WASHINGTON – The Afghan Taliban have had close ties with al-Qaeda despite pledging to cease working with terrorist groups to allow militants to train in Afghanistan and deploy fighters alongside their armed forces, the chief said a UN body that oversees the uprising.
The Taliban’s association with al-Qaeda has continued despite the uprising signing an agreement with the US a year ago banning cooperation with or hosting terrorist groups – and despite a public statement from Trump administration’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Taliban had “given up” the break with terrorist groups.
“There is clearly still a close relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” said Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN body responsible for tracking down the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan. The reports of the U.N. Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Teams are based in part on information exchanged by the secret services of foreign governments.
“We believe that the top leadership of al-Qaeda is still under the protection of the Taliban,” he said.
According to the last United States surveillance team report In January there are 200 to 500 Al Qaeda fighters in around 11 Afghan provinces. Experts say it will be difficult to untangle two groups who have lived and fought side by side for decades – and are even married to each other.
The Taliban’s long-standing alliance with al-Qaeda will be on the agenda when NATO defense ministers meet on Wednesday and Thursday to weigh up the May withdrawal deadline under the U.S.-Taliban agreement. The European allies will reach out to President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for signals about the government’s plans and how to ensure the insurgency lives up to the deal.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that the Taliban must meet its 2020 commitments to pave the way for a full withdrawal of foreign troops.
“We see that the Taliban still have to do more to meet their obligations … to ensure that they cut ties with international terrorists,” said Stoltenberg.
The US has approximately 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan and its NATO-led partners have 9,600 soldiers on the ground. Under the 2020 deal, the US has committed to withdrawing its remaining armed forces by May. However, the Biden government has stated that it has not made a decision on troop strength and that officials are reviewing whether the Taliban have met their commitments.
US intelligence officials said al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups remain active threats in Afghanistan. However, they declined to comment on the Taliban’s relationship with al-Qaeda.
The Taliban insist that they abide by the agreement with the US in which they agreed to enter into peace talks with their enemies in the Afghan government in exchange for the withdrawal of US and other NATO troops.
The agreement requires the Taliban to “send a clear message” that those who pose a threat to the security of the US and its allies have no place in Afghanistan, and it prohibits cooperation with groups that affect US security threaten. The Taliban are obliged to prevent terrorist groups from “recruiting, training and collecting donations”, the insurgents are prohibited from accepting such groups.
The Taliban officially claim that there are no foreign fighters in Afghanistan and that members of al-Qaeda fled the country following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent US-led intervention. Foreign governments and regional analysts reject the claim as blatantly false.
Two Taliban commanders in Afghanistan acknowledged the presence of foreign fighters but told NBC News that they had obliged all foreign militants, including members of Al Qaeda, not to plan or carry out a terrorist attack against the United States.
“It was well before the Doha Accords that we had rules for all ‘foreign guests’ staying in Afghanistan. We helped those who wanted to return to their home countries, ”said a commander from the southern Helmand province.
The militants were originally from countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media.
“Neither of them can work separately,” he added.
Al-Qaeda is running training in Taliban-controlled areas, although there is no clear evidence of major recruiting or fundraising campaigns, Fitton-Brown said.
According to Taliban leaders, the Afghan militants offer accommodation, food and even cash to most of their “foreign guests”.
“Gone are the days when Arabs would bring us money. Now the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan has resources that go beyond their spending and they do not accept financial support from any country,” said the commander in Helmand under the name which the Taliban refer to themselves through.
Al-Qaeda fighters sometimes also fight with their Taliban counterparts in Afghanistan and support the war of uprising against the US-backed Afghan government.
“We understand that they are stationed together with Taliban troops in certain theaters. I could not judge whether they make a decisive difference in these theaters,” said Fitton-Brown.
There are both working-level and high-level contacts between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the insurrection periodically tries to reassure al-Qaeda that it will remain loyal to the militants, he said. The 2019 US-Taliban negotiations raised concern among al-Qaeda that the Afghan insurgents were willing to give them up, which led to some tense discussions, the U.N. panel reported last year.
Al Qaeda is a smaller, resource-less group that depends on its hosts to provide a shield and is under continued pressure from the US and Western governments. It’s clearly the weaker partner in the relationship, said Fitton-Brown.
“You can see that the report is very much in favor of the Taliban. They are the ones doing almost all of the favors. They are much, much the stronger group. Al-Qaeda needs the Taliban much more than the Taliban Al-Qaeda,” said Fitton-Brown.
However, the Taliban leadership appeared unwilling to enter into a confrontation with al-Qaeda that could spark resentment within the insurgency, he said.
“There is a strong impetus for the top leadership of the Taliban, as long as they can, to keep people together. In other words, not to go down a path that would be uncomfortable or divisive to some potentially rebellious elements within the Taliban.” ” he said.
The Taliban, which hedge their bets on al-Qaeda, can curtail their relationship with the group if they so choose, he said.
On March 1, Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo said the Taliban had “now broken” with terrorist groups and “agreed that they would break that relationship and work with us to destroy al-Qaeda, deny resources and leave to let.” from this place. “
Former US officials say relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been deep for three decades, and al-Qaeda fighters are getting married to Pashtun tribes in Taliban-controlled areas.
“Any expectation that the Taliban leadership can dictate the separation of its fighters from al-Qaeda rejects cultural and practical realities,” said Douglas London, who served the CIA for more than 30 years and has experience in South and Central Asia Has.
Al-Qaeda trainers, fighters and leaders have forged strong local ties with their Taliban counterparts, and the two organizations have forged family ties that ensure mutual loyalty and commitment based on Pashtun cultural norms, said London, author of the upcoming Book. “The Recruiter: Espionage and the Lost Art of American Intelligence.”
“Even if Taliban leaders want to turn al-Qaeda on its head, and my experience of managing the CIA’s counter-terrorism administration in the region suggests so, it would be virtually impossible to expect Taliban militants to abandon their daughters, grandchildren and sons” said London, a non-resident scientist at the Middle East Institute think tank.
“Now, 30 years later, some second-generation children from these marriages have taken up positions in Al-Qaeda and the Taliban themselves,” he said.