Eliminating the threat from al-Qaeda by smashing their training bases in Afghanistan as well as removing the Taliban regime that had provided them sanctuary was the driving force for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, following the 9/11 attacks in October of 2001. President George W. Bush had vowed to hunt the militants until there was “no place to run, or hide, or rest.”
But after nearly two decades of constant combat, the American people and their government have grown weary of what is being characterized as a “forever war.” President Trump wants the troops out of Afghanistan and was pushing for a deal to be reached, even inviting the Taliban to Camp David.
Finally, a deal between the U.S. and the Taliban was reached. According to it, the U.S. will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan early next year in exchange for the Taliban ensuring that terrorist groups will not be able to use Afghan territory to plot international attacks.
Yet, the Taliban are not living up to that condition. This was exemplified in the case of Husam Abd al-Rauf, a high-ranking Egyptian al-Qaeda member believed in some circles to the number two leader of the terror organization. Al-Rauf was killed by Afghan Special Forces in an operation in Ghazni province a week ago. He was in the village of Kunsaf, which was under Taliban control. Afghan officials believe that the Taliban were providing security for him.
If indeed the Taliban had been providing security for al-Rauf, it would be in contravention of their agreement with the U.S. The Taliban said that they were “investigating the situation.”
However, al-Rauf is not alone. Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is still believed to be based in Afghanistan along with a number of the group’s other senior figures. As tellingly, a year ago, al-Qaeda itself promoted a video of an ambush it carried out, in support of the Taliban, against Afghan government forces.
The BBC recently spoke with Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN’s Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team. Fitton-Brown said that the Taliban promised al-Qaeda, as they neared the agreement with Washington, that the two groups would remain allies.
“The Taliban were talking regularly and at a high level with al-Qaeda and reassuring them that they would honor their historic ties.”
“Al-Qaeda is heavily embedded with the Taliban and they do a good deal of military action and training with the Taliban, and that has not changed,” he added.
Additionally, in June, the UN released a new report stating that the Taliban had maintained close contact with al-Qaeda:
“The senior leadership of Al-Qaida (QDe.004) remains present in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of armed operatives, Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, and groups of foreign terrorist fighters aligned with the Taliban. A number of significant Al-Qaida figures were killed in Afghanistan during the reporting period. Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network (TAe.012), and Al-Qaida remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage. The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaida during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties. Al-Qaida has reacted positively to the agreement, with statements from its acolytes celebrating it as a victory for the Taliban’s cause and thus for global militancy. The challenge will be to secure the counter-terrorism gains to which the Taliban have committed, which will require them to suppress any international threat emanating from Al-Qaida in Afghanistan.”
The UN report also states that the Taliban and al-Qaeda continued to hold meetings throughout 2019 and early 2020 to discuss training and operational planning. The UN cites hundreds of fighters in its report.
The Taliban have publicly insisted that they’re fully complying with the conditions of the peace agreement and especially the condition that they will prevent their country to be a planning base of attacks against the U.S. and the West. To illustrate this, they’re holding up their fight against terrorists from the Islamic State (ISIS).
However, al-Qaeda has always had a close relationship with Taliban leaders, for example, the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden after 9/11. ISIS on the other hand was always considered by the Taliban to be a potential enemy.
This is why both the American and Taliban leadership are concerned that many Taliban fighters, who were unhappy with the peace agreement with the U.S., may switch allegiance to the Islamic State.
Both American and Taliban officials remain vague when questioned whether they believe the Taliban are fully complying with the conditions of the peace deal. The most frequent response has been that “we expect the Taliban to honor the conditions that they made and stop all relationships with al-Qaeda.”
Rahmatullah Andar, a spokesman for the Afghan government’s National Security Council and a former Taliban commander, said the Taliban will not abide by any agreement with the U.S.: “The Americans might think the agreement they have signed with the Taliban will sort everything out, but time will prove that’s not the case.”
Despite the peace deal with the U.S. violence persists in Afghanistan. Washington has to decide whether to continue turning a blind eye towards what are obvious violations of the agreement and just get out as fast as possible or to call the Taliban on this and risk extending the deployment of troops and furthering the bloodshed.