With the Taliban back in power in Kabul, the international community fears a resurgence of al Qaeda in Afghan territory. The group responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States was significantly reduced during the conflict of the last two decades, but there are reports of the presence of al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesman assured on Sunday that al Qaeda is not present in Afghanistan and that its movement is not related to that group. Mohammed Naeem gave the statement in an interview with Saudi television, saying that the Taliban is in talks with the United States and other countries on the situation in Afghanistan.
“What interests do we still have in Afghanistan at this point, with al Qaeda defeated?” asked US President Joe Biden last week in justifying the withdrawal of US troops from the Asian country.
In the peace talks between the Taliban and then-President Donald Trump’s government held in Qatar last year, the US government made it clear that the group would have to disassociate itself from al Qaeda and stop harboring terrorist groups in Afghanistan. promised by the Taliban.
However, al Qaeda has not been eliminated from the Afghanistan and Pakistan region, according to a recent UN report, which says that the links between Taliban and al Qaeda remain strong. With the return of the Taliban, concern grows that the country will once again become a breeding ground for terrorism and Islamic extremism.
Shelter for terrorists?
The Taliban regained power in Afghanistan just over a week ago, having controlled most of the country between 1996 and 2001, when its regime was overthrown by US-led NATO coalition forces.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 because the Asian country was the base of Al Qaeda, responsible for the terrorist attacks of 11 September, starting the “War on Terror”. Prior to that, Taliban leaders had refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and harbored al Qaeda in Afghan territory. Bin Laden would not be killed until ten years later, in a US special forces operation in Pakistan.
Now, the Taliban will be closely monitored by countries that want to ensure the group sticks to its proposal not to provide a safe space for terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan
One UN Security Council report, published in June, says the Taliban and al Qaeda “remain closely aligned and show no signs of breaking ties.”
According to intelligence information from UN member countries, al Qaeda is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces, and continues to count on the protection of the Taliban. Senior leaders and hundreds of armed fighters would be present in the country.
Ties between the Taliban and al-Qaeda “remain close, based on ideological alignment and relationships forged in common struggle and intermarriage,” the report said.
Also according to the UN report, the main point of contact between the two extremist groups would be the Haqqani network, the Taliban fighting forces responsible for the terrorist attacks carried out by the group, including one of the deadliest of these 20 years of conflict, which killed 150 people in 2017 with the explosion of a car bomb in Kabul.
This semi-autonomous network has links to international jihadist movements and is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, who ranks just below Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in the power hierarchy. The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the UN.
The leaders of the Haqqani network have been put in charge of security in Kabul, which has raised warning signs among Western intelligence agencies that the promise of a more “moderate” Taliban will not be fulfilled, and that al Qaeda could resurface.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged on Friday Al Qaeda’s current presence in Afghanistan and spoke of the difficulty of estimating the terrorist group’s number of fighters due to the country’s lower intelligence gathering capacity. and because “they probably don’t carry ID cards and records somewhere,” the Associated Press reported.
The United States guarantees its ability to suppress terrorist threats with sophisticated surveillance systems and counterterrorism actions.
That ability may have been affected by the hasty American withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuation operations by Western governments. Six people considered a “direct threat” to the UK were detected in security checks on people being evacuated from Kabul, reported the British newspaper The Guardian.
These individuals were on the UK’s list of people banned from traveling on planes, but one of them has arrived at Birmingham airport, where flights bringing civilians from Afghanistan are arriving. However, the UK Home Office said late on Monday that, after inquiries, the individual who arrived in the country is not a “person of interest” to security forces and police.