The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has caused some concern in Australia about a renewed threat of terrorism out of Afghanistan. But should it?
The Taliban itself is not generally considered to be a terrorist organisation, because its violence was mainly directed against enemy combatants - primarily the ANSF (Afghan security forces) and US coalition forces. That's why few countries, including Australia, listed the Taliban as a terrorist organisation, i.e. one whose primary target was non-combatants.
Elements of the Taliban may have been behind some of the bombings in Kabul and other cities, but they were more likely the work of Taliban fringe groups, like the Haqqani network based in Pakistan, or other groups trying to make sure they were included in any future power-sharing arrangements. [The Haqqani network was probably responsible for some of the deadliest IED attacks in Afghanistan, leading to the death or injury of hundreds of coalition troops.]
That said, it's not unusual for insurgent groups like the Taliban to conduct "terrorist acts" in government-controlled areas they can't readily access - notably against the seat of power, the national capital. But the main aim of insurgent groups is always going to be the military defeat of their domestic enemy.
Some say the Taliban has a track record of supporting terrorism by others. It's certainly true that the 1996-2001 version of the Taliban "hosted" al-Qaeda. This was because Osama bin Laden and his followers were brother extremists in need of a base - but more practically, the cash-strapped Taliban was paid by wealthy Saudis to do so.
Even before the Taliban was defeated in 2001 and al-Qaeda bases destroyed, Australian would-be terrorists got more of their training in Pakistan than they did in Afghanistan. They usually went to training centres run by the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan.
Western converts to Islam, like the Australian David Hicks, went on to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda (as Westerners did later with Islamic State in Syria) mainly because they wanted to be part of a drive to defend and recreate global Islam - not because they wanted to prepare for domestic operations.
Al-Qaeda these days is largely a spent force, because its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has to remain in deep hiding. Whenever a new commander tries to redynamise al-Qaeda, the Americans assassinate him. To give the organisation more durability in south Asia, Dr Zawahiri announced in September 2014 the creation of a separate al-Qaeda affiliate, "al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" or AQIS. The new group was intended to enhance links with local actors, but has had limited success in doing so.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency assesses that al-Qaeda still has a presence in Afghanistan, but the Taliban is much more likely to limit al-Qaeda's external activities now; after all, not doing so cost it control of Afghanistan for 20 years.
As far as Australia is concerned, al-Qaeda's most dangerous feature remains its online documentation on how to cause mass-casualty attacks.
It's been reported in the Indian Press that among the fighters who entered Kabul last week were members of non-Afghan terrorist organisations Islamic State, Jaish e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Taliban is expected to evict these fighters from Kabul in the next few days - but should these groups' activities in Afghanistan be a concern for Australia?
Islamic State has had a presence in Afghanistan since 2015, and still has global aspirations to establish a caliphate. Its Afghan affiliate, known as "Islamic State - Khorasan Province" (ISKP), has around 2000 fighters, primarily in the east and north of Afghanistan. ISKP has claimed numerous bombings against civilians, mainly targeting Afghanistan's Shia minority, including the bombing of a girls' school in Kabul this past May.
ISKP and Taliban forces have sometimes fought each other over control of territory or because of political or other differences, and this month the Taliban reportedly executed an imprisoned former ISKP leader. ISKP's aim is to grow its presence in Afghanistan, but it faces an uphill battle against Taliban hostility toward the organisation.
Jaish-e-Mohammed is a Pakistan-based group active in Indian Kashmir that maintains close relations with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba's primary focus is operations in India and Kashmir, but it has also attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan.
All of this is to say that while Afghanistan remains a violent place, the terrorism threat in Australia will continue to come mainly from self-radicalised loners - both Islamist and right-wing motivated (Australian security authorities are now much more capable of preventing terrorism by groups).
A potential Afghanistan-related problem could be disaffected Sunni young men whose parents fled Afghanistan - but we have a few years in hand to prevent that disaffection from happening.
- Clive Williams is a visiting professor at the ANU's Centre for Military and Security Law and a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.