The Taliban attacked an Afghan intelligence complex in the northern city of Aybak, leaving at least 40 casualties, according to a Monday New York Times report.
Coordinating the attack with explosives, the Taliban detonated a car bomb at the intelligence office’s entrance, giving way to a group of fighters that had staked out the compound. Fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents lasted several hours.
The attack marks another bloody example of the terrorist group increasing its military operations in the northern part of the country. Following a February peace deal signed with the United States in Doha, the Taliban continue to leverage their position within the embattled state. The first stage of peace talks certified United States troop withdrawal, allowing for extended offensives in the vacuum left behind.
"Experts say the Taliban is stronger now than at any point in recent memory," according to a Council on Foreign Relations brief. The Taliban now controls "dozens of Afghan districts and [is] continuing to launch attacks against both government and civilian targets."
The terror group has also continued to lend support to al Qaeda, the brief says. During the negotiation process, Taliban officials played a "double game" with Washington, consulting and protecting al Qaeda leadership throughout the talks. A U.N. report affirmed that the Taliban desired to "honor their historical ties" to the group.
Buttressed by Taliban support, al Qaeda poses direct threats to American security. A 2019 mass shooting at a naval air station in Pensacola, Fla., which killed three and wounded eight is now believed to have been committed by an individual with ties to an al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The organization claimed "full responsibility" for the attack in February.
Some worry the current U.S. troop threshold in Afghanistan fails to protect American interests in the region. "A drawdown of U.S. troops below the threshold of 8,600 puts at risk the counterterrorism operations under way in Afghanistan that keep Americans safe from al Qaeda and its external attack plots," Kim Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War, told Time magazine.
Experts do not anticipate the violence will end so long as America continues to reduce its presence in Afghanistan. "After the United States is gone," said Long War Journal editor Bill Roggio, "the Taliban will work to settle its scores and reestablish the Islamic emirate."