On August 22, the Taliban’s spokesman in Qatar, Mohammad Naeem, gave an interview to Al Hadath, a Saudi Arabia state news channel. Among other things, Naeem denied the presence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and said the Afghan Taliban had no ties with the terror group.
Naeem said the Taliban’s Doha agreement providing for the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan states that the Taliban will not allow any extremist group to use Afghanistan for military activities. He flatly declared that al-Qaida does not exist anymore in Afghanistan.
“Al-Qaida is not present in Afghanistan, and the Taliban have no relation to [al-Qaida],” he said.
That is likely false.
Although al-Qaida’s capabilities have been impaired, remnants are reported to remain in Afghanistan and are threatening enough to prompt concern from the United States.
For starters, following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in mid-August, the group reportedly appointed Khalil Haqqani to oversee security.
Haqqani is a top leader in the Haqqani network, a semi-independent network from the Taliban that fostered close ties with al-Qaida members, including deceased leader Osama bin Laden.
The Haqqani network is known for its ruthlessness, including suicide bombings against military posts and embassies. Operating from Pakistan, the network is blamed for some of the deadliest attacks during the two decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan following 9/11.
In 2012, the U.S. designated the Haqqani network as a terror group partly because of the network’s ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida. Khalil Haqqani is on the U.S. most-wanted list with a $5 million bounty. He is the uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the network’s operational leader, who admitted planning to assassinate former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, among other attacks.
Naeem denied that Khalil Haqqani is running security in Kabul, but in the aftermath of the country’s fall, al-Qaida branches congratulated the Taliban. Among those offering congratulations were al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which counts as members Taliban fighters loyal to both al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Taliban.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen, and al-Qaida’s affiliate Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa, issued praise for the Taliban and statements saying events marked just the start of many victories for jihad.
Prior to al-Qaida engineered 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania in 2001, the Taliban harbored al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
On August 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Fox News that al-Qaida is still present in Afghanistan, but that its capacity to launch attacks similar to 9/11 has been greatly diminished.
“We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission and one purpose in mind, and that was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11, to bring bin Laden to justice – which we did a decade ago – and to diminish the capacity of al-Qaida to do the same thing again, to attack us from Afghanistan.”
In fact, Blinken cited a report by the U.N. Security Council in June confirming the Taliban and al-Qaida remain linked – united by “bonds of marriage and shared partnership in struggle.”
“According to Member State information, al-Qaida is resident in at least 15 Afghan provinces, primarily in the east, southern and south-eastern regions, and are led by al-Qaida’s Jabhat-al-Nasr wing under the direction of Sheikh Mahmood [not listed],” the U.N. report states.
“Members of the group have been relocated to more remote areas by the Taliban to avoid potential exposure and targeting,” the U.N. report said, estimating al-Qaida fighters to number between several dozen to 500.
Reports of the death last year of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri remain unconfirmed. Speculation is that he may be hiding somewhere in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On April 8, a report published by the Long War Journal said al-Qaida continues to operate in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida’s media arm, Thabat, which covers the group’s operations across the globe, has said that since November 2020, al-Qaida and its allies have carried out dozens of attacks against government targets in 18 Afghanistan provinces.
On May 2019, Gen. Austin Miller, who was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan until he stepped down from that position in mid-July of this year, told TOLO News, “We have seen al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Yes, in different parts of Afghanistan. In different parts of Afghanistan, we can find them, so it’s not one particular region, it’s across the country.”