Ilhan Omar wrote a bill that would create a special envoy to internationally combat Islamophobia.
During the debate, Scott Perry alleged Omar is antisemitic and affiliated with terrorist groups.
The House parliamentarian found that Scott Perry’s remarks about Omar were inappropriate.
During a debate on a bill to internationally combat Islamaphobia, the House parliamentarian found that Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., made inappropriate remarks that were “not in order” with the House Rules and Manual when he alleged that Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat and the bill’s author, is antisemitic and affiliated with a terrorist organization.
“We all agree that nobody should be persecuted based on their faith. We all agree on that. But American taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay terrorist organizations, organizations that the maker of this bill is affiliated with like the one that’s an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terror finance case in the United State of America’s history,” Perry said.
Perry and several others who spoke in opposition of the bill, which seeks to establish an Office to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia within the State Department, cited a lack of definition for Islamophobia in the bill, which he argued would be “made up” based on individuals’ “political proclivities.”
“By intentionally leaving the definition of Islamophobia blank in this bill, the gentlelady and my friends on the other side of the aisle are creating an office in our State Department that will likely spew antisemitic hatred and attack Western ideas throughout the world under the farce of protecting Islam,” Perry said. “As you can see by this debate, the goal is to silence dissent and critiques of terrorism.”
Last week, Perry said that he was “assailed” by Democrats during the bill’s markup in the House Foreign Affairs Committee who called him “Islamophobic, nasty, mean, and rude.” He claimed that they criticized him for offering amendments that would prevent American tax dollars from going to organizations with ties to terrorism.
Social media’s role in radicalizing extremists has drastically increased over the last several years.
Some far-right TikTokers employ a meme-like format in their content to dodge content moderation.
TikTok populates violent, white supremacist content to users who interact with anti-trans content.
A recent study from left-leaning nonprofit watchdog Media Matters found that if a TikTok user solely interacts with transphobic content and creators, the social networking app’s algorithm will gradually begin to populate their “For You” page with white supremacist, antisemitic, and far-right videos, as well as calls for violence.
Launched in 2016 by Chinese tech startup ByteDance, TikTok saw a surge in user growth throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and acquired 1 billion users across the world in five years, many of which are teenagers and young adults.
In 2020, the app classified more than a third of its daily users as 14 years old or younger, The New York Times reported. A former TikTok employee noted that videos and accounts made by children who appeared younger than the app’s minimum age requirement of 13 were allowed to remain online for weeks, The Times reported, raising questions about measures taken by the platform to protect its users from misinformation, hate speech, and even violent content.
In the experiment, researchers from Media Matters created a dummy account, interacted with anti-trans content, and then evaluated the first 400 videos fed to the account. Some of the videos were removed before they could be analyzed, while others were sponsored advertisements unrelated to the study. Of the remaining 360 videos, researchers found:
29 contained racist narratives or white supremacist messaging
14 endorsed violence
“While nearly 400 may sound like a large number of videos, if a user watches videos for an average of 20 seconds each, they could consume 400 videos in just over two hours. A user could feasibly download the app at breakfast and be fed overtly white supremacist and neo-Nazi content before lunch,” the study concluded.
The far-right movement has historically embraced anti-trans rhetoric, and right-wing recruiters know that “softer ideas” like transphobia can be used to introduce newcomers to more extreme beliefs, Melody Devries, a Ryerson University PhD candidate who studies far-right recruitment and mobilization, told Insider.
“The videos that start people down the rabbit hole are things that are, unfortunately, prejudices that are not considered that extreme in society,” Devries said.
Unforeseen consequences of the digital age
Before the rise of social media, individuals predominately formed their beliefs through real-world networks of relationships with parents, family members, and friends. Social media platforms, however, gave individuals the ability to expand these social networks by building communities in online environments.
The rapid expansion and evolution of digital spaces have transposed extremist content and ideologies from niche corners of the Internet to platforms that are frequented by billions of users.
“Now, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all of our communications platforms that we think of as sort of the most easy to use can be the starting point [of radicalization]. And then a person can move into more layered applications that are harder to penetrate,” Thomas Holt, a professor and director of the Michigan State University school of criminal justice, told Insider.
