CT declared "I think al-Qaida's on the ropes, no doubt..."…
2. Pompeo claimed in his remarks "[since 2015] A sea change was happening within the Iran-al-Qaeda axis. Let me give you some info that is brand new to the public today." Going to try to parse what's new, what's not, and what's believable in his claims. Image
Info 1: "Iran decided to allow al-Qaeda to establish a new operational headquarters, on the condition that al-Qaeda operatives inside abide by the regime’s rules governing al-Qaeda’s stay inside the country."
Reaction: Big claim, not implausible, but provides nothing in support. Also not clear what is an operational headquarters? Fwiw, previous work -- based on Bin Laden documents and interviews -- doesn't lend to Iran's support amounting to an operational hq:
Info 2: "The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the IRGC have provided safe havens and logistical support – like travel documents, ID cards, and passports – that enable al-Qaeda activity."
Reaction: This is old news. Treasury sanctioned MOIS in 2012 for supporting al-Qaida: "MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qa’ida operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports."…
Info 3: "Al-Qaeda has centralized its leadership inside Tehran. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s deputies are there today – and they’re living a normal Sayf al-Adl and the now-dead Abu Muhammad al-Masri have been able to place a new emphasis on plotting attacks."
Reaction: Much of this is old news -- Adal and Abu Muhammed being deputies and their presence in Iran has been documented for many years -- but "emphasis on plotting attacks" can be argued as new language
Info 4: "Tehran has allowed al-Qaeda to fundraise, freely communicate with other al-Qaeda members, and perform many other functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Reaction: Treasury has sanctioned al-Qaida operatives in Iran for fundraising/moving money for ~ decade. See designation of Suri et al:…; al-Harbi's:…; Sadikov's:…;
3. On Pompeo's claim that "Iran is the new Afghanistan – as the key geographic hub for AQ – but it’s actually worse", not convinced the implied shift is right. For eg: a 2021 Treasury assessment on al-Qaida status in Afghanistan suggests different picture:…
On al-Qaida trajectory in the country, Treasury says it is "gaining strength in Afghanistan" Image
Treasury also says Al-Qaida, AQIS, and TTP "continue to use the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region as a safe haven" Image
4. All of the above is to say that while Pompeo's contents are not implausible--in fact, they align with what has trickled out on al-Qaida-Iran ties, his framing of the Iran-al-Qaida nexus is hyperbolic. Keep in mind he has understated al-Qaida's threat when it has served him... if he is now elevating it on his way out all of a sudden, this is not about al-Qaida or the threat it poses. He has other motives. n/n

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More from @asfandyarmir

13 Jan
Important investigation by @LynzyBilling on an unreported December attack at the (in)famous Camp Chapman, which indicates how the US military is hushing violence to protect the Doha agreement. I am quoted in the story with @and_huh_what and @MichaelKugelman.
"The attack killed four members of the Khost Protection Force, or KPF—a CIA-trained and equipped militia that maintains an iron grip on the province—as well as three Afghan soldiers and at least six civilians."
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12 Jan
Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar has assured Afghan Foreign Minister Atmar of a "boost" in military assistance as the US draws down from Afghanistan. What have Afghan leaders asked of India over the last year? Short list I have come across: 1/n…
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11 Jan
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Language in the agreement here: Image
Who all from the Taliban is on the rewards for justice list? Basically five Haqqani leaders, I think 1) Siraj Haqqani 2) Aziz Haqqani 3) Yahya Haqqani 4) Khalil Haqqani 5) Abdul Zakir (might be dead?)…
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1 Jan
Very good explainer by @Tmgneff and @davidzucchino on the state of play of intra-Afghan talks before the next round opens on Jan 5:…
"...[Afghan gov't says] cease-fire would be the delegation’s top priority. The Taliban, who have used attacks against security forces and civilians as leverage, seek instead to negotiate a form of governance based on strict Islamic law before discussing any cease-fire."
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1 Jan
In this 2019 podcast with former ambassadors Deborah McCarthy and Richard Olson, Secretary Defense nominee @LloydAustin discusses US policy towards Pakistan during his stint as CENTCOM chief from 2013 to 2016. Some highlights: 1/n
Austin says Pakistan "will remain strategically important" to the US.
Austin talks about his relationship with Pakistan's army chiefs in his time: Kayani and Raheel Sharif.
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