The impending withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is breathing new life into the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, according to several Afghan intelligence officials and members of the two militant groups who spoke to The Daily Beast.
“The Taliban have gained immense respect among Islamists around the world by surviving America’s longest war,” an undercover intelligence officer and diplomat based in Afghanistan told The Daily Beast. “[The Taliban and al Qaeda] respect each other. If there is no peace and stability in Afghanistan, [they] could be each other’s favorites again.
The diplomat is not alone in his assessment. Several Afghan officials have confirmed to the Daily Beast that al-Qaeda continues to have close ties with the Taliban insurgency, despite a US-Taliban deal last year that required the militant group to sever all ties with the insurgency. Ben Laden.
Sohail Shaheen, a prominent member of the Taliban negotiating team, told the Daily Beast that the Biden administration’s failure to meet the original May 1 withdrawal deadline meant all bets were off: “The United States violated the agreement. Now the Taliban reserve the right to attack. Shaheen added that the Taliban now had “a large number of volunteers on the waiting list to join the Jihad.”
An Al Qaeda member who lives in Peshawar spoke of a “shared global agenda” with the Taliban. “We have a long struggle against the United States and the infidels,” he told the Daily Beast. “The mission of Al Qaeda and Bin Laden will never end. If the Taliban win the war against the United States in Afghanistan, they share Al Qaeda’s goals and bin Laden’s long last vision.
In his announcement of the new 9/11 withdrawal date last month, President Joe Biden argued that post-bin Laden al-Qaeda was no longer a threat to the United States. “We entered the war with clear objectives. We have achieved these goals. Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan. And it’s time to end the Eternal War, ”he mentionned.
But while al Qaeda has suffered a decline since the collapse of its leadership, Afghan military personnel reported that the group maintained formidable roots in the country, that it was active in battles in Afghanistan, and that its adherents were frequently seen fighting alongside the Taliban.
“As a soldier on the ground, I can verify that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are still fighting together. We saw them, fought and killed them, ”said an Afghan soldier, who identified himself as Karim to protect his identity.
Karim fought on the front lines in the southern provinces of Afghanistan and told the Daily Beast that he had met foreign fighters associated with Al Qaeda from Pakistan, China, Chechnya and ‘other. “Al-Qaeda operatives generally assist the Taliban in more complex operations where they need technical expertise,” he said.
Another Afghan military official explained that Al Qaeda’s involvement with the Taliban ran even deeper.
“They are not only fighting, but also training the Taliban to make IEDs, use mortars and small drones to monitor Afghan checkpoints,” said Sami Sadat, commanding general of the 215 Maiwand Corps of the. Afghan Army, a specialized unit from the southern provinces. “Al Qaeda has been quite active since February of last year, we have seen its experts surface on the front lines and even behind enemy lines.”
Sadat added that while some of the Al Qaeda fighters are Arabs, most are Pakistani members of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), crossing the porous borders between the two countries.
In a recent statement shared with CNN by the insurgent group, members of Al Qaeda promised to continue the war against the United States. “On all other fronts, unless they are kicked out from the rest of the Islamic world.” A report from a UN Security Council committee reached a similar conclusion last August.
“Senior al-Qaeda leaders remain present in Afghanistan, along with hundreds of armed agents, al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent and groups of foreign terrorist fighters aligned with the Taliban. A number of prominent Al Qaeda figures have been killed in Afghanistan during the reporting period, ”UN report says declared.
General Sadat’s unit captured al-Qaeda operatives while carrying out operations on Taliban complexes, confirming claims that the Taliban were harboring al-Qaeda operatives.
In a recent airstrike in Nahr-e-Seraj district of Helmand province last month, five of the 12 insurgents targeted were found to be members of AQIS working in conjunction with Taliban leader Mullah Wakeel. Earlier in March, another al-Qaeda leader, Abu Muhammad Al Tajiki, was killed by Afghan forces alongside Taliban commander Hazrat Ali in Paktika province. The list goes on.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda has reportedly carried out a massive recruitment drive inside Afghanistan. In Kunar, the eastern province that Biden visited as vice president – and recently called the “gates of hell” – the group is said to have recruited fighters from the ranks of the Taliban, local officials have claimed.
“Based on our intelligence and the evidence gathered from captured fighters, we estimate that 6,000 to 10,000 Taliban fighters have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda,” an official from the National Security Directorate told The Daily Beast, the Afghan spy agency. the condition of anonymity. “These are Taliban members who do not approve of their leaders making deals with the United States, especially on specific terms that require them to fight members of Al Qaeda, whom they see as allies.” , did he declare.
“Let us not forget that Mullah Omar [founder of the Taliban] sacrificed his islamic emirate [a term used by the Taliban to refer to government of Afghanistan], his whole “empire”, for Osama bin Laden. So many fighters who worship the founder of the Taliban will never violate this relationship, surely not for a deal with the United States, ”he explained.
Security experts monitoring the insurgencies agreed with the forces on the ground. “I don’t see any significant rift between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The relationship remains intact, ”Ali Mir Asfandyar, postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, told The Daily Beast.
Asfandyar explained that if it appears al Qaeda in Afghanistan has been brought under control, it is likely because they are following the Taliban’s strategic directions. “The Taliban are trying to keep some, not all, foreign fighters in the country – to deal with them. In general, Al-Qaeda aligns itself with the Taliban strategy of forcing the withdrawal from the United States as a priority, ”he said.
Since signing the US accord over a year ago, the Taliban have yet to release an official conviction against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And despite mounting pressure, they have not communicated any plan to fight Al Qaeda operatives in the country.
One explanation for their sustained bonhomie offered by officials, security forces and experts was the shared blood ties that developed between the two groups.
“The relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda is beyond war. Many of their foreign fighters married Taliban daughters, ”said Karim, who knew many of the fighters. “If you know anything about tribal customs in Afghanistan, you know that an Afghan will give his head for their blood relationship. It will therefore not be easy to separate the Taliban from al-Qaeda, ”he said.
The Afghan spy official echoed similar sentiments. “They are linked, not only by ideology, but also by blood and marriage,” he said. “They will not fight them, not now, or when the United States leaves,” he added.
A former Taliban minister who spoke to The Daily Beast described Al-Qaeda-Taliban joint efforts in even more cruel terms: “If [we] cannot come to a political agreement and the violence continues, “he said,” so the Taliban will allow anyone who can be a pain in the ass for Americans to join them. “