In 2012, only 48% of extremists listed in Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS), an NCSTRT dataset, said that social media played a role in their radicalization. By 2016, 86.75% of PIRUS-listed extremists used social media in their radicalization process, according to an NCSTRT research brief.
Holt mentioned Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, all of which are either a decade or more than a decade old. But in the past five years, TikTok has become one of the fastest-growing social media platforms of all time, known for its powerful algorithm that serves up highly tailored videos.
Because social media profit models rely heavily on user engagement, most companies choose to take the proverbial “middle road” when moderating content in order to avoid accusations of censorship from either side of the political spectrum and, ultimately, damaging their bottom line, according to Devries.
“The fact that those platforms are totally fine with that, because that’s their profit motive, and that’s their design, I think is a problem and obviously contributes to how right-wing communication is transformed,” Devries told Insider.
Subpar content moderation has allowed implicit extremist content to largely remain on platforms, sometimes reaching up to millions of users. Many of the extremist TikTok videos analyzed by Media Matters employed a “memetic format,” or utilized the platform’s unique combination of audio, video, and text to evade violating community guidelines.
For example, several of the videos populated to the FYP of the researchers’ dummy account used a sound called “Teddy,” which quotes the first line of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto: “The industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”
The sound, which has been used in more than 1,200 videos, has become popular on right-wing TikTok.
“In the videos we reviewed, it was frequently paired with montages of screenshots of LGBTQ people livestreaming on TikTok. These videos not only use audio that pays homage to a terrorist, but they also promote the harassment of LGBTQ TikTok users,” Media Matters researchers wrote.
While the “Teddy” sound might not explicitly violate the platform’s guidelines, videos using it frequently communicate hateful, dangerous, and even violent messages when taking into consideration the full piece of content, including other components like visuals and text.
The Internet has become a critical resource for extremist groups and loopholes around community guidelines allow them to promote their ideologies to larger audiences in subtle and convincing ways, according to Holt’s research in Deviant Behavior.
“Whether [viewers] initially believe it or not, over time, these interactions with that content slowly kind of chips away at their ideological belief system and builds up a new one that’s based around the ideas presented in this content,” Devries said.
Stopping online interactions with extremist content
“It’s not just the US. Every country is being impacted in some way by the use of and misuse of social media platforms for disinformation, misinformation, or radicalization. There’s an inherent need for better regulation, better management of platforms, and, to the extent that it can be provided, transparency around reporting and removal,” Holt stold Insider.
However, Devries added, it’s not about presenting counter-facts; the interactions themselves need to be stopped.
In her ethnographic analysis of far-right Facebook spaces, Devries has seen the platform add infographics warning that a post contains misinformation in an attempt to moderate content, an approach that she sees as counterintuitive.
“Not only are folks interacting with the false content itself, they’re interacting with the fact that Facebook has tried to censor it. So that infographic itself becomes another piece of content that they can interact with and pull into their ideology,” Devries told Insider.
When asked for comment, a Facebook spokesperson maintained that the company tries to give the maximum number of people a positive experience on Facebook and takes steps to keep people safe, including allocating $5 billion over the next fiscal year for safety and security.
When a Wall Street Journal investigation exposed how Facebook proliferated real-world harms by failing to moderate hate speech and misinformation, the company acknowledged in a September 2021 blog that it “didn’t address safety and security challenges early enough in the product development process.”
Rather than pursuing reactive solutions like content moderation, Holt proposes that social media companies mitigate online extremism on their platforms by implementing solutions like those used to remove child sexual exploitation content.
Tools like Microsoft’s PhotoDNA are used to stop online recirculation of child sexual exploitation content by creating a “hash,” which functions as a sort of digital fingerprint that can be compared against a database of illegal images compiled by watchdog organizations and companies, according to Microsoft.
If this kind of technology was overlayed against social media, Holt said it could be automated to take down content associated with extremism or violent ideologies.
Still, this solution relies on social media platforms making internal changes. In the meantime, Holt advocates for better public education on these platforms and how to use them responsibly.
