Pentagon press secretary John Kirby acknowledged that an al Qaeda presence remains in Afghanistan, seemingly contradicting President Biden’s declaration that the terrorist organization was no longer in that country.
“We know that al Qaeda is a presence as well as ISIS in Afghanistan and we've talked about that for quite some time,” Kirby told reporters Friday.
In remarks shortly beforehand defending the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden said, “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al Qaeda gone?”
Kirby said they do not believe the number of al Qaeda fighters in the country “is exorbitantly high but we don't have an exact figure for you,” because “our intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan isn't what it used to be because we aren't there in the same numbers that we used to be.”
When pressed, Kirby attempted to clean up the contrast between his words and Biden's, saying, “what we believe is that there isn't a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago.”
As part of the US-Taliban deal, the militant group said it would cut ties to al Qaeda, but UN reports have found that the two groups remain closely linked.