WASHINGTON The Afghan Taliban have maintained close ties with Al-Qaeda, despite pledging to stop cooperating with terrorist groups, allowing militants to train in Afghanistan and deploy fighters alongside its forces, according to the head of a UN group monitoring the insurgency.
The Taliban’s association with Al Qaeda continued even though the insurgency signed an agreement with the United States a year ago banning cooperation or hosting terrorist groups and despite a public statement by the secretary of State of the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo, that the Taliban had broken “with terrorist groups.
“There is still clearly a close relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” said Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN panel tasked with tracking down the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan. The reports of the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team are based in part on information shared by the intelligence services of foreign governments.
“We believe that the senior leaders of Al Qaeda are still under the protection of the Taliban,” he said.
According to the latest report from the UN monitoring team in January, there are between 200 and 500 Al Qaeda fighters in about 11 Afghan provinces. Experts say it will be difficult to disentangle two groups that have lived and fought side by side for decades and even got married.
The Taliban’s long-established alliance with Al Qaeda will be on the agenda when NATO defense ministers meet Wednesday and Thursday to assess the May deadline for the troop withdrawal, as the ‘demands the agreement between the United States and the Taliban. European allies will look to President Joe Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for signals on the administration’s plans and how it intends to ensure the insurgency lives up to the deal .
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that the Taliban must fulfill their commitments under the 2020 deal to pave the way for a full withdrawal of foreign troops.
“We see that there is still a need for the Taliban to do more to honor their commitments … to ensure that they sever all ties with international terrorists,” Stoltenberg said.
Members of the Taliban peace negotiation team attend a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Qatari capital, Doha, November 21 Patrick Semansky / Pool / AFP via Getty Images
The United States has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and its NATO-led partners have 9,600 on the ground. Under the 2020 agreement, the United States has committed to withdrawing its remaining forces by May. But the Biden administration said it had made no decisions about troop numbers and officials were assessing whether the Taliban had honored their commitments.
U.S. intelligence officials said Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups remain active threats in Afghanistan. But they declined to comment on the Taliban’s relationship with Al Qaeda.
The Taliban insist they are honoring the agreement with the United States, in which they agreed to enter into peace talks with their enemies in the Afghan government in exchange for a withdrawal of American troops and others. NATO troops.
The accord forces the Taliban to “send a clear message” that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan, and it prohibits cooperation with groups that threaten the United States security. The Taliban are compelled to prevent terrorist groups from “recruiting, training and fundraising,” and insurgents are prohibited from hosting such groups.
The Taliban say there are no foreign fighters in Afghanistan and that members of Al Qaeda fled the country after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the US-led intervention. Foreign governments and regional analysts reject this claim as patently false.
Al Qaeda conducts trainings in areas controlled by the Taliban, although there is no clear evidence of major recruitment or fundraising efforts, Fitton-Brown said.
Al Qaeda militants also sometimes fight with their Taliban counterparts in Afghanistan, supporting the war of insurgency against the US-backed Afghan government.
“We understand that they are deploying alongside the Taliban troops in some theaters. I could not assess whether they are making a decisive difference in those theaters,” Fitton-Brown said.
There are both working contacts and high-level contacts between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the insurgency regularly seeks to reassure Al-Qaeda that it will remain loyal to the militants, he said. The 2019 US-Taliban talks sparked concern within Al Qaeda that Afghan insurgents were ready to abandon it, which led to tense discussions, the UN panel reported. Last year.
Al Qaeda is a smaller group with fewer resources, dependent on its hosts to provide an umbrella of protection and under continued pressure from the US and Western governments. He is clearly the weaker partner in the relationship, Fitton-Brown said.
“You can see the count is very much in favor of the Taliban. They are the ones providing almost all the favors. They are many, many the strongest group. Al Qaeda needs the Taliban far more than the Taliban. Al- Qaeda, ”Fitton-Brown said.
Still, the Taliban leadership appeared reluctant 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 Taliban leadership, as long as they can, to hold people together on this point. In other words, not to take a path that would be unpleasant or that would divide some potentially rebel elements within the Taliban, “he said.
The Taliban, who are hedging their bets when it comes to Al Qaeda, can cut ties with the group if they wish, he said.
On March 1, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Taliban “had now broken away” from terrorist groups and “agreed that they would sever this relationship and work alongside us to destroy, deny resources and get Al-Qaeda out of there. “
Former US officials say the ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda run deep, going back three decades, with Al Qaeda militants marrying into Pashtun tribes in areas controlled by the Taliban.
“Any expectation that the Taliban leadership can dictate the division of their fighters from Al Qaeda rejects cultural and practical realities,” said Douglas London, who served for more than 30 years in the CIA’s underground service and experience in South and Central Asia.
By design, Al Qaeda trainers, fighters and leaders have forged intimate local bonds with their Taliban counterparts, and the two organizations have forged family ties that ensure mutual loyalty and obligation based on standards. Pashtun culture, said London, author of the upcoming book “The Recruiter: Espionage and the Lost Art of US Intelligence.”
“Even if the Taliban leadership wants to turn the page on Al Qaeda, and my experience of managing CIA counterterrorism operations in the region suggests that is not the case, it would be virtually impossible to expect that. that the Taliban fighters abandon their daughters, grandchildren and sons in law, ”said London, a non-resident researcher at the Middle East Institute think tank.
“Today, 30 years later, some second generation children from these marriages have themselves assumed positions in both Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” he said.
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