“Yeah, the cat is out of the bag. I don’t know how we roll it back and minimize our use of social media. So instead, it seems like we have to get better at educating the public, particularly young people, to understand, ‘Here’s how the platforms work, here’s what may be there,'” Holt told Insider.
Ultimately, both Holt and Devries agree that more research is needed to analyze how newer platforms like TikTok are used to mobilize extremists and radicalize newcomers into their ideology, as well as discover solutions to minimize and counteract the fallout.
TikTok told Insider that all of the content cited in the Media Matters study was removed from the platform for violating its hateful behavior policy. Additionally, the company outlined anti-abuse efforts that it has built into its product, including its addition of new controls that allow users to delete or report multiple comments at once and block accounts in bulk.
Still, Eric Han, head of US safety for TikTok, said in an October statement that harassment and hate speech are “highly nuanced and contextual issues that can be challenging to detect and moderate correctly every time.”
“To help maintain a safe and supportive environment for our community, and teens in particular, we work every day to learn, adapt, and strengthen our policies and practices,” said TikTok’s Q2 2021 transparency report.
Kinzinger called fellow GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert “TRASH” over her anti-Muslim remarks.
Boebert told a story about riding in an elevator with Omar, adding: “Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine.”
Kinzinger retweeted a Republican primary challenger to Boebert who said “help me take out the trash.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger retweeted a primary challenger to fellow Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert after the Colorado lawmaker told a story about Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar that included an anti-Muslim comment about a backpack.
A video posted on Twitter on Thursday by PatriotTakes — an organization that researches and monitors “the extremism and radicalization of the far right” — showed Boebert at a campaign event recounting a supposed run-in with Omar at the US Capitol.
Boebert said she stepped onto an elevator with Omar on her way back to her office after a vote, prompting a Capitol Police officer to run towards the elevator with “fret all over his face.” Boebert described being confused about the encounter before noticing Omar standing in the elevator with her.
“Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,” Boebert said she told the officer.
Boebert said she then turned to Omar and added, “Oh look, the Jihad Squad decided to show up for work today.” “Jihad Squad” is a derisive term for the Squad, a group of six progressive members of Congress who are all people of color. Omar denied the story while calling Boebert a “buffoon.”
Zimmerman, a longtime crane operator who’s worked in the construction industry, has sought to cast Boebert as a self-serving lawmaker who’s more concerned with touting conspiracy theories than doing the work necessary to serve constituents.
“She’s just all about QAnon, and conspiracy theories, and political theater,” Zimmerman told the Durango Herald in August. “It breeds so much hate and discontent. I don’t think she cares to do anything else.”
Zimmerman’s chances in next year’s June 28 primary could rise if calls to censure Boebert in response to this episode continue to grow.
Three Supreme Court justices on Wednesday pressed the US government on whether it would allow a high-profile Guantanamo Bay prisoner to testify about his CIA-sponsored torture following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The justices’ questioning came as the court heard arguments on the case, United States v. Zubaydah, which concerns a request from the Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, for further information from the government. Specifically, Zubaydah and his lawyers want testimony from two CIA contractors who supervised his torture, widely believed to have taken place in Poland.
The Biden administration argued that the government should not be required to release more information, claiming an executive privilege called “state secrets.” That rule, established in a 1953 landmark Supreme Court case, United States v. Reynolds, allows the government to decline submitting information to the court to protect national security interests.
The government’s lawyer, Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher, said on Wednesday that the US should not provide more disclosure in order to maintain trust with its foreign intelligence partnerships and keep those relationships confidential.
But the end of the arguments took a turn when Republican-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch and Democratic-appointed Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor asked Fletcher why the government can’t bring Zubaydah, who’s been held in Guantanamo Bay since 2006 without charges, to testify himself about his torture.
Fletcher said he did not have an answer, but told the court that he would follow up on the matter. Zubaydah’s lawyer, David Klein, claimed that the detainee cannot testify himself, citing government orders that he should “remain incommunicado.”
The case dates back to the US government’s 9/11 response, when the CIA set up a program to gather intelligence from suspected terrorists at secret detentions, or so-called black sites, in foreign countries.
