Lost amid all of the media focus on the Islamic State (IS) has been the focus on the threat al-Qaeda continues to present to the United States and the country’s security interests around the world. As the Afghanistan withdrawal policy was implemented in earnest last year, al-Qaeda largely slipped from the U.S. media radar, the faces of al-Qaeda leaders replaced by images of the dramatic surge of ISIS into Iraq and the overrunning of Mosul.

The Islamic State’s tactic of filming their shocking brutality—beheadings, mass executives, stonings, and other forms of execution—have replaced the more methodical but no less important news of al-Qaeda operational leadership structures and the U.S. intelligence community’s work to undermine potential attack plans.

Al-Qaeda’s diffusion from the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan in the weeks following the U.S. invasion of the country in 2001 represented, in many ways, an evolution of the threat that the group presented to the United States and other countries around the world. As al-Qaeda fighters fled the battlefield, were killed by U.S. forces, or were dragged from hideouts in Pakistan, the Middle East, and Africa, the structure of their leadership and the way in which they communicated with subordinate components of the composite structure changed. The pressure of U.S. military and intelligence focused squarely on the fleeing cells and individuals resulted in successful raids on important leaders in the network.

As those leaders were taken off of the battlefield, their replacements, less capable and not sustaining the same associations and relationships that characterized the international logistical and financial lines that supported operations, made fundamental mistakes. In turn, these mistakes left them susceptible to more U.S. strikes and raids. As the network’s leaders were continually killed or captured, the overall effectiveness of the al-Qaeda network was diluted. The capability of the terrorist group to conduct attacks waned—but unfortunately, it did not abate. This is especially true for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, those in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.

As the war in Afghanistan changed in its character from an invasion to countering a resurgence of the Taliban and battling to roll back an insurgency comprised of a number of disparate insurgent groups, the mission to build a sustainable government and security apparatus by which to ensure denial of essential terrain to al-Qaeda changed as well. Following the invasion of 2001, the establishment of the Karzai regime in Kabul was key to ensuring that eventually the central government’s authority would stretch to reach even the most remote areas of the provinces.

Accordingly for their purpose, al-Qaeda began to adjust with the changing security environment in Afghanistan. The group focused on establishing new havens, rebuilding network, and crafting long-term local relationships that would sustain them through the onslaught of an ISAF surge from 2009-2011. Al-Qaeda strategists anticipated that these adjustments would assist in ensuring that the group could remain a viable threat after the U.S. withdrawal.

Given recent information on al-Qaeda’s outlook beyond the U.S. withdrawal, the group appears to have persevered through the war. Further, al-Qaeda’s re-calibration in ensuring the group’s long term presence in Afghanistan has begun reflecting in recent news. On February 27th, Bill Roggio published a piece at the Long War Journal that outlined and examined documentation taken off of the Abottabad compound objective where Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. military forces on May 2, 2011 in Abottabad, Pakistan. While most of the information has been public knowledge for quite some time, the references to al-Qaeda senior leadership guidance for subordinate commanders to relocate fighting forces to specific provinces remain interesting. With the benefit of hindsight, we are now able to draw conclusions from that openly available information and assess the likelihood that al-Qaeda’s presence in the aforementioned provinces has had a deleterious effect on Afghan government and security legitimization, improved insurgent capabilities, and resulted in a stronger al-Qaeda presence in the country. Roggio’s article states:

The Long War Journal has obtained the bin Laden files introduced as government exhibits. One of the documents is a memorandum dated June 19, 2010 written by “Mahmoud,” the alias used by Atiyah Abd al Rahman, to Sheikh Abu Abdallah, a nom de guerre used by Osama bin Laden.