Abu Zubaydah was the first terrorist suspect subjected to the program – which the CIA called “enhanced interrogation techniques” – at a black site that evidence overwhelmingly suggests was in Poland. A 2014 Senate investigation concluded that the methods, including waterboarding and confinement in a box, were torture. The CIA also disproved Zubaydah’s suspected links to al-Qaeda, according to the report.
“On 83 different occasions in a single month of 2002, he was strapped to an inclined board with his head lower than his feet while CIA contractors poured water up his nose and down his throat, bringing him within sight of death,” Zubaydah’s lawyers wrote to the court. “He was handcuffed and repeatedly slammed into walls, and suspended naked from hooks in the ceiling for hours at a time. He was forced to remain awake for eleven consecutive days, and doused again and again with cold water when he collapsed into sleep. He was forced into a tall, narrow box the size of a coffin, and crammed into another box that would nearly fit under a chair, where he was left for hours.”
Zubaydah, who is of Palestinian descent, had ties to a militant training camp in Afghanistan and was arrested by Pakistan and turned over to the US in 2002.
Zubaydah and his lawyers are asking the government for more disclosure on his treatment and for the two CIA contractors who supervised his torture to provide more evidence. They say the additional information will help a criminal complaint they’re pursuing in Poland to hold Polish officials accountable for alleged complicity in Zubaydah’s torture.
Although Zubaydah’s torture has been widely reported, the government has blocked his legal team’s efforts seeking more evidence, arguing that they’ve already declassified enough information.
A district court declined Zubaydah’s case, upholding state-secrets privilege. But a federal appeals court reversed the ruling, siding with Zubaydah. The Supreme Court will review that decision and hand down a ruling by the end of June.
A man who narrated a series of ISIS recruitment videos has been arrested and charged with conspiring to provide material support to the group, the Justice Department said on Saturday.
In a press release, the DOJ said the man, Mohammed Khalifa, is English-speaking and was recently transferred into FBI custody in Virginia.
He “not only fought for ISIS on the battlefield in Syria, but he was also the voice behind the violence,” said Raj Parekh, Acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
“Through his alleged leading role in translating, narrating, and advancing ISIS’s online propaganda, Khalifa promoted the terrorist group, furthered its worldwide recruitment efforts, and expanded the reach of videos that glorified the horrific murders and indiscriminate cruelty of ISIS,” Parekh continued in the statement.
Khalifa, 38, is a Saudi-born Canadian citizen who was an ISIS fighter, the FBI said. It’s not clear how he will plead to the charges or whether he has an attorney.
A criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia alleges that Khalifa traveled to Syria in 2013 to join ISIS, which later recruited him to the group’s media bureau because of his fluency in English.
“Khalifa played an important role in the production and dissemination of ISIS propagandaacross multiple media platforms targeting Western audiences,” the DOJ said.
Media Khalifa worked “was aimed at enticing ISIS supporters to travel to ISIS-controlled areas to join ISIS or to conduct attacks in the West, including in the United States, on ISIS’s behalf,” according to the DOJ release.
Federal investigators found that he translated and narrated 15 videos for ISIS.
“These videos, containing English narration by Khalifa, were part of an ISIS media campaign promoting violence committed against U.S. citizens and other countries’ citizens in order to incite further violence against the United States, allied nations, and their citizens,” the release says. “The videos depict glamorized portrayals of ISIS and its fighters as well as scenes of violence, including depictions of unarmed prisoners being executed, depictions of ISIS attacks in the United States, and footage of ISIS attacks and fighting in what is described as Syria and Egypt.”
Khalifa voiced a video that showed the decapitation of American journalist James Foley.
Other videos depicted footage of violence in European countries like France and Belgium. One of the videos includes a recording from Pulse Nightclub mass shooter Omar Mateen, the DOJ said, in which he pledged allegiance to the terrorist organization.
If Khalifa is convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Former President George W. Bush drew a parallel between domestic extremists and foreign extremists during a speech commemorating 9/11.
Bush on Saturday gave a speech on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where he paid tribute to the passengers of Flight 93 who fought extremist hijackers and crashed into field there 20 years ago in the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil.
“We have seen growing evidence, that the dangers to our country can come not only from across borders, but from violence that gathers within,” the president said in the speech. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremest abroad and violent extremists at home.”
These groups are “children of the same foul spirit, and it our continuing duty to confront them,” Bush added.
Two decades after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US faces a bigger danger from white supremacists and far-right militants within US borders, according to experts in US law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Matt Chandler, the former deputy chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, previously told Insider that the threat environment post-9/11 “continues to be dynamic, with both foreign and domestic terrorism threats, each of which have metastasized in concerning ways.”
The former commander-in-chief pointed to several similarities between the two extremist groups, such as a “disdain for pluralism,” a “disregard for human life,” and a “determination to defile national symbols” – the last one seemingly referencing the January 6 Capitol riot.
Bush previously remarked that the violent pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol building after the results of the 2020 election left him “sick to [his] stomach” and “really disturbed.”
“When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own,” Bush said in his Saturday speech. “Maligned force seems at work in our common life. That turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear, and resentment.”
While Republicans, like Ohio Rep. Jim Banks, are telling conservative members of Congress to “lean into the culture war,” Bush has been a prominent Republican voice pushing back against a far-right movement within the Party.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway recorded a hefty $2.4 billion of underwriting losses from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. However, a nuclear assault could have put the investor’s company out of business entirely, along with its insurance peers.
“Had a nuclear device been available to Osama bin Laden, the loss could have bankrupted most of the industry, Berkshire very much included,” Buffett wrote in a Washington Post editorial in November 2001. He added that the total insured losses could have surpassed $1 trillion, exceeding the combined value of the world’s property-casualty insurers at the time.
Berkshire counts Geico, National Indemnity, and General Reinsurance among its subsidiaries, making it one of the largest insurers in the world. Its underwriting losses from 9/11 dealt a $1.5 billion blow to its net earnings, fueling a sharp decline from $3.3 billion in 2000 to less than $800 million in 2001. Berkshire stomached an estimated 3% to 5% of the global insurance industry’s losses from the incident.
Buffett kicked himself in his letter to Berkshire shareholders in 2001. He knew a major terrorist attack could occur, and was aware of the devastating impact it might have on Berkshire. Yet he failed to adjust the insurance policies his company was writing, which would have softened the blow to its bottom line.
“I violated the Noah rule: Predicting rain doesn’t count; building arks does,” he said. The investor added that Berkshire was perfectly willing to pay out upwards of $2 billion following a catastrophe, but in the case of 9/11, it hadn’t charged enough for assuming the risk that led to a loss of that scale.
Berkshire wasn’t cowed by the episode, however. In the months after 9/11, it was one of the few insurers to actively cover terrorism losses. For example, it wrote policies for multiple international airlines, Chicago’s Sears Tower, and a North Sea oil platform, Buffett disclosed in his letter.
While Berkshire sold a significant amount of terrorism insurance after 9/11, it limited its coverage of nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks, Buffett noted during his company’s annual shareholder meeting in 2002.
A major nuclear explosion would pose an existential threat to Berkshire, he explained, while a biological attack in a major factory or office building would result in workers’ compensation losses that could “make the World Trade Center loss look like nothing.”
Buffett emphasized that the human cost of a terrorist attack far exceeds the insurance costs, but asserted that Berkshire has to consider whether it can cover claims. If the company collapsed into bankruptcy, it wouldn’t be able to compensate those involved in the disaster, not to mention others who suffered injuries years ago but rely on insurance payouts to live, he said.
Charlie Munger, Buffett’s business partner and Berkshire’s vice-chairman, underscored the tragedy of 9/11, but framed it as an important lesson for the company.
“To the extent that September 11th has caused us to be less weak, foolish, and sloppy, as we plainly were in facing some plain reality, it’s a plus,” he said at the meeting in 2002.
Berkshire’s fallout from 9/11 pales in comparison to the deaths, injuries, and national trauma caused by the attack. But it showed that even careful insurers can be caught off-guard by catastrophes, and taught Buffett and Munger some important lessons.
On the first episode of his new podcast, former Vice President Mike Pence falsely claimed there have been no major terrorist attacks in the 20 years since September 11, 2001, ignoring a spate of white supremacist terrorist attacks – and even the persistence of violent jihadism – in recent years.
“For the last 20 years I have marveled at the heroes that have stepped forward to defend our nation, to bring us to a place now, 20 years on, without a major terrorist event taking place on American soil,” said Pence on the first episode of “American Freedom with Mike Pence” a new podcast sponsored by the conservative Young America’s Foundation.
Pence repeated the claim four separate times over the course of the 48-minute episode, often using it to justify the War on Terror and the costly invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that the United States initiated in the years following 9/11.
“This country should be proud of how we’ve responded 20 years on,” Pence said.
In 2019, a gunman murdered 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso after posting a manifesto online that bluntly said “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
In 2018, Robert Bowers shot and killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after writing online that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish nonprofit that assists refugees, “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”
In 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine people at an African American congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, declaring upon his arrest that he wanted to initiate a race war.
Many have even described the January 6 assault on the US capitol earlier this year – which claimed the lives of 5 people and injured dozens of others – as a terrorist attack. Some protesters professed their desire to kill Pence himself.
“A mob of extremists and terrorists launched a violent and deadly assault on the people’s house, and the sacred ritual to certify free and fair elections,” said President Joe Biden at a ceremony in August awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol police officers.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, the director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, wrote in a recent Foreign Affairs op-ed that the 9/11 attacks themselves have fueled right-wing extremism.
“The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, al Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” she wrote.
The podcast episode also included a conversation with former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, interviews with family members affected by 9/11 and the Iraq War, and a pair of student activists who were working with the Young America’s Foundation during college.
“What does it mean to you today to come to the 20th anniversary of September 11th and know that there’s been no major terrorist attack on American soil in those 20 years, and that your father played a role in that?” Pence asked Brandi Anderson, whose father died in a mortar attack in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
In ignoring the recent rise in right-wing terror, Pence focused entirely on terrorist attacks committed by Islamic extremists. “Twenty years ago, America fell under attack. Nineteen radical Islamic terrorists seized control of four commercial airlines,” Pence said at one point.
But Pence’s claim doesn’t hold up even if applied only to terrorism committed by Islamic extremists.
Such attacks have continued even in the post-9/11 era, including an ISIS-inspired attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people in 2016, a shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people in December 2015, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and an attack at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 service members in 2009.
Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that a future civil war in Afghanistan is “likely” after the US troop withdrawal from the country, which could lead to the reemergence of groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.
During an interview with Fox News National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin that aired on Saturday, Milley was asked if the US was safer with its military presence in Afghanistan having been eliminated.
“Well, you know, this is something that I’ve thought a lot about,” he said. “And I personally think that my military estimate is that the conditions are likely to develop of a civil war. I don’t know if the Taliban is gonna be able to consolidate power and establish governance – they may be, maybe not.”
He added: “But I think there’s at least a very good probability of a broader civil war, and that will then in turn lead to conditions that could in fact, lead to a reconstitution of al Qaeda or a growth of ISIS or other myriad of terrorist groups. You could see a resurgence of terrorism coming out of that general region within 12, 24, 36 months. And we’re going to monitor that.”
Milley went on to explain that intelligence gathering by the US will be complicated by the fact that the country no longer has a presence in Afghanistan.
“We’ll have to reestablish some human intelligence networks, etc.,” he said. “And then as opportunities present themselves, we’ll have to continue to conduct strike operations if there’s a threat to the United States.”
When asked if he could foresee a scenario where US troops would have to return to Afghanistan, Milley said it would be a “very difficult policy choice.”
“I wouldn’t say yes or no to anything actually,” he said, emphasizing that the country would continue to analyze intelligence information. “I think those are … it’s too early to say anything like that at this point.”
Milley’s comments come as President Joe Biden and his foreign policy and defense teams oversaw a tumultuous August in Afghanistan – defined by the Aug. 15 fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the deaths of 13 US service members and at least 169 Afghans in a Aug. 26 suicide bombing perpetuated by the Islamic State affiliate ISIS-K, and the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline which the Taliban was emphatic on preserving.
The withdrawal marked the end to a nearly 20-year conflict in the country, which was put into motion by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda hijacked planes that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, severely damaged the Pentagon, and crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed on that fateful day.
Many lawmakers are distressed that Afghanistan could become a haven for terrorists with the lack of a US or allied military presence.
The Taliban have stressed that they have moderated since the 1990s and said that they would respect the rights of women, although many in Afghanistan and throughout the international community are highly skeptical.
In forcefully defending his decision to leave Afghanistan, Biden last week reiterated that he did not want “to extend this forever war.”
“To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask: ‘What is the vital national interest?’ In my view, we only have one: to make sure Afghanistan can never be used again to launch an attack on our homeland,” he said.
China has called for increased vigilance against illicit arms transfers and – in an apparent reference to the US – urged all parties to a global arms trade treaty to stop selling weapons to “non-state actors.”
“We support the international community to take all necessary measures to regulate the international arms trade and to combat the illicit transfer of conventional arms,” Li Song, China’s ambassador for disarmament affairs, told the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) conference in Geneva, marking China’s first participation as a formal party to the pact.
Li did not name any specific incident, but the timing of the meeting could provide clues. Afghanistan is currently experiencing a turbulent power reshuffle, with the Taliban seizing control of the country following the complete withdrawal of US and Nato troops.
The insurgent group has reportedly taken possession of a considerable amount of American weapons and equipment from Afghan government forces, sparking worries that these may end up falling into the hands of terrorist groups with close ties to the Taliban, such as al-Qaeda.
Beijing has long feared that post-US turmoil would turn Afghanistan into a hub of terrorism. It has voiced worries that the upheaval would spill over and affect Beijing’s heavy investments in Central Asia as well as its counterterrorism efforts in Xinjiang, the far-western Chinese region bordering war-torn Afghanistan.
Wali Sabawoon/Getty Images
Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former head of the kingdom’s intelligence services, blamed the US for its mismanagement.
“I don’t know which word to use, whether incompetence, carelessness, bad management – it was all a combination of those things,” he was quoted by CNBC as saying on Saturday.
The Biden administration has lately scrubbed online detailed reports of military equipment and training provided by the US to Afghan government forces, ostensibly to protect Afghan allies from Taliban retribution.
However, some policy commentators have pointed out that those reports did not identify recipient information and some other official reports that do include such information are still publicly available.
“Geopolitical tensions are escalating, regional conflicts and turbulence fall and rise, terrorism, extremism and organised transnational crimes are yet to be eradicated, and the risks of illicit trade and diversion of conventional arms are on the increase,” Chinese ambassador Li told the Geneva meeting on Monday.
He also registered China’s protest against countries selling weaponry to non-state actors – without explicitly naming the US or Taiwan.
“Some country, in particular, abuses the arms trade as a political tool and flagrantly interferes in the internal affairs of other countries through means including arms sales to non-state actors, which undermines international and regional peace and stability,” Li said.
Last month, the Biden administration announced its first arms sale of about US$750 million to Taiwan. Beijing regards the self-ruled island as a renegade province and its “reunification” with the mainland as China’s core national interest.
Under former President Donald Trump, who withdrew the US from the ATT in 2019, Washington sold significantly more weapons than before to Taiwan – further intensifying US-China tensions.
“Some country, out of its own interest, constantly breaks its commitments through relaxing its arms export control policies and even revoking its signature to the ATT, which undermines multilateral efforts in regulating conventional arms trade by the international community,” Li said.
The ATT, which took effect in 2014, aims to regulate international trade in conventional weapons for the sake of promoting international and regional peace. China joined the multilateral group last year.
The US was the world’s largest exporter of major arms between 2016 and 2020, followed by China in fifth place, accounting for 37% and 5.2%, respectively, of such transfers.
China was also the fifth largest importer of major arms during the period, with Russia its main supplier, according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report released